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Women, Sport, and Film - 2004
Student Papers
On Serendip

Women in Sports

Katherine Kaufman

In the last one hundred years women have made tremendous in roads in many facets of life. Of that there can be little doubt. Women may now hold jobs, own property and participate in professional sports. Today women can compete in sports, once a vestige of male domination; there is now room for women in that arena. But even today women in sports are not portrayed in the same light as their male counterparts. To a large degree this is because of today's cultural ideal of women.

Since the beginning of this century women like Babe Didrickson and Billy Jean King have brought female athletes into mainstream acceptance. In earlier times women had not only not been encouraged to be physical it was thought to be harmful for them; females were thought to be weaker than men and not able to stand the physical rigors of sport. Many thought excessive physical activity would damage a woman's reproductive system leaving her unable to have children. Others believed that too much exertion, mental or physical would make a woman more and more manly. Of course women whose families had limited financial resources could not afford to keep them from helping on the farm or what have you but it was not the accepted norm and as soon conditions would permit it, the women were sent back to the house to cook or sow.

During this century women have been able to break out of the traditional female mold. Women have broken the chains that bond them to the home and have emerged into all sorts of male dominated arenas, including sports. Women have become athletes in their own right. In the last ten years there has been validation for the female athlete. The WNBA was created giving women a professional league in a mainstream traditionally male sport for the first time since the All American Girls Professional Baseball League went out of existence in the 1950s. And recently a woman made the cut and participated on the professional golf circuit with the men. Today, we see women athletes in the media regularly. Women's college basketball is given airtime on weekends just as men's is.

But even today women athletes are not on equal footing with men. Women are not permitted to be masculine, they can be athletes but they need to keep their femininity intact. Even a great athlete like Babe Didrickson was forced to change her image to suit our culture's sense of what a woman should be. And while a women may be given endorsements she is expected to look a certain way we she does them. She may sweat on the field or the court but not on camera.

Some women athletes are still not accepted. Women who body-build are not given the same respect as men who do. While many may not find a man bulging with muscles to be attractive they do give them a certain measure of respect. Women are accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs and are considered unnatural. What woman would want to look like that? To look like a man? Because it is true, many of the women who body-build look much more masculine than the ordinary woman on the street do.

All of this related to our cultural ideal of women. It is all right for women to be athletic now as long as they keep it within certain guidelines. A woman should look like a woman and she has to be able to balance her sport and her life. If a man is a nomad, moving constantly he is devoted to his sport. And if he has a wife and children they are proud of him and wait patiently for the day he comes home. If a woman does the same she is denying herself a home and family or she is abandoning her children in pursuit of a game.

Female athletes have come a long way in the past one hundred years, as have women in general. But there is still a long way to go and in order for women athletes to achieve true equality our culture's ideals will have to be adjusted to make way for them.

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