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Women, Sport, and Film - 2004
Student Papers
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Women, Title IX and Film

Heather Price

When I was younger I can remember watching old movies with my mother every Sunday. I loved watching the dashing men sweep away the pretty women and the extravagantly cheesy music. However much I loved the romance part of the story, it always struck me as kind of funny the way the woman was usually a very passive part of the whole relationship making model. She waited for him to kiss her, and the (or I should really say perhaps then) the ball is in her court and she has the ability to make decisions. In countless movies the woman is mad at the man and so what does he do? He grabs her and kisses her passionately. I always thought that it looked like it hurt. Some guy mashing his face into yours when you really do not want to be kissed? Not pleasant. My point in all this is that if you look at movies like these and then watch, say, Bend it Like Beckham or Girl Fight, the woman is actively choosing her sport, her path in life, and her relationship. Women now have the right to be empowered in film (despite the still pervading Hollywood kitsch) and on of these ways, is inherently, through sport.
Sport empowers women. That is a proven fact, and for many of us Title IX babies, a no-brainer. The question is why? When Title IX was still a fresh, new thing, for women sport served as something once denied them that they could finally experience. It represented getting the ball and being able to play just like "one of the boys." Now women were on an even playing field, and that is always empowering. For these women it represented a chance more than anything else, but women of my generation get something else out of sport that makes the modern woman different.

In films across the board, sport or no, the image of woman is changing. She is thinner, yes, to keep up with the Hollywood standard of the waif, but she is also fit and muscular. Jada Pinkett-Smith is my favorite example of the new Hollywood body. She has muscular definition in her body but she is still very feminine. Women are expected (not just in Hollywood) to go to the gym regularly and work out. A woman who is not physically fit is not as attractive in today's modern world and that is the truth. On any given day on Bryn Mawr's campus, you can see hundreds of women working out in the gym or running outside. If you asked them why they do this activity so religiously, I am sure that almost no one will say, "I am trying to get thinner to catch a man." Most times, she will tell you that she enjoys being fit and it makes her feel healthier and happier (that she can still fit into a size 6).

So what does this overall change mean for women in the movies? Well, it allows them to be more natural and aggressive without seeming mannish. No straight man alive will tell you that the character Jules (Bend it Like Beckham) running around in soccer shorts and a sports bra was at all mannish. Nor would most of them have a problem with Monica's (Love and Basketball) choice of workout apparel. In every film where the woman was misunderstood as boyish or gay, it came from either an older generation or from a group of vilified prissy girls (who, interestingly enough, are always depicted as slutty, as opposed to the main character's very romantic brush with love). To a younger woman watching these films, the mistaken identities and sexual preferences seem comical, and are usually portrayed as such. We genuinely see nothing wrong with sports or the women who play them, but many times can relate to the way our mothers think about our choices in lifestyle. I think that films include this element not only as comic relief but as a way of commiserating with ever woman whose mother would rather they play with dolls than steal first base.

Women of my generation become empowered through sport because they are doing something active and healthy that is for themselves. One must perfect one's own form and body before she can be an active part of the team. For so long, women have only been seen as social, group-oriented beings. Title IX has not erased that from our upbringing. Young girls are always taught to play nice and stay in groups with other girls. While it is nice to have company, there is not the same sense of personal achievement and always remember, being the leader is bad. So when a woman can go out and score a goal on the soccer field, that is not just a point for the team, it is a personal victory. This is why sport has become such an important theme for women of my generation. Each woman we have watched in these movies was a winner because she achieved her own personal goal and not just that of the group. These days it seems the only acceptable goal for a woman in film is that of conquering a man, but in sport films, these women get to do something greater, something for themselves.

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