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Women, Sport, and Film - 2004
Student Papers
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The Image and the Ideal : The Ideal of Women as Related to the Ideal of the Female Athlete

Tiffany Stenglein

The ideal images of female athletes presented in the films for this class have had a strong connection to the images of ideal women in society in general. Like the ideal image of women, there are many variations of the ideal image of female athletes. While Dare to Compete tracked the evolution of the role of the real female athletes, the feature films we watched presented varying views of the ideal female athlete, which has been different in different times and places.

Remember the Titans was set in the seventies, and the female characters were appropriately demure. Coach's daughter was a football fan, but never actually played football. She was, at best, a well-informed cheerleader. She could follow the plays--more than I myself can do--and would probably have made some quarterback a great girlfriend some day. While the ideal here is not of a female athlete, it is still relevant to the course. The ideal is of the female spectator--the athletic support. She went to the games and cheered on her father and the team. As a young girl she acted as a mascot.

Bend it Like Beckham depicted a young, beautiful girl who just wanted to play. Jas retained a high degree of femininity in spite of her athleticism. She girlishly falls for her off-limits coach, and is terribly ashamed of her body, especially the scar on her leg. She is a girl first--not even really a woman--then an athlete. The development of the character in the film is minimal. It is the world around Jas that is forced to develop and change to unrealistically meet her needs.

Love and Basketball uses sport, and particularly basketball as a metaphor for love. Monica and her boyfriend are both basketball players, but unlike in the film Girlfight (see below) they never come into direct competition. The two times they do actually play together, the games are absolutely not about basketball. When he loses to Monica, it is because he wants to, not because she is actually better than he is. Moreover, the reason he wants to lose is based entirely on her femininity. Monica is a good player, but is not a threat to his masculinity because anytime he wants to he can put her back in her place.

Diana of Girlfight represents a real threat to her boyfriend's masculinity. Not only does she force him to seriously compete with her on equal terms, but she actually beats him. This film addresses Diana's athleticism in terms of it being a threat to her femininity and a threat to her boyfriend's masculinity. Amazingly, and perhaps a bit unrealistically, both issues are resolved into a happy ending.

These four fictionalized accounts of athletics depict very different ideals of the female athlete--or non-athlete--and reflect the multiple ideals of women in society. All of the main female characters are in someway idealized--they are forced into molds of what they should or should not be--but each of their prisons has different set of bars. There is not one single ideal of the female athlete, just as there is no single ideal of woman.

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