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Women, Sport,
and Film - 2003


On Serendip

Passing: On Women and Sport


3. Assume you are a screenwriter in the year 2010. You have been commissioned to write a movie script about women's sports and current society. What is the theme? Who are the protagonists? What are the issues and how does it end?

"Perhaps no single institution in American culture has influenced our sense of masculinity more than sport... More recently, American football's hostile takeover of the more pastoral baseball as our "national pastime" has reinforced a form of masculinity which emphasizes sanctioned aggression, (para)militarism, the technology of violence, and other patriarchal values." Birrell and McDonald, 17.

The scope of success for females in athletics has been increasing over the past thirty years with the advent of Title IX. However, even with newfound possibilities for women and the potential for enforcement of equal opportunity, there are still inequalities that exist within sport as an institution. There are certain fields that have remained dominated by male athletes, sacred ground reserved for men and men only. Athletes who try to go against gender norms often have difficulty making headway in sports fields if for no other reason than lack of opportunity. Funding in collegiate sport is not equal, nor are resources, coaching opportunities, or scholarships. "Even today, despite laws designed to provide equity in sport opportunity and improvements in access for females in sport, males still have access to more sport opportunities and public resources. Men continue to control most sports organizations, and numerous inequities remain (Sage, 67)."

Even if equal opportunities are available, a major barrier for women in sport is the ideology of sport in general. Sports traditionally have been an outlet for athleticism, and what that also entails is aggression, intensity, strength, and dominance, all of which are viewed as male traits. What it simmers down to is power, and in American society, men have claimed control. However, in this generation, gender roles have been reexamined thanks to institutions such as feminism, and with less emphasis on traditional male traits, the necessity of male dominance in society is being deconstructed. Contact sports such as football are one of the remaining places to find traditional displays of masculinity intact. A field where size, strength, and brute force are used as the measuring stick for what makes a successful athlete, and thus, who has power. Since men's roles are being publicly reevaluated, they turn so sports such as football to maintain authority. "In short, masculinist responses to men's fears of social feminization resulted in men's creation of homosocial institutions in which adult men, separated from women, could engage in 'masculine' activities often centered around the development and celebration of physical strength and violence (Messner, p. 9)."

Even with the Women's Professional Football League, there are few to no opportunities for females to play football while also being involved in academics. Females on the Field is a breakthrough (hypothetical) documentary about one transgendered female-to-male athlete who was able to succeed in collegiate football and pave the way for female athletes in the future. While Jesse identified as a guy throughout the film, the fact that a person with XX chromosomes was able to triumph on the football field as something other than a field goal kicker allowed for women identified females to have a chance on the field in the future.

Year: 2010. Some anonymous school is alive with Ivy League energy and the prospect of a new season—a winning season. Jesse Bentley, a junior transfer from San Francisco, has walked on to the team and the department of athletics is buzzing with admiration for his skill and natural ability (think Rudy, but with the athletic potential of a highly recruited big ten athlete). The coaches thank their lucky stars, marveling at why he hasn't been recruited, why they haven't heard about this quarterback sensation. He is small by athletic standards. 5'10," narrow shoulders, toned but not blatantly muscular. He is a thinker, listens well, and a hard worker who is always going out there like he has something to prove. He is in the locker room and ready for practice before any of the players show up. He is usually the last to leave, wanting to get in an extra workout, or else he is rushing out the door to his other activities without even changing out of his uniform. This player is every coach's dream.

He is a mystery and does not socialize with the players. He is the talk of campus. He has a secret that he isn't telling anyone. Three years ago, prior to his freshman year of college in San Francisco he underwent top surgery to have his breasts removed. He has a narrow scar on either side of his chest where tissue once was. He has been on testosterone for the past year and has acquired a goatee. All his legal documents are now marked with "M." Aside from having XX chromosomes, he is your average guy. He has been living a transgender lifestyle since his early teens thanks to remarkably supportive parents and the relatively trans-friendly area where he lives.

In brief, Jesse's teammates become suspicious at his reluctance to socialize with the team. He is always running off. Something has to be up with this guy. Aha! He must be gay. That is why he won't shower or change with the team. Finally Jesse gets cornered and stripped by his teammates and they find out his secret, as he may look like a guy and be on testosterone but he lacks one necessary body part. As a consequence he gets kicked off the team and is harassed out of school. He appeals to the administration but gets no support. Jesse is forced to leave. The issues? 'Women aren't tough enough,' the liability of 'him' getting hurt. Title IX only requires equal distribution of resources, not coed teams. He lied. Plain and simple. Jesse is not getting back on this team regardless of his ability. He is woman as far as they are concerned. Main protagonists: sports culture, college administration, and male athletes.

The movie ends with a clip of the parents on some talk show saying that as feminists, they had always encouraged their daughter, err..., son, to be an individual, to break past shackles of the patriarchy and traditional notions of gender; to prove that essentialism isn't always the answer, females can succeed in male athletics; that exceptional female athletes are every bit as capable as males, and that they can be leaders on football teams. Hopefully everyone will learn from Jesse's story and females in the future will be able to have a chance at football as women. It is unfortunate that the only reason for Jesse's success is that people didn't know that he was female and otherwise he would have been stopped before he even go t started.

Jesse's story inspired students on campus to sign a petition to allow females to try out for the football team. Three years later in 2013 it is the start of a new season. A car pulls up and parks next to the football stadium. A freshman player heads for the women's locker room, eager to get her pads on and get to work. She is a tight end who, along with four other females, have shown up for fall preseason to try out for the team.

Works Cited

Birrell, S. and McDonald, M. (2000). Reading Sport: Critical Essays on Power and
Representation. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Messner, M. (1998). Politics of Masculinities: Men in Movements. Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage Publishers.

Sage, G. (1998). Power and Ideology in American Sport. University of Northern
Colorado: Human Kinetics.

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