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Women, Sport,
and Film - 2003


On Serendip

Battling Stereotypes

Elizabeth Marcus

The media holds great power in how a person or group of people is portrayed. This holds true for female athletes. Athletes, in general, have a mythic quality to them. However, many times female and male athletes are portrayed differently. Men are often shown on the front of magazines with athletic equipment next to them or are in uniform. Women tend to be in a domestic setting, in a less powerful setting, or in a more glamorous competitive stance, which makes them not appear as competitive. These stereotypes have existed since women have entered athletics and, although great strides have been made, they still persist.

Stereotypes are something that people tend to get used to. We, as a society, have an image of what a librarian looks like or how a lawyer behaves. None of the stereotypes hold true for all members of the profession, but they are still used as a reference in thinking about people engaged in that profession. Female athletes have these too. They are too weak to compete and if they can compete they are not feminine. The idea of female athletes all being lesbians is also common. These stereotypes have lessoned due to with the great strides women have made in athletics, however they are still prevalent. However, the media has not come as far as the personal strides of athletes. Women have been able to show a competitive spirit equal to men, but the media still does not treat women as fierce athletes. Those women who are pictured in athletics are not usually shown in an as aggressive pose as men. In the movie "Blue Crush," the main character is shown, at the end of the movie, on the front of a surfing magazine. Even in this image, is was not a typical photo in how she is portrayed. She is celebrating a good run. This is a great image to sell magazines. However, is this how men are portrayed? Many are on the front cover of magazines. The difference is that usually the men are showed in the process of competition, not celebrating. Or if they are celebrating, it is in an athletic sense. Not the after party.

These stereotypes are keeping women from attaining a status in athletics that views them as complete competitors. Women are still viewed as fragile in various realms of athletics. In many ways, conditions are still similar between the days of "National Velvet" and today. The difference lies in that women's equivalents in races have been established. I sincerely doubt that a woman would be allowed in a man's event today even though this is decades after the story of "National Velvet" took place. This constraint is also shown in "A leagues of Their Own" where the media and fans wanted to see women in skirts, not in a typical baseball uniform. These women got bruised even more severely than the men since they were sliding, just like men, but without pants, which would protect their legs.

The media holds great power. It is where we get our news from as well as our perceptions of reality. Unless someone has experienced an event first-hand he or she must trust the media to tell them about what is happening. Therefore, it is dangerous for the message to be that women can compete in athletics, but they must maintain their femininity, in a traditional sense. In addition, they cannot look tired or sweaty after competing for the camera. Their job is to compete and then clean themselves up for the camera.

Many people have begun to not see these as stereotypes, but simply as another way of seeing an athlete. Seeing an athlete is a setting where the person is not competing is fine, and perhaps even very good since it gives a typical view of the person. A problem exists when this portrayal is skewed. Not all women cook. Nor would they all be found lounging around their house. There are times when women are shown in uniform or competing, but is it often enough to replace the current stereotype? Personally, I do not feel it is. The phrase "You throw like a girl" is still used. This implicitly means that women cannot throw well. Women can throw well, but this is not a strongly enough engraved idea in people's minds to eliminate the phrase saying girls cannot throw as well as boys. Women are still seen as less in the athletic field.

Perhaps, people do not believe that women cannot compete athletically, but until the media portrays women constantly as strong and athletic, there will still be strong stereotypes. It appears that people have begun to form their own opinions about what women can do, but it still seems that the old stereotypes are at work. For young girls looking for role models, it is important that women get equal coverage to men on television as well as in the newspapers. A person can watch Sports Center on ESPN for several nights in a row and hear little to nothing about women's competitions while the men's leagues get great coverage. Men's leagues are more mainstream, but this is not an excuse for less coverage of women's competitions. It is a reason to keep fighting to get women's leagues more mainstream and to get them more coverage.

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