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
Question 2: What are the social and cultural costs and benefits of an individual (male or female) entering a non-traditional sport for their gender/sex (eg women who enter body building, power lifting, boxing; men who enter synchronized swimming or field hockey)?
Sports have always maintained barriers concerning the gender of the athletes. Women as well as men have been discriminated in sports, which have for so long been defined as a one-sex sport. For example, boxing had long been considered a sport for males only. Another example is gymnastics, which is usually considered a feminine sport, but also have male participants. However, although sports in general have come a long way in sex discrimination, keeping itself under water, it still remains a consistent problem lurking its ugly head above. There still remains costs towards those individuals who are brave enough to challenge the system , but can there also be benefits for those individuals entering a non-traditional sport?
There are many costs that both men and women must face if they want to take the challenge of entering a non-traditional sport for their gender. First, they have to bare the discrimination and criticism from the members of that sport, the press, and society. Everyone will look down on them for being "different." The press will make a mockery of them on television, in newspapers and in magazines. The spectators who go out to see that sport will not support them in what they are trying to accomplish. The only support the athlete will find is, hopefully, their friends and family. Another cost that the athlete will have to overcome is society's question in their sexual orientation. Everyone will think that the reason the athlete is entering in a non-traditional sport for their gender is because they are gay. For example, the press used to print articles constantly concerning Martina Navratilova's sexual orientation. Even though it wasn't until later that Navratilova announced that she was gay, the press would constantly berate her for her sexuality. Martina Navratilova's struggles are common for many athletes who have dared to compete in sports that were not traditionally "proper" for their gender. These are only a few costs that athletes have to face entering a non-traditional sport.
However, although there exists many costs, there are also benefits for challenging sport's prejudices. Although the majority of society will consider the actions of the athlete as demeaning and improper to the sport, there will be a small minority of people who will think of this athlete as a hero and respect their dreams. Whether it is because these men or women also have the same dreams, or because they respect the athlete's courage, the minority will give the athlete a reason to keep going. Another benefit for attempting to be a difference in the conformity of a sport is the place in history that the athlete will obtain. Perhaps the athlete will never, during their lifetime, find appreciation and respect within society, but new generations will look back in history and remember the athlete's courageous attempt to be welcome in a sport, despite the criticism. This athlete will be remembered not for the criticism, but for what he was trying to accomplish. This is definitely a benefit. When we think back at the days of Martina Navratilova, we do remember what she had to face as a tennis player, but we also remember the courage she had to keep going and playing the sport that she loves. She might have discriminated against when she was playing professional tennis, but now, she can only be respected for what she has accomplished and for her athleticism.
Being different and challenging a sport's conformity has always been a challenge to both men and women. But with all the struggles these athletes have had to withstand, they have ultimately paved a way for younger children who look up to these athletes and want to play the same sport. They make the struggle less for future generations. Although the costs of their challenge might bear heavy burdens on the individual, the benefits they receive later on, defined by future generations able to play a sport that they love without any discrimination, is worth the struggles they had to face. Because of all the athletes of the past who have dared to be different, sports have come a long way in accepting both genders, with less discrimination and prejudice. It is now common to see thousands of spectators at a women's basketball game. Women's ice hockey has been an sport at the past two Olympic games. It is because of athletes like Martina Navratilova that little girls and boys are able to play any sports that they wish. It is because of such athletes that future generations can compete in sports without discrimination and prejudice.
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