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Women, Sport, and Film - 2004
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Women, Sport & Film

Laura Sockol

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 some ways, women today face more pressure to be perfect than ever before in history. The feminine ideal of the
past has been replaced by a new face stronger and more independent, but under no less pressure to conform to society's
expectations than her predecessors. Today's woman must be all that she was in the past, and more. In addition to being
beautiful, feminine, and demure, she must also be physically fit and academically and socially successful. It is no longer
appropriate for a woman to depend on anyone, for that would imply subordinance and inferiority. Instead, woman must fill all
of these roles on her own. Although achieving independence is an important step for women, it brings added pressure. This is
especially visible in films about women in sport. These women experience these pressures at an intense level. They are
expected to be phenomenal athletes, and are not held to a lower standard than men. However, they must also be beautiful if
they are not, they face the possibility of discrimination. Added to this is the pressure that they are representative of the
entire gender. Films about women in sports show the intense pressure on female athletes to fulfill all aspects of the ideal

This is evident in films such as Bend it Like Beckham. Both main characters, Jess and Jules, face pressure from their
families, teammates and society in general to be the best at both playing soccer and being female. The pressure to excel in
sport comes from their motivations and their teammates. For Jess and Jules, it is especially important, since they are
representative of all women footballers. They are on one of the few teams for women in the area. If they play badly, others
will believe that women are not good enough athletes to deserve the funding or resources for a team. There is also pressure
from their male friends. Although Jess is accepted as a member of the group when she plays football with the boys, they are
suspicious of her involvement with a women's team. It seems that it is acceptable for a woman to play with men, but not for
women to have an independent team of their own. This pressure to prove herself a real athlete to her male friends forces Jess
to perform to a high standard at every game and practice. There is also pressure on both Jess and Jules to perform as part of
a team. All of this pressure is on the characters to present an image of the ideal female athlete: strong and successful.
Because they must represent their entire gender, there is no room for mistakes. Pressure from all aspects of their
lives makes sure Jess and Jules never forget the ideal they are trying to live up to.

Both Jess and Jules face pressure from their families to conform to the feminine ideal of beauty as well as strength.
Their relatives, especially their mothers, believe it is imperative to their success in life that they present a pretty face
to the world. Jess' mother wants her to identify more with her feminine qualities like showing her midriff and wearing her
sari tighter in the chest. Physical imperfections, such as Jess' scar, are to be ashamed of and hidden. To her mother, Jess
will not be successful until she can also cook properly and maintain a household. Catching a husband will prove Jess' worth
as a woman in her mother's eyes. She does not recognize her athletic ability as something to be proud of, because it has
nothing to do with the feminine ideal she believes in. Jess' sister also supports this, and feels that Jess is wasting her
time on pursuits that don't involve boys and finding someone to marry. This clash between the two cultures gives Jess two
ideals to live up to the one her sport pushes her towards, and the one her family wants her to attain. Jules also faces
this pressure. Her mother is very feminine and wants to relate to her daughter. Although her father supports her athletic
pursuits, her mother wants her to also be a "girly girl." This also relates to Jules' sexuality Jules mother is afraid
that she is a lesbian because she does not care about her appearance. Both characters face pressure from their families
to conform to the old ideal of the feminine, even as they must strive to be perfect athletes.

This same paradox is repeated in almost every movie involving a female athlete. They must not only be successful in
their sport, but they must also be successful "women" by securing a love interest and being beautiful. If they fail to attain
perfection as an athlete, they let down other women by not representing the gender as being capable of all that men are. The
female athlete must succeed because to not do so would be to show the world that women are inferior. In order for this to be
positive; however, the woman must do so while looking beautiful. Her athletic prowess must not prevent her from securing a
(male) boyfriend. If she does not do so, she has also failed, for she demonstrates that women who are athletes cannot handle
the most important responsibility of being a woman: childbirth. Today's feminine ideal still revolves around the idea that
women are meant to have children. If a woman does not, she has not achieved her potential. If she chooses not to, she is
denying her heritage and the rich history of womankind. The female athlete must be sensitive to this and show that, even as
she succeeds in a traditionally male arena, she can satisfy this most basic of feminine ideals.

Although women today are less restricted than they were in the past, they are under no less pressure to conform to
an ideal. Instead, the ideal woman has become more complicated. A woman must be successful in a nontraditional area be it
her career or athletics and also conform to the old standard of beauty and sexuality. This is evident in films about female
athletes, who face immense pressure to be perfect both on and off the playing field, and to represent their gender in a
positive light. Although women have more options, it is no easier to be female now than it was in the past. If anything,
women today face higher expectations than ever before.

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