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.
Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Challenges appear to be part of the human experience. In the course of history, very little has come easily. The progress that women have made in sport in the United States over the course of the last 100 years seems remarkable for the amount achieved in so little time. In relation to the other advances made in this century, including men's sport, that achievement dims. While women have made great advances, they haven't, in comparison, come that far. It would appear, from the outside, that men's sport will forever have all of the advantages, all of the rewards, all of the prestige, while women's sport is left to perpetual inequality.
Yet, not only are there sports that are considered "non-traditional" for both sexes, the obvious majority of these sports are "traditionally" recognized as women's sports. While there may be a very small number of teams of male synchronized swimmers or synchronized ice-skaters, there are virtually no integrated teams. Of the number of sports considered non-traditional for women, among them football and wrestling, women have gradually opened the door into these sports. In most states, girls even have the right to participate on boys' sports teams if there is no girls' team or even a girls' team which plays by the same rules because of the historical limitations on women's sports.
However, in most states boys are not granted the same rights because there has been no such "historical limitation" on their participation in sports, according to the Women's Sports Foundation. While this may seem to defy the motivating spirit behind laws like Title IX, many view it as an "acceptable" situation. Boys who do participate in sports such as synchronized swimming, cheerleading and even field hockey often face an even greater challenge than girl's attempting the same feat in a "men's" sport. When a women tries to participate in a non-traditional sport, even without the support of her family, she has an entire historical movement backing up her desires. Very often there is even recent legislation, and formal organizations supporting that legislation (if not responsible for it), to provide an even greater support system for a girl who is challenging the gender norms defined in sport.
However, boys rarely find this kind of support. It is virtually non-existent and unlikely to become so. While the participants of the "women's" sport they are entering may welcome them with open arms, the reaction from the rest of society is historically overwhelmingly negative. Especially in the United States, boys who chose to play sports other than their "traditional" ones often face humiliating comments. As with even minimally "masculine" women, their sexual orientation is automatically questioned. Very often further insults and humiliations are heaped on any boy attempting to enter a girls' sport because of some of the rules existent there. For example, should a boy win the right to play field hockey on girls' team in a high school, he would soon find himself wearing a skirt on the field in order to comply with the rules of the sport. Many feminists might view this as the just desserts of a gender that has historically controlled and dominated the power structure and the rewards of sport in general.
The cultural and social costs of this situation are varied and perhaps extraordinarily dangerous. By perpetuating any inequalities, especially if they are publicly supported by women, the cause of truly equal playing fields in the entire realm of sport is undermined. The costs become even greater when the challenges faced are perceived by other interested individuals to be too great. Losing self-respect and suffering humiliation are hardly the poster children for the benefits of participating in any sport an individual might be interested in.
While women may in fact still face such challenges, they at least have the backing of numerous special interest groups and activist organizations. Women's continued success in becoming involved in nearly every non-traditional sport also provides a sense of confidence to others attempting the same feat. The feeling that "if she could do it, then I can too" speaks loudly from the historical perspective of how and why women have come so far in producing opportunities for others to participate in sport. The lack of many role models for boys in the same position is yet another challenge. The costs of attempting and failing include the same feelings of humiliation and lack of self-respect, but without the benefit of actually having succeeded.
The benefits of success, however, are far more positive. No matter which gender succeeds in being able to participate in whatever sport they desire, the set a precedent of someone having succeeded in doing so. That precedent makes the way even smoother for the next individual, if not providing an inspiration to do attempt something new, something non-traditional. As well, the more individuals who participate in sports and on teams that are "non-traditional" the more the goal of creating a truly equal arena is furthered. The more the current conception of what is permissible for either gender as well as what is possible is challenged, the closer we come to a re-examination of how unequal the history of sport has been for both sexes and the actions that need to be taken in order to prevent such inequalities from existing in the future. The more individuals take on challenges like this the more they force society to closely examine the way they think about what makes people and their activities different in the first place. These re-examinations and re-evaluations all lead to one eventual goal: the elimination of a true inequality between men and women in terms of their positions in society and in sport. The fewer inequalities that are allowed to exist, the closer society comes to a point at which it can be described as being truly tolerant and accepting.
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