This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Women, Sport,
and Film - 2003


On Serendip

Women vs. Their Society

Jenna Rosania

Through the readings, films, and discussions, we have looked at the image of women in sport. Discuss the images of women in sport and how they are affected by today's cultural ideal of women.

Women in sports have definitely come a long way from the barriers and prejudices of previous times. Only recently have women been able to compete in a very public way, with established leagues, payrolls and plenty of endorsement opportunities. Title IX has allowed teams of girls for almost every sport as well as better opportunities for sports scholarships to college and many other privileges only given to boys for their talents in sports. Under all these legal provisions and establishments for the encouragement of women in sports, women should now really be able to do any kind of sport they want in as much freedom as is afforded to men in sports.
Although women have been given so many freedoms in this field, it is the social aspect, the audiences of sports, the people of our biased culture that is now hindering women who wish to be known as athletes and competitors. Our culture is filled with deeply imbedded ideas about power and strength and competition being masculine qualities, and for women to want to embody these things is confusing and goes against our unconscious stereotypes about the abilities and attributes of men versus women. The acceptance of women in sports becomes not a matter of ability of talent in their field, but rather is based on ways women can be what is considered by our culture to be feminine while they play their sport. If a woman can still be what the average person thinks of as a woman while also displaying talent, her "masculine" attributes can be more accepted by the audience and so the woman is more accepted.
There has long been a stigma of strong women as masculine, base, somehow not as good and pure a character as more demure, quiet, passive women. In sport, women cannot help but show their aggression and competitiveness just as men do in sport, but this is often what leads to a natural confusion by a society. Every society has certain mores and prejudices which are not necessarily harmful but are rather integral to the function of that society. After generations of establishments of gender roles and differences of behavior between the sexes, these ideas become deeply ingrained in the society and form the basic culture of that society. Most of the Western world has designated the roles of men to be the bread-winners of the society, the protectors, the strong and able ones who women depend on for stability and survival. Women are the care-takers and are gentle and motherly, taking care of the basic needs of others and rarely thinking of themselves. These gender roles have been integral to many societies throughout the world, and though many individuals may disagree or rebel against them, they are still part of the traditional culture.
Manifestations of how these prejudices can be unconscious but still very apparent are seen in the field of sports. Sports have been present in cultures from which ours derives for centuries; they seem to be a very naturally human outlet. More recently in our culture, teams have been established consisting of players who have reached celebrity status based on their abilities, their looks and their attitudes. Generations of sports fans follow these teams and develop a very strong loyalty to the players as well as the sport itself. When women began to publicly play sports and new women leagues were being formed and being shown on TV, it took a while for people, both men and women, to accept them and follow them with any degree of loyalty comparable to that of the pre-established men's sports. I know many people who don't feel the same excitement watching a women's game as a men's game because the women's leagues have not gained the level of acceptance in these recent years that men's sports have enjoyed for centuries.
One way women have tried to gain acceptance while still playing their sport is to balance femininity, sometimes to a comical level, with their culturally masculine traits. Sports magazines that have articles about woman athletes often first show them playing with their kids or in their kitchen, or even more degrading, wearing almost nothing so that if you saw them, you would think they were underwear models, not athletes. In the movie Blue Crush which we saw during this class, the main character had to have a somewhat superfluous relationship with a man in order to establish her heterosexuality and then wear revealing bikinis which mysteriously never budged despite all those vicious waves she was supposed to be so able to conquer. This movie showed how desperately many women try to be accepted as likable people who also happen to be athletes. The idea is if everyone can accept her first for her femininity, the confusing masculine trait of athleticism will be easier to swallow.
The concept of women in sports can also be an intimidating and threatening thing for many people, not only men. If gender roles are indeed so important to the foundations of a society, than can digressing from these roles harm the society? The problem with the situation is that culture and social mores rarely take into account freedoms of the individual and the choices individual make. There are many women who truly want to get married and stay at home with their children and devote themselves to the needs of theirs husbands and children. However, there may be just as many women who want to get jobs or live in unorthodox familial situations or play sports. It may take time for these desires to also be generally acceptable by our society, but what is needed is not change but flexibility. If more people can understand that people need to do what they think is right and set goals which they can work hard to accomplish, then people may be less likely to persecute each other about life paths dictated by the individual rather than by society.

| Forums | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994-2002 - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:19 CDT