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
What are the social and cultural costs and benefits of an individual (male or female) entering a non-traditional sport for their gender/sex (e.g. women enter body building, power lifting, boxing; men enter synchronized swimming or field hockey)?
In today's society, particularly in the United States, an individual entering a non-traditional sport for his/her gender takes on many tasks besides playing the sport, the individual also takes on the criticism (good or bad) of people who play the sport and those who watch it too. There are many social and cultural costs as well as benefits, but to what extent mostly depends on the sport and the sex of the player.
The biggest thing that creates a social and cultural cost in the world of sports is change. People have a hard time coping with a change in the norm, especially when people are not welcome still to this day that women play sports. So as soon as a man/woman wants to do something different, there will always be controversy that will include harassment of the individual from sexual orientation to class, or simply what this change could do to the particular sport in the long run. A man entering a "women's" sport is very different than a woman entering a "man's" sport. There is more praise given to a woman entering a male-dominated sport and more disapproval given to a man entering a female-dominated sport. For example, when the ABL and WNBA, particularly when the WNBA, started up, many people questioned whether women could play professionally and handle the pressure of living up to the NBA. As soon as commercial ads came out for the WNBA league, it was done in a fashion to show that the WNBA did consist of straight women and it was not a league for lesbians. Even though basketball is not a traditional sport, the idea of women playing a men's game at the professional level was a big deal. So even before the league started, someone felt that he/she had to prove that not all aggressive female athletes are gay. It's funny, but in a sad way, that women have to prove their sexual identity, but the men's are never questioned.
The social and cultural costs of this intermingling of sexes starts with the genders that are tied to each sport, which then puts the individual's sexuality at question. If a woman enters a "male" sport she will be considered a lesbian and if a male entered a "woman" sport then he would be tagged with a gay identity. The player now has two jobs, succeed at the game and prove their sexuality, just like what the commercials were doing for the WNBA, proving the maternity of the players. Also, if an individual is of a different race or social class, then people tend to attack that side of the person. For example, some might say that the only reason why a person is good is because of their color or the only reason why someone has the opportunity is because he/she came from a wealthy background. Many people in today's society will find anything about someone to attack them and prove that what that individual is doing is wrong and bad for society and/or for the sport and apply labels to them. These labels lead to harassment and when it is not dealt with appropriately it can contribute to many social crises'. It may interfere with and affect an individual's physical and emotional health, which will lead to a low self-esteem, which will lead to poor performance. It won't just end with the individual, but continue to the organization, which could increase the turnover of staff and volunteers and diminish the reputation and image of the organization in the community.
The benefits of playing sport, no matter what one's gender or sport, are varied ranging from enhanced self-esteem and quality of life for individuals though to lower health costs and the reduction of anti-social behavior for the community. If the player is accepted, it does wonders for the sport and the community. It makes others on the outside realize that sport has rules, but these rules do not constrict the intermingling of sexes. There have been many organizations that have created a men's league (i.e. Georgia men's field hockey league) or a women's league (professional boxing) because of the interest in non-traditional sports for males and females. Since there is a high interest from individuals in a non-traditional sport, athletic directors or even coaches are willing to develop other leagues for the opposite sex. In doing this, it creates fair game for all and does not exclude anyone from participating. Even though these sports may have a slow start, over time society becomes acquainted with the fact that men play field hockey and women box, then more and more people become interested in the sport, which leads to the sport's growth.
When an individual wants to or tries to play a non-traditional sport, there tends to be a load of controversy one must carry on his/her back. The individual not only takes the challenge of being ousted or treated differently by the community, but proving people wrong. I think this is one of the greatest things to see, when people overcome obstacles and prove others wrong. For example, in the movie Girlfight, Diana, who wanted to box like her brother, trained and achieved notable success and as a result made new trails for female boxers. At first, she had a hard time learning the skills of boxing and when she had her first match, there were sexual slurs said towards her. As the movie progressed, so did Diana's skills and that's when the harassment stopped. Her success not only gained acknowledgement for herself, but the fact that females could box. This is one of the greatest stories to read about because stories like this tend to pave the way for others to follow or even allow more change to occur. In today's society, sport fans have noticed that the WNBA and other sports that have created controversy are not just a hoax and women can compete professionally like men do. Once the people see the accomplishments and success, they tend to drop some of their pre-conceived notions of non-traditional sports being played by the opposite sex.
Overall, the outcome of women playing men's sports and vice versa is a change that both society and culture need. If society was not so concerned with people's backgrounds or what they did behind closed doors, then athletics would have a whole different outlook for those playing or wanting to play. When people overcome obstacles, then the society seems to accept the change and with this happening it may help the society. In the short run there may be a slow start to the idea of the intermingling of sexes playing sports, but sport is such a moneymaking machine, sometimes change is what is needed in order to create ideas of marketing and in the long run it will be successful. The costs and benefits of this crossing over may vary from one society to another, but the biggest cost would be an unsuccessful emergence, which would just bring us back to the starting point. The biggest cultural and social benefit may be for that individual who succeeded in this non-traditional sport and will be used as a marketing tool. It may also create opportunities for the organization itself or society, like jobs in coaching, marketing or any other business in the area of change. It is also another way for an individual to have the chance to accomplish one's desire for the American Dream.
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