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

Today's Cultural Ideal of Women

Tera Benson

In the Women, Sport and Film course, we examined the changing cultural ideal of the woman. Throughout the course, there was an important relation between being female and feminine dress. We saw that those female athletes who were able to compete athletically on the field while retaining a feminine appearance off of the field were more easily accepted as female athletes. In many cases, this feminine quality attracted the male spectator. Having a male love interest that reciprocated these desires validated these athletes as females. Despite the evolution of the female ideal, women are still pressured to demonstrate their femininity. Feminine dress remains the symbol of femininity to which women retreat. For men, sport takes on the role of revalidating one's masculinity.

The cultural ideal of a woman today is much more complex than years past. An ideal woman in the fifties was expected to be the ultimate homemaker. She should support her husband and children, cook delicious meals, keep a spotless home and embody an attractive, immaculately dressed wife and mother. A perfect example of this woman is Julianne Moore's character in Far From Heaven. Her days are spent perfecting homemade birthday cakes and catering to her family's needs. However, the movie takes a twist when she suddenly abandons her perfect life and perfect family. The ideal woman of today is no longer expected to fit the homemaker mold. In fact, many women who do choose to stay at home full time experience social scrutiny for not developing careers of their own.

In the movies today we see two images of the modern woman, yet only one of these two is today's ideal woman. The first, as we saw in Love and Basketball, is the mother homemaker. She, much like the ideal woman of the fifties, works in the house, watching her children, cleaning house and cooking. As Love and Basketball clearly represents, she receives harsh criticism from modern women attempting to liberate female ideals. In Love and Basketball, Monica is unimpressed by her mother's role as a housewife. Alternately, we have another image of the 21st century woman. She has a successful career while raising a well-adjusted family. She embodies much that the fifties housewife did-she is well dressed, can cook good meals, has a spotless home and supports her family. However, the 21st century woman juggles a career as well. In this respect, she gives up childcare, housekeeping and much of the cooking to outsiders so that she can focus on the important areas of her life. Her appearance remains very important yet she does not hesitate to use professionals in this area of her life as well. This 21st century woman is expected to be in shape. She is neither over weight nor undefined. But, like other areas of her life, athleticism cannot play too large a role. She must embody the well-rounded woman, her primary focus being family and career.

I would argue that a successful businesswoman must be a hard worker, driven, possess business room "game theory" and a competitive nature. All of these attributes are cultivated in organized sport. Therefore it is not surprising that the modern ideal woman participates in sport as well as supports her daughter's participation in sport. This allows females the same space as males, outside of the office or the classroom, to unashamedly compete and channel pent-up emotions. However, the area of sport, especially for females, is a unique space. Within this space, women can act as men do in sport. But this space should only act as a part of the well-rounded female's self-definition. She must also be pretty and smart and compassionate off of the field. This is where we see a split between women and sport and men and sport.

A male, be he 10 years old or 60, who is entirely wrapped up in sport is "just being a guy." It is socially acceptable for males to watch sports, think about sex, etc. However, we do see the male's image changing. The advent of the "metrosexual" demonstrates an increasing interest in appearance. As well, it is becoming more acceptable and even desirable for men to share their feelings. However, much like women, men must prove their heterosexual side while cultivating the previous "feminine" aspects of themselves. This heterosexual side for men is sport. The American male who is entirely uninterested in football is seen as less of a male just as a woman who is uninterested in her appearance is considered less of a female.

We are living in an interesting time, now more than ever gender roles are changing and the black and white differentiation between masculine and feminine is being questioned. However, as American society is dealing with these changing gender definitions, people find comfort in distinguishing certain characteristics that prove a person's retention of the traditional gender roles. For females, this is primarily make-up and feminine clothing, for males, a deep interest in sport. While it is now common for both sexes to take an interest in the other's "gender defining characteristic" a strong interest in this area, if not counteracted by traditional gender behavior, makes Americans very uneasy. As we have seen in Bend It Like Beckham, when a female defines herself primarily through sport, society jumps to the conclusion that she is a lesbian. Likewise, a male "overly interested in his dress" is labeled gay. Hopefully, as more females participate in sport, and as more males take an interest in their appearances, these two gender frontiers will continue to break down.

| 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