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

Extreme Roles of Women

Sarah Halter

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.

Sports are so prevalent and popular these days that we often see them as symbolic of real-life issues and real-life drama. The football field can illustrate the battle between good and evil. The baseball pitcher, nearing retirement, can come back to give one last game and wow the crown one last time before gracefully surrendering the field. Isn't that what sports represent? The good guys (i.e. your baseball team) go to battle against the bad guys. It's not quite war, but it might as well be war without causalities. If they win, you celebrate. If they lose, you say, "Well, there's always next time." But if we can say that sports represent real life, do the players always represent real people? Is the quintessential soccer star also the quintessential man? He's controlled, fit, focused and aggressive. He wants to succeed and he wants to do his personal best. These are all admirable qualities.

But here is where we run into a problem. In the past, sports were generally dominated by men. Qualities that are usually associated with masculine imagery are still prized in sports. An athlete should be strong, aggressive, dominating and relentless. Unfortunately, these qualities were not always valued in women. Women, traditionally, were seen as the weaker sex. They couldn't handle straining themselves or they might damage their ability to have babies. Babe Didrikson, arguably the sportswoman of the century, blamed her infertility on her zeal for training in her youth. Tired, "collapsing" women on the track field at the 1928 Olympics were enough to keep women from the Olympic track world for many more years.

Allegedly this image is changing. And women are undeniably supposed to be tougher now. We're supposed to be able to make a go of it in the business world. We can play sports and Mia Hamm can challenge Michael Jordan on TV commercials. Yet, it's often the case that extreme images win out over moderate ones. It almost seems like a woman has to be an aggressive go-getter, a housewife and or both at the same time. In many of the movies we saw, the sports woman couldn't find a happy medium. In Girl Fight, we see that a woman has to chose one role or the other to play; Diana chooses to be tough and she alienates her boyfriend. She is one extreme. Jes's mother in is another extreme. She wants to be the perfect wife and sports have no room in her world. Yet, in Love and Basketball, the woman must become the Renaissance woman. She must put aside her life of being a tomboy, make herself attractive, marry and have a child. At the same time, she may get sweaty and play sports.

I would argue that these ideals shouldn't have to be so extreme. Why does a woman have to choose one (be sporty) or the other (be a lady) or both (be a perfect woman who balances sports, marriage, babies, etc)? Some girls don't want kids. Some do. Some want a kid and want to play a sport, but hate make-up and dresses. Perhaps this hearkens to today's society in which labels dictate everything.

I played softball in high school. On picture day, our first baseman drove home to put on some make-up before she got her picture taken for the team. She argued that her mom showed these sports pictures of her to everyone in her family. So, she said, she wanted to look nice. But she quickly became the team joke. Her old name was set aside and from then on everyone called her "Estèe" (in honor of "Estèe" Lauder, the brand name make-up). Yet, this same year, our left fielder brought in glitter eye shadow. She said it would raise moral and so before every game she'd ceremonially put eye shadow on our eyes. No one thought this was odd, especially in comparison to our behavior toward Estèe. On one hand, a girl who wanted to look nice in a picture was mocked. On the other hand, everyone put eye shadow on before a softball game. I think this represents the tension that exists between the role the woman should play and the role she plays in sports. Everyone thought Estèe should act like a real sportsperson and not get made up for a picture. At the same time, everyone was concerned with their appearance on the field. It's a strange paradox.

Another example is the incident involving the American soccer victory in the 1999 Women's World Cup and Brandi Chastain. These women were praised on their trip to the top. Little girls started buying T-shirts with the number "8" on them so they could connect themselves with the amazing Mia Hamm. For the first time, women's sports were covered seriously. These were tough women; some were married, some weren't, some had kids, some didn't. They were different from each other and they were real After scoring the winning goal in the final game against China, Brandi Chastain ripped off her shirt, dropped to her knees and yelled in victory. Most of the audience yelled along. But suddenly, a controversy rose up. Chastain had ripped her shirt off. Despite the fact that male players do this in victory all the time and despite the fact that Chastain was modestly covered by a sports bra, a lot of people had a problem with her actions. It wasn't seemly for a woman to do such a thing. Yet, if you watch TV enough, you'll inevitably come across a Victoria's Secret commercial. These women, none of whom have Chastain's muscular, well-taken-care-of body, writhe under water in their underwear to advertise bras and panties. This is a terrible double-standard. Although you occasionally hear someone complain about the models, usually they're accepted. I do not want to discredit these models, as I'm sure they worked hard to get to the positions they are in today. But it doesn't seem fair that a woman who sculpted her body into an athletic machine should be chastised for showing her body in a moment of victory.

In conclusion, I think sports help the role of women in society. Because a seven year old sees Mia Hamm or Julie Foudy play on TV, perhaps when she grows up she'll know it's okay for a woman to have different characteristics that define her. The little girl could grow up to be a softball player and never marry. Or she could become a lawyer and mom. Or she can grow up to be a caterer and a lesbian. And hopefully, no matter what role this little girl fills, she can be comfortable in it because she is not bound by labels.

| 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