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Women, Sport,
and Film - 2003


On Serendip

The Sisters in Films: The Role of The Family in Shaping the Image of Women Athleets

Marta Sobur

1. 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.

The relationships between sports women and their sisters are potrayed in all the following movies: "Blue Crush", "Love and Basketball", "National Velvet", and "League of their own." The sister character is visible in all the stories, which not only suggests that the directors of the film acknowledged the importance of the role of a sister figure, but that the presence of a close family member, such as sister, was crucial in the development of the main character's sport career and personalities.

The emphasis of on the relationship between the female athleete and her sister, reveals a lot about the cultural ideal of women, who are sometimes accused of stepping out of their feminine roles in order to achieve their sport goals. The sister character in "Love and Basketball" and "National Velver" is in a certain sense the advocate of the social norms, imposed on the sports woman by the society. Because of their femininity and lack of interest in sports, they reveal what challenge is to be a female athleet in that same family, or in the society. In "Blue Crush" and "League on their own", the sister character is not alienated from sport practice, which proves to be both stimulating for the main character, and challenging, as she needs to make decisions about how much the personal, and thus the family life, will affect her career in sport.

The role of a sister in the four movies was thus various and it ranged from, or was a combination of, positive influences on the performance of the sport, through neutral, and finally, the character of the sister conflicted with the sport goals of the main character.

In "League of their own", Dottie, an excellent baseball player was constantly stimulated by her sister Kit to continue practices. The nature of Kit's encouragement was very unnusual, as she convinced Dottie that she should continue playing baseball, for this was Kit's only chance to also join the League and make an appearance on the baseball scene. At first Dottie did not treat playing baseball seriously, however she was always confident in her skills and made excellent performances in the games. Meanwhile, Kit was much more determined to become a better player, and suffered from being underappreciated because of Dottie's successes. At the certain point, the two sisters found themselves competing, first in the same team, and then on the opposite sides of the game, which for both was extremely stimulating, as they had to counterbalance the personal nature of their relationship, that is their sisterhood, with their professional goals of wanting to win. The outcome of such a dynamics was unexpected: Kit, whose goal alongside being an excellent player, was to be a better player than Dottie, manages to overcome her previous weakness to strike a high ball- a manouver she was previously not able to receive. This leads to a personal confrontation with her sister, which ends in reconciliation and acknowledgement of their professional abilities.

Similarily, in "Blue Crush", the main character Anne Marie and her sister Pennyare are both surfers. Anne Marie is older than Penny and she feels great responsibility to take care of her younger sister, in the difficult circumstances of the lack of their mother, constant struggle with being unemployed, and her personal trauma resulting from an accident in the surfing competition. The movie has a lot of aethetic qualities, such as dazzling shots of the ocean, exposing a lot of conventionally (by fashion journal standards) beautiful female athlete body in skimpy bathing suits, which overshadow the relationship between two sisters. Progressively, as Anne Marie's inner struggle to overcome her fears in the discipline becomes the focus of the athletic thread of the plot, the role of Penny is marginalized. It is however, important to acknowledge that Anne Marie gains a lot of support from her sister (and also from her friends), in managing matters, which may not be directly concerned with performing of the sport, but thanks to which she is able to surf. Namely, Penny helps Anne Marie in teaching the hotel guests how to surf, which helps them financially, and she is always motivating Anne Marie to take part in the competition, and when her sister succeeds, she is there to congratulate her. Although Anne Marie has to temporarily struggle with the consequences of Penny's rebellious age, it it rewarding to see that when the day of the competition approaches, the family issues are reconciled and girls' attention focused on the victory.

In "National Velvet" and "Love and Basketball", through the role of Velvet's sisters (the elder one in particular) and Monica's sister, we are able to inferr what the society's expectations of a womenly behavior are. The sisters in both cases are not interested in sports, and even though they never openly criticize Velvet's passion, they do not share it either. What Velvet receives from her sisters at most is acceptance of her affinity for horse riding. It seems like the only advice her elder sister could give her would concern relationships with boys, but Velvet is too young for looking for this kind of advice, and too focused on achieving her goal. The sister character cannot be in any way a role model for the young athleet, and thus Velvet needs to achieve her goal on her own, being in a certain sense alienated from the members of her family,closet to her with respect to age. Similarily, Monica, the main character in the "Love and Basketball", is in a close relationship to her sister, though both women have very little in common. Monica's sister resembles a lot the mother of both the girls, who pays a lot of attention to how she looks, and seems to emphasize the importance of a stereotypical feminine look. Monica's sister imposes a certain femininity challenege upon the female athleet, and possibly creates a conviction that Monica is the "uglier" of the sibilings. Monica's confidence is certainly restored, when her mother describes her as "beautiful" before the prom night, and from the way she reacts to the compliment it is visible, that she needed the confirmation that her athletic beauty was equal to the conventional female beauty, as viewed by her sister and her mother.

Although the role of the sister character in "Love and Basketball" and "National Velvet" appear secondary, the presence of a family member from the same age group is of importance to how the female athleets perceive themselves and how they achieve their goals. The four movies are a representation of the way in which mass media potray the images of female sportswomen, thus they are created by the narrow group of producers and transmited to the general public. On the basis of this it is possible to say that they are not adequate, as they present a biased view of women in sports. What then makes the female athleets more genuine is including in their lives a sister character, which allows us to notice a lot of implications of the important role of a family relationship and how they shape the goals of women in sport.

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