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Women, Sport,
and Film - 2003


On Serendip

Why its OK to be Feminine

Valerie Sorensen

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.

Today, women can be many more things than they could have ever dreamed of in the past. Thanks to many levels of sexual revolution, women have evolved from the lesser half of men, to the equals of men, to valuable in their own right. The sexual revolution in the 1970's called for the absolute equality of women when compared to men. It called for a degendering of humans, and in many cases, called for women to raise to the levels of men by themselves evoking the qualities that had previously been reserved as masculine. Yet women of today have changed that into a new breed of feminism. Now, in our world, it is valued to be a woman and to be strong. A woman is no longer as narrowly defined as she has been in the past. We are not the same as men, but valued equally for our differences. It is the value of woman as a separate entity from men that enables us to carry both sex appeal and strength at the same time. We are no longer bound by the ideas that 1970's feminism provided us, that in order to be equals of men, we must adopt their characteristics, and not embrace our natural femininity.

Today's women's sports figures are very often seen in bikinis, or wearing nothing at all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Women should embrace their bodies. Is it wrong for a woman to be strong and athletic and have sex appeal at the same time? What message are we sending to girls if we constantly demean feminine looking athletes? Are we saying that we must abandon all that makes us feminine in order to compete in sports? Must we become masculine in order to rise to the challenge of being an athlete? It is a far greater accomplishment to be athletic, or powerful in any circumstance, as a woman, rather than a woman trying to act the way she thinks a man would act in that position.

Woman as a whole needs to be as equally valued as a man. This will not occur if they are constantly trying to be men. If an individual female wants to invoke respect by degendering herself, it is a blow to womankind and a bolstering to patriarchic society. If a woman wants respect, she should earn it as a woman, not as a woman trying to be a man. This may get her the personal recognition she seeks, but it does not reinforce the positive image of "wearing a skirt and gettin' the job done". Women as a whole are disrespected every time a woman forgoes her femininity for powerful gains. Sure it may be harder to get respect in today's society if you wear pink nail polish and kitten heels, but think of the larger satisfaction involved for not just you, but woman kind when you win that court case, or perform that difficult operation despite your unmasculine characteristics. Images such as these are not only personal victories for the individual, but it advances the image of women and femininity to a higher level of respect exactly as it is, not just under the pretence of masculinity.

Many argue that women athlete's success comes from their ability to "be like one of the guys". But why must a woman be one of the guys to be athletic? In today's world, women athletes who are criticized for appearing in bikinis or dressed up in magazines actually push the standard higher for women. They make it accessible for the prom queen to be the star pitcher for the softball team, or for the only girl on the football team to still date the cutest guy in school. They make being a strong woman respectable, because they can do what they do, and not pretend it had nothing to do with the fact that they are a woman. They make gender an issue, and they are all the better for it. Gender should be an issue. Women should be allowed to accomplish all the goals and feats that men can accomplish, yet they should never have to be forced to compromise the fact that they are woman in order to accomplish it. It is in fact harmful to other women if they do deny their gender in pursuit of their goals. Women athletes should embrace their bodies, and serve as an example for what all women can accomplish with their own strength and ambition. By showing their exemplary physical conditions in Sports Illustrated, they are reminding us of the sheer power we possess within us, and our ability to equal the strength of men, but as women.

Women's athletics are headed in a positive direction. Women superstars of today can prove to little girls that they can be who they are, and still be respected for what they can accomplish being women. The more that femininity can be regarded as a positive attribute in society, the better it is for the advancement and equality of women. If this requires women athletes to gender themselves and fully represent the women that they are, than we should not chastise them for placing femininity in a place that it is not always seen. The more society becomes accustomed to feminine, real women as strong, independent and equal to men in their own right, the more the term "woman" will be respected and valued, the better it is for all of us.

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