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Women, Sport,
and Film - 2003


On Serendip

Images of Women in Sport

Melissa Teicher

Melissa Teicher
Women, Sport and Film

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.

In the beginning of Austin Powers: Goldmember, the second sequel to the original Austin Powers: International Spy, Gwenyth Paltrow plays the part of "Dixie Normous," the tall, blond, sexy sidekick to Austin Powers. Now the name should say it all, but oh, there is more; her motto is, "I may be a small time FBI agent slash single mother, but I'm still tough and sexy." Now an FBI agent may not exactly be an "athlete," per say. But the idea, clearly, is that it would be out of the ordinary for a woman to be an FBI agent; therefore, Dixie Normous must clarify that she is also a single mother and, of course, that she is still "tough and sexy." Portrayals of women, like this one, occur all over the media, some attacking women athletes and some supporting women athletes.

For instance, take a look at the magazine, The Sports Illustrated. The articles about the male athletes include pictures of them in action. They are dirty, sweaty and working hard. They are in their uniforms, with their teams, on their fields. However, recently there was an article about a female golfer. The pictures included with the article did not portray her on her field, in her element. She was not dirty, sweaty or working hard at all. But instead, she was in her underwear, with a golf club in her hand. This sort of portrayal of a well-known female athlete is much more attacking, than supporting, female athletics.

On the other hand, I noticed a TV commercial the other day. It was for State Farm Insurance. I missed the beginning, but I saw just the right part. The motto for this commercial was, "We support women athletes because little girls have big dreams too." This kind of publicity is what female athletes need. This idea will give female athletes more chances to succeed in what they do.

Today's cultural ideal of women is not very far from the ideal a century ago, or ten century's ago for that matter. A woman is supposed to be a beautiful thing, an eloquent thing, a delicate thing. A woman is supposed to put on makeup and wear her hair nice. A woman should not work hard, but should instead take care of the house and the children. So an athletic woman contradicts the ideal. However, on the other hand, a woman should also have a beautiful body, and the so-called "beautiful body" in today's age is the athletic body. So really, the ideal is a contradiction to itself.

In A League of Their Own, the female baseballs players make a movie at the start of the league. Each player is shown in their gear, doing their thing on the field. But after that brief picture, each player is also shown doing some kind of "feminine" act, like posing for a beauty contest or pouring tea. It is as if a female athlete is just too unsettling; they must show that they are just as feminine as any other woman and just as good a wife as any other wife.

In Blue Crush, the leading female character is absolutely beautiful. She has an amazing body and she is very feminine. At the beginning of the movie, the main character is training for the big surfing competition. She wakes up hours before dawn to run on the beach and such. But this is the only portrayal of her training throughout the entire movie. In the rest of the movie, she is either in a sexy, revealing dress, or she is lying naked, barely covered by white linens on a bed in a fancy hotel suite. And even with her lack of practice in the movie, she manages to score a perfect score on her surfing in the competition. But then again, you must expect that she will do well; of course the beautiful, astonishing lead female will win and take all.

Of course, on the other hand once again, many female athletes are role models. Women's basketball is on television; granted it may not be on as much as men's basketball, but it is still on the television. Female tennis, female soccer, female gymnastics are all on TV. Of course a century ago, none of these were on TV. Little by little, the female athlete is being more recognized and more respected. The ideal of women is shifting to the athletic girl. Little girls are encouraged to take up sports and physical fitness. And as State Farm Insurance says, "We support women athletes because little girls have big dreams too."

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