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Women, Sport,
and Film - 2003


On Serendip

Redefinitions: My Film about Women and Sport

Alice Goff

A constant theme we have explored throughout our discussions and screenings of the films in this course has been the breaking out of molds and traditions, and the redefinition of the image of women through physical activity and ambition. Women's official and state-sanctioned entrance into the arena of professional sports since the inception of Title IX has been in and of itself a huge breaking of presupposed definitions and stereotypes of what constitutes acceptable womanhood. Unfortunately, as we see today in the continued stereotyping of women athletes and the disadvantages they face in the eyes of media coverage and funding, this redefinition has come up short. As a consequence of Title IX, women have become generally accepted as able to perform competitively as athletes, but their role as athletes has not yet been defined as quintessential elements of what it is to be a woman. We see this stereotype promulgated in some of the movies that we viewed in class. For example, in Blue Crush, the main character is portrayed as having to decide between her relationship with the football player and her career as a surfer. The two are ultimately incompatible and set up in a way that conveys the message: women are either athletes OR women, not both. Athleticism is not a defining characteristic of womanhood. The same occurs in Nation Velvet when Velvet is ultimately forced to "become a man" at the end of the film in order to compete in the race. We get the message from these films: athletics are something periphery to what it means to be a woman, not something which is defining of what it means to be a woman.
In my vision for a movie that deals with the issues, my central theme would be the breaking and redefining of traditional gender roles which, despite Title IX and the extensive cinematic dealings with these issues, have to a large extent remained unaltered. My movie would involve a team, but not one involved in competition with another team, but rather in a competition with themselves. I think rock climbing would ideally fit this notion, because it is a sport which involves team work, but also is at the core a matter of competition against oneself. This would be a metaphor for the necessity of women's sports to be seen not as in competition with men's sports, but in competition with themselves, and defined by themselves. Women define their role in athletics, ultimately, not men.
So, a group of rock climbers would be the main character group. They would be involved in a test of endurance in which they were proving to themselves their abilities as rock climbers, and their legitimacy as women athletes. Each member of the climbing team would physically portray a stereotype of women, each in a distinctive way. One character would be seen as 'girly', well-made up, delicate, etc. However, her actual gender identity would be contrary to what the viewer would most readily assumer. This character would be gay, in an effort to contradict the normal visual stereotypes of homosexuality in women, and in sports. Another character would look more "masculine", leading the viewer to assume that she is homosexual, but in fact be straight. Again, this serves the purpose of disrupting traditional gender stereotypes and prompting the viewer to re-define their notions of femininity and masculinity and its relationship to women in sport. Another character would be scared of heights. I think it's important to portray not all women in sport as being fearless conqueror, but also to exhibit the vulnerability involved in any athlete and make that into an acceptable vision of a woman athlete.
The plot would involve these women challenging themselves to climb Half Dome. They would get caught in a storm and have to make the decision of whether or not to continue the climb and take the risk of injury. The storm would be a metaphor for the intimidation that women face from external sources (ie. men, the media, etc.) that challenge their ability to perform to the best of their ability and challenge their viability as athletes. They would decide to risk the storm and continue the climb. The climb itself would be representative of the journey of women in sports since Title IX and end, with the women at the end on top of Half Dome looking over Yosemite Valley. The ending dialogue would be:
Climber 1: My camera survived, I guess that means we should take a picture.
Climber 2: No, let's not. No photograph is going to do justice to this moment.
The photograph is representative of my view of the decision facing women in sport today. They have the choice of following the media and seeking to best "represent" themselves to other people, or to simply continue to be athletes for the sake of being athletesóbecause it is what they love to do, and is a rich, defining element of their lives. Media coverage is not the answer to women's sports. The answer is in the confidence of every athlete to challenge herself with the notion that she is a woman, and defining of her womanhood is her viability as an athlete.

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