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
The realm of sport is a very gender specific world. We associate specific sports with gender, for example only men play football and baseball, where women play softball and do gymnastics. Socially it is not accepted for people to break these set boundaries. When individuals attempt to fight the system, there are many social costs, for example being deemed "gay" in the most derogatory sense. However, benefits do arise in the long run, as colleges appreciate students who are willing to challenge societies' prejudices.
High school is a very transitory period for most teenagers. They are just beginning to discover who they are and what they care about in the world. Though within there are many battles for the individual, there also exist many social barriers. The "popular" crowd is generally full of the jocks. The boys who participate in sport every season: football, baseball and track, and the cheerleader girls who are petit in stature and care greatly about their outward appearance (I realize that this is quite a generalization, yet it has proven true in my experience). Somehow, it seems that these peoples' opinions always matter the most. They determine what is "in," they define "cool." Personally, I never was an active member of this crowd, though some close friends of mine were. My "group" of friends however, was fairly athletic. Practically every one of us participated in a sport, track, swimming, gymnastics, basketball, or soccer. One friend was always a bit different from the rest of the guys. While not feminine in his demeanor, he never distinguished himself as particularly "manly." For example, when one of the girls had to go to the locker room for some reason, she always asked Kawika if he wanted to come along, suddenly realizing that he couldn't. Eventually he realized that he enjoyed gymnastics and wanted to learn more about it. He began to take lessons and tried to join the school team. Sadly, there was no space for him on the team, because the Intramural League of Hawaii (ILH) had no other competing male gymnasts. He did practice with the team though. As can be expected of any news on a high school campus, the rumors began. Suddenly Kawika was gay, a fag, weak, a pussy...the list doesn't end. Shortly after he quit the team, claiming that there was no proper competition. Kai never took actions to create more competition for himself, but by the next year there were 2 new male gymnasts from schools around the state. Kawika rejoined the team.
Though on a popular level, Kawika remained less than a "guy," he experienced many benefits. Because he knew so many girls in a friendly team atmosphere, he had more invitations to our and other senior proms than any of the football players that year. Currently he is studying at Harvard; apparently they appreciated his efforts.
Another friend of mine became known for his high kick. He was a cheerleader. Interestingly, he was a very close friend with the female popular crowd (the other cheerleaders). During assemblies, the popular boys always urged him to run onstage and perform for us this infamous kick. No one really ever knew how he felt, because he always performed (perhaps he appreciated the attention). Everyone always wondered about Kevin's sexuality. He claimed to be dating a girl from some other school, but people always wondered. I now understand that it would have been difficult to "come out" at our high school. People probably wouldn't have isolated him, but he really didn't have any company (that anyone knew of). He is gay. Perhaps the college environment, or simply the newness of college allowed him to accept himself.
During summers and winter break, I work for a group photographer. He takes pictures of road races, graduations, and sports teams. One day he showed me a picture and asked, "Is this a boy or a girl?" The person was decked out in football gear with a dark tan and slick hair; totally ambiguous. I guessed male, and I guessed wrong. I later learned that this girl, the only female in ILH sports, is one of the best high school football players in the state. That is very impressive. Appearances don't matter, stamina, will power and personal strength make one who (s)he is.
In the first film, regarding women breaking into the Olympics, the first professional women in tennis were discussed. These women had to break a lot of social barriers in order to be accepted as athletes, as did the first marathon runners. Men forced the women to uphold their femininity by wearing skirts during the tennis matches. More recently, in the film regarding female bodybuilders, Pumping Iron II, the most muscular body didn't win. The character Bev molded herself to be muscular, not feminine, and because of her lack of womanliness, she lost the competition.
Men and women have social duties determined by their abilities and historical natures. Because these ideas are engrained in our heads, it is difficult to look outside the boundaries, which have been created. We must rise to the occasion, and accept the challenges these people present us with. Men should be able to take on "feminine" sports, even feminine roles, and still maintain "manliness." Similarly, women should be able to do the same. We are meant to learn from history, in order to prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes twice. We should then use these examples as learning experiences. We as a human race should strive to become one, not two separate genders within one grand facade.
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