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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
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Public/Private Spheres and Sports

Natalie Merrill

In our society there are costs both socially and culturally for individuals who choose to violate their own gender and/or sex norms. We live in a time when, though great advancements have been made, gender roles are still differentiated out from each other with specific behavior and lifestyle expectations built into our value system and ascribed to individuals. The past decade has seen a growing move away from such distinct male/female expectations, however in areas such as sport the differences and problems that still exist in our gender ideology are much more visible. Though we are aware of these differences and can discuss them in a class environment (such as we did the past four Wednesdays) it is questionable how much we can do to change what exists. Norms and values are very much a part of our society and it may just take time to reverse thousands of years of the oppressive gender distinctions and role identities, which have come to exist so firmly today.

The 20th century was a reaction against the past. So much changed in one century it is almost impossible for us today to understand what it was like just 100 years ago. 100 years ago, Victorian ideals were entrenched into every day American life. Women represented everything private and domestic. Everything about them was shrouded in a cloud of restrictive ideology- even their bodies were hidden behind layers of uncomfortable clothing. Men dominated the public sphere. They were fierce, competitive, and in charge of the world. Women were not allowed near the public sphere. In terms of sport, women were kept away from any type of physical activity. Their domain was anything domestic. Domestic tasks kept them busy and away from the world. It wasn't competitive and it wasn't fierce. Needless to say, through this system of norms and values, women were kept and made to be submissive.

Things changed though, with technology. More and more it was necessary for women to work and become involved in the public sphere. Out of circumstances they were becoming fiercer, and more competitive. This challenged the traditional roles women were required to fill and gradually, women fought back. They began to reclaim themselves and their rights- not just in the domestic or private sphere, but in a public realm as well. They demanded equal rights both in terms of politics and opportunity. This meant they wanted equal opportunity in everything- education, the job market, and sports.

Title 9 guaranteed these rights. In paper, it guaranteed these rights. In reality, it was still a battle for women to identify themselves as serious athletes and be taken seriously. It was getting easier though. Title 9 brought about many policy changes allowing women to enter into the world of sport. The advancements made opened many opportunity and also many peoples minds. There are still many problems though, as to where sports and athletics can be allowed to merge with femininity, masculinity, and traditional gender roles.

The world of sports highlights the problems that still exist for women as well as problems with modern sex stereotyping and generalizing. The expectations we hold for men and women are less clear in the realm of sport and the issue has been recently where to draw the line. Is there a line that can be drawn? By line, I am referring to someone who steps out of the boundaries ascribed to them by the dominant societal expectations. Women who participate in body building competitions, for example, like the women we watched in class. How much is too much? Who says what is too much? Is there too much at all? These questions and many others wonder at the limits our society will impose. This can be generalized to men as well, of course. The gender ideology also keeps them away from sports and stigmatizes certain athletic adventures as feminine.

This problem of labeling certain things and expecting people to fulfill their gender role is misleading and confusing. You cannot grant rights and then set limits upon them. Though much advancement has been made, and Title 9 has been wonderful and great, there are still problems that exist. People still cling to a strict set of ideas and values governing the behavior of men and women especially in terms of sport. Women are no longer only members of a private sphere and men are no longer the dominators of a public sphere. But they are still expected to act a certain way and not stray too far from these expectations. I don't have any answers about what is to be done, however discussing it and becoming aware of the issues is very important and has been quite helpful for me.

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