This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

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

Images of Women in Sport:
Cultural Ideals of Women

Rachel Robbins

Images of women in sport, and the cultural ideals of women have moved somewhat synchronously through time. As notions of women's roles and perceptions of women change, so too did the portrayal of female athletes, and the acceptance of female athleticism into cultural norms. Likewise, as women began breaking the gender barriers in sport, the perceptions of women's roles changed and the change in portrayal and perception, led to increased acceptance of women as athletes.

In the documentary that we viewed the first time that the class met, we saw images of women who were strong competitors and driven athletes that were competing more with society's expectations and limitations on them as women, than they were with other competitors in their given fields. They faced images of women as weak, passive, and domesticated. These images led to the fallacies that riding a bicycle would damage women's reproductive systems, that it was unladylike to sweat, and that even something as non-competitive as pushing a baby carriage "freed women too much." It was these perceptions of the late Victorian era, and the early decades of the 20th century that prevented women from running great distances, and shrouded the athleticism and tenacity of a tennis match in the guise of a show of fashions.

The next movie in the series involved images of women with respect to cultural and familial expectations. In "Bend It like Beckham" the predominance of role expectations on the main character were derived from her family, and her mother's expectations of her as a daughter. She was constantly being told or called to cook, to prepare things for meals or events, or to go shopping, and to show more of a concern in female interests. In this film, the balancing of cultural values and gender expectations were the character's main conflicts in addition to working at being a competitive athlete. The images of women according to cultural ideals may have lent a hand in preventing there from being a professional women's soccer team, and also may have prevented women from earning equal salaries as the men who played on the professional squad.

In Girl Fight, the issue of inclusion in a male driven field was a victory of Title IX and of Dianna as the main character in the film. This film is an example of cultural ideals following athletics. Because there were no other women training at the gym where Dianna worked out, and because there were relatively few female boxers as her competitors, the issue of images of women in her sport being affected by cultural ideals is mute, because there were so few women actually in the ring. Because of this, the main predetermined expectation that she faced as a women in her field was that she should not be a boxer. This sentiment was evident in the way that she was treated as she was attempting to register for lessons with the trainer.

I also found it interesting the way that the film was marketed though the images and photographs displayed on the films box. The box was very careful to show images of Dianna with her hair down, and next to and with her male counterpart, and heterosexual love interest. The positioning of her body as she is throwing the punch that is on the back of the box is also an image that in it's silhouette is very similar to traditional portrayals of the female figure, and therefore less masculinized than it might otherwise be.

In the film love and basketball, the cultural ideal based on the expectations of Monica's family and environment, seemed that the women in support of men either as a husband or as an athlete were the ideal images of women. In this film the role of the athleticism almost acts as a backdrop to the greater issues of relationships and balancing expectations with sport.

In "Remember the Titans" the main conflict was not one of gender inequity, but rather of racial inequity. Viewing the theme of images and ideals with regard to race rather than to gender, it can be said that as society changed, the football team was able to have a Black coach, and was able to integrate the team. This integration in turn led to the formation of value changing friendships, and ultimately to the overall increased acceptance of integration and altered views and racial perceptions. In this way, society's expectations influenced sport, which in turn influenced society.

Pertaining to images of women and women athletes, this same type of cyclical pattern of change occurred. As notions of women's roles and perceptions of women change, so too did the portrayal of female athletes, and the acceptance of female athleticism into cultural norms. There are still many barriers to break in society as well as in athletics, but we have come a lone way from worrying about damage to our reproductive organs, and as women keep challenging the gender barriers in sport, the perceptions of women's roles too shall change.

| Course Home Page | Center for Science In Society | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994-2007 - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:25 CDT