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Women, Sport,
and Film - 2003


On Serendip

Answer to Question #4

Anneliese Zimmerman

If we assume that the media perpetuates stereotypes, what can be done to combat them, or has our society become numb to these stereotypes? What do the media messages say about women in society? About men in society? About race, class and gender?

In some ways, our society has become numb to the stereotypes of women and minority groups. The media has saturated our society with a particular image of women that has caused us to accept that image as the norm. Over the years, women have attempted to challenge these social norms, but it has taken a lot of hard work and initiative on the part of strong female leaders to get even slight changes made. Our society continues to still have trouble fully accepting the image of a strong female athlete or role model. Even though, to some extent, I believe our society has become "set in its ways" regarding race, class and gender, I do not think that we should just give up on our fight against these stereotypes. There are still many things we can do to combat the image of women in our society.

Through many of the films we watched, we saw the many stereotypes of women in sport and strong female role models. In some of the films, the image of a strong female athlete was readily accepted but in other cases it was not. In general, it seems that if a woman is seen as strong and at all forceful in challenging society norms, her sexuality is immediately called into question, she is labeled a bitch or both. The sad issue is that not only men place these labels but other women do, as well. Some women may feel uncomfortable about fellow women trying to change stereotypes and may be jealous of these women's ability to voice their concerns, dreams and opinions so freely.

I think the only way to change the way our society views women and acts towards them is to start with ourselves. Once you are able to establish your own beliefs on the role of women in society, then it is easier to help bring about change. When we see another woman being cut down for speaking out or for just being a strong figure, we should immediately correct whoever is making the statement and not just laugh it off and go along with whatever they are saying. I believe being complacent about these things give validity to the statements being made and allows the person making the comments to believe his or her actions are all right. Also if you are to share your own personal beliefs on women's issues in our society, this may cause the person to reevaluate their own beliefs on the stereotypes of women in our society. The best way to affect change is to make sure people are not disillusioned about issues concerning women and that they have the correct information when discussing any topic.

I think that it would also help if women, who are public figures, would speak out against the way women are portrayed in the media. A majority of pictures taken of women athletes do not always portray them as the strong female role models they are, but instead highly sexualize them to attract male readers. We saw many magazine spreads of female athletes brought in by people throughout this course and very few of them (if any) had women not in a stereotypical female role (i.e. baking a pie in the kitchen) or in a provocative outfit (i.e. the female golfer in her bra and panties). Do not get me wrong, I realize in our society that sex sells and a lot of marketing schemes are based on society's stereotypes and what they believe our society wants to see. But I do think that women in the public eye could make more of an effort to combat these stereotypes.

Female athletes should stand up to magazines and other media about posing in certain provocative outfits. They should unite and stand against the image of women in the media and develop a set of standards for photo spreads. The problem is there are some female athletes, Anna Kornikova for instance, who are not particularly good athletes but have what is called in our society "sex appeal". It seems that a lot of excellent female athletes are not as well known as Kornikova, because they do not what the media in our country considers "sex appeal". But if someone like Anna Kornikova were to stand up to the image of women in the media, then the way women are portrayed in magazines and other media outlets could change greatly.

I am not saying that women athletes should not have "sex appeal", but there should be more of a balance like there is with male athletes. How many photos have there been of Wayne Gretsky in a provocative outfit or pose or Tiger Woods baking a pie in the kitchen? How many photos have there been of these two men without either wearing some kind of sports uniform or in some type of sports setting? I bet less than even ONE of the Williams sisters has been. Women athletes should be treated as equals to male athletes and not set apart as sexual images in sports magazines. They should be given the opportunity to talk seriously about their athleticism and to be taken seriously as athletes in our society. Also, it would help to increase media coverage of women's sports across the board to show the importance of encouraging athleticism in young girls.

For some reason our society still has a fear of accepting strong female role models or women who defy gender roles. Although we continue to make baby steps towards gender equality, we still have a long way to go. Our society needs to realize progress only comes with change. Women continue to become stronger leaders in our society and not just in sports. There continue to be exceptional female leaders in the fields of science, politics, business and many others. They continue to break through glass ceilings and to challenge society norms. Only when women are able to stand united against society's stereotypes will there be major changes in the way strong women are viewed and treated by others.

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