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Women, Sport, and Film - 2004
Student Papers
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Images of Women in Sport: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Katie Aker

Throughout history, men have placed limitations on women's activities, including sport. Women have gone through times where physical exertion was considered too stressing for women, physiologically and emotionally, as well as everything short of encouragement. The image of the pre-sport woman, twirling her umbrella while being drawn by horse and carriage attired in full petticoat, etc., is a sight that shows how far women have come, but how much more still has to be done to achieve equality. I view the image of women prior to sport as 'ugly' because not only was their right to partake in sports suppressed, but also their rights as women and as citizens. This image of women, however still persists until modern day. Albeit not to the same degree, but women's opportunities in sport are still less than the male counterpart, as well as the restrictions that this male society still imposes on women's sports, especially through the media. Through poor media coverage of women's sports by male-run organizations, the advancement of the sport has suffered tremendously. The television industry poorly advertises women's sporting events, such as basketball, and never shows them in primetime. The US women's soccer association was even dismantled due to lack of support. With publications, the only time women are featured are as either inactive or sex symbols, when editors could be using these media outlets to promote women in sport instead of degrading and downplaying them. Women's sports will never become mainstream without social change.

The 'bad' image of women in sport would most definitely have to be the objectified woman whose talent in her sport is overlooked because of her appearance. Society expects her to 'stand there and be pretty' and if she can play her sport well too, that's a bonus. My modern day example of this is Anna Kournikova. She uses her sex symbol status for self-promotion and money making opportunities when she could also be helping to break barriers in tennis for women. She is not known for her sport prowess, but rather for Enrique Iglesias girlfriend or the Adidas commercials. The men of society just fuel the fire that is Anna. Sports sex symbols, like Anna, set fire to advancements women have made in sport, just like with any other women's movement. Anna has the looks, the boyfriend, and any other typical feature that a male dominated society typically looks for in a woman symbol. They would rather focus on the meek Anna who is not even a good tennis player than tennis legends. These symbols encourage objectification instead of appreciating women for their talents and strengths. Another prime example is the annual Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Even the Women's Sports Illustrated magazine had a male swimsuit issue in its last year of publication, a sign that the magazine was doing more harm than good to women's sports.

Other 'bad' images of women in sport are the stereotypical assumptions currently inbred and projected into our society. The first of these is the 'too masculine' woman. Society thinks that she is either homosexual, wants to be a man, or both. In many parts of society, if a woman doesn't automatically let a man dominate her she's considered radical, a feminist, a lesbian; all or none of which could be true. Women who partake in high contact sports, such as rugby, are looked down upon by the traditional sector of society as wanting to be men and to possess their power, and that is the only reason they are playing the game. However, it is not the power of men these strong athletes want, but the power within themselves to succeed, which is not gender specific. Women play sport because they have the drive to succeed, to compete, and to win, which is present in all humans, not just males. This same determination is present in all female athletes, no matter what their sexual orientation. The mainstream idea, however, is that in order to be strong and successful in sport, the woman has to have a man in the background supporting her and 'getting her through the competition'. This concept was present in Bend It Like Beckham, Girlfight, and Love and Basketball. A heterosexual female protagonist participating in predominately male sports is acceptable to society, as a movie with the female protagonist having a girlfriend would be pushing the bounds of society, although it would be a realistic situation. The optimal situation in a film promoting women in sport would be to have no love interest. It would send the message loud and clear that the woman achieved the glory on her own using her inner and physical strength, not because she was in love or her boyfriend let her win the match.

The 'good' image of women in sport is the strong, independent, and talented athlete that would give any male a run for his money. She is strong willed, determined, and has a bit of that necessary competitive attitude that completes any great athlete. Her sexual preference, interests, and off the field endeavors should only be public if she wants them to be and should never overshadow her skills in the game. Because of society's prejudices, preconceived notions, and general attitude towards women, this ideal woman athlete is not yet achievable in a society dominated by men. In a society with so many prejudices, men don't want women to be as strong as or stronger than them. The image of women in sport that is 'good' to society is cyclic, since it depends on the state of the culture. Currently, with pop-stars and thinner than ever supermodels, society is definitely in a state of objectification. to the men of this society, who promote such mishaps as Janet Jackson's accident on stage during the Superbowl halftime show, women shouldn't be more than cheerleaders or non-sport related entertainment at major sporting events. Until men realize that women are their equals on all levels, the image of women in sport will never reach its 'good' and ideal image.

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