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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
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Gender Barriers: When Will the Ridicule Cease?

Nicole Goulet

Throughout the history of sports, there has always been a gender barrier. There are certain sports that are aimed towards females and others that are directed towards males. When men or women enter a non-traditional sport for their gender, it is not widely accepted. However, there are those few athletes that pave the way for the rest and eventually our society will change and accept the new ideas in sports. Some people will always make judgments about the athletes who cross that gender barrier. At the same time there are others who will respect and look up to these athletes as role models who they will someday follow.

In the movie Pumping Iron II, women bodybuilders are faced with judgments about their sexual orientation just because of their physical appearance. There is one character, Carla, who is always shown with her mother and sister, but never with a boyfriend or husband like the rest of the women. She does not feel the need to defend her sexuality and the audience never questions it, because she is more feminine than the other competitors. She wears girlish clothes and has a feminine face and hairstyle. Carla is also shown as a synchronized swimmer, which is an elegant and graceful sport. The manner in which she moves and her body frame differ from the rest of the women. One of the more "mannish" looking characters in the movie is Bev. Bev is the competitor with the most muscle. Her features, her hairstyle and her clothes are not as feminine as Carla's. Therefore, her sexuality is questioned. It is unfortunate that society links women's sports with mannishness and mannishness with lesbianism (Cahn 328).

There are not only stereotypes of women in sports, but also of men. What is your reaction when you hear of a male ballet dancer or a male in synchronized swimming? Many would say that he must be a homosexual. Many young boys are faced with this thought every day, because they are males participating in non-traditional sports for their gender. Just as society does not agree with women in men's sports, it does not look highly upon men taking part in women's sports either. In the article, Stereotypes Are Often Overrated, a young boy named Daniel Hile who is a sophomore in high school had always wanted to join ballet, but never did. Instead, he picked Tae Kwon Do and weightlifting, which are considered to be more masculine sports. He says that ballet is not accepted in his close-minded and conservative hometown and they stereotype male ballet dancers as being homosexuals (Stereotypes). Another ballet dancer named Julio Bragado-Young who is 20 years old, says that he was always teased in school, because of his love for dance. "Jocks would call me fag, sissy, pansy and stuff"(Stereotypes).

Bill May, a 21 year old from Cicero, NY, has always wanted to compete in the Olympics for synchronized swimming. However, it has always been strictly limited to females only. Fortunately, on September 14, 2000, FINA (Federation Internationale de Natacion Amateur) approved men's synchronized swimming events in the Olympics (Newberry). May was happy, because his hard work paid off. Throughout his life he has ignored the many comments that have compared him to Martin Short and concentrated on his goal. Short performed a skit on SNL in the 80's that depicted a very feminine male synchronized swimmer who wanted to compete (Newberry). Jests like this push society to think that there must be something wrong with men in women's sports and children are afraid to join for fear of ridicule. However, athletes like May and Young will soon have followers who will learn from the examples that these two have set.

The female pioneers that had the courage to enter the male sport arenas have catapulted women's sports forward. Without these women, society might still believe that "too much exercise [will] damage female reproductive capacity"(Cahn 328). At one point, mostly every sport was a non-traditional sport for women and might still be. However, with a few female leaders, there were followers and great feats were accomplished. Women proved through time that they could play sports as well as men could. Women convinced the doctors that their bodies were capable of handling physical activities such as basketball, boxing and bodybuilding. Although there is a long way to go before there is equality of men's and women's sports, women have come a long way already to even have the opportunity to compete in practically any sport that they want to.

Since women have begun participating in non-traditional sports, there have been many changes. Title nine was formed in 1972 which stated that, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance"(Hult 95). More women are choosing to play sports now, because of this act. Women are able to participate in the same sports that men do and be financially supported. However, there are some downfalls that come with this title. "It reduced thousands of women administrators to secondary positions of leadership and removed them from decision-making positions"(Hult 96). From a male's point of view, it has also taken a great deal of their support and financial assistance away.

With the help of the women leaders who have taken risks and joined non-traditional sports, women now have the opportunities to continue to professional leagues and compete in the Olympics. One of the biggest steps in women's professional sports was the formation of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) on June 21, 1997. There have been other leagues preceding the WNBA, but they have not been as successful. The WNBA games are televised and they have just as big of crowds as the men's games do. Young girls who play basketball in middle school and high school can actually strive for a goal now. In the past, there was not much that women could do to further their basketball careers after college. Now, I think there will be more young girls not only starting to play basketball, but also continuing it.

Although athletes entering non-traditional sports for their gender have been ridiculed throughout their lives and might continue to be teased, I think that they are the true heroes in sports. They have broken the barrier and set examples for younger generations to follow. These athletes play their sports, because they love them. With their determination, they have opened up many new doors in the athletic world for others. Women's professional leagues have been formed and men and women are now allowed to compete in many of their non-traditional sports in the Olympics for the first time. Hopefully, in the future, society will change and become more open-minded. Eventually, I think that athletes will not have to deal with the pointing fingers over their sexual orientation. Maybe in the future, sports will not be deemed male or female and athletes will be truly free to participate in whatever they love to do. Until then, athletes are still fighting with society and making breakthroughs everyday, creating an easier path for the generations to come.

Works Cited

Arnold, Gina. Synch Different.
Cahn, Susan. "Crushes, Competition, and Closets: The Emergence of Homophobia in Women's Physical Education." Sexual Orientation. A.Dalke.
Hult, J.S. "The Story of Women's Athletics: Manipulating a Dream 1890-1985." Women and Sport: Interdisciplinary Studies. Costa, M and Guthrie, S.R. Humant Kinetics Publ, 1994.
Newberry, Paul. Sydney-Martin Short, Olympian? Associated Press, Sept.14, 2000.
"Stereotypes are often overrated".

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