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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Women, Sport, and Film
March 8, 2002
When a woman or man joins a non-traditional sport for their gender or sex, it can have drastic social and cultural costs. These impact not just the individual but also the entire community. When a person challenges the gender roles of society, then they change the perceptions of what men or women are capable of doing, they further androgynize cultural norms, and they open up sports for others.
First of all, it is important to note that the first few challengers to a gender role are seen as novelties. In the film 'Dare to Compete', many early woman athletes were co-opted into male teams to attract more fans. Baseball managers would often employ stunts to raise their ticket sales, with one black team – the Clowns –putting on a vaudeville show during the game. The Clowns did have a female player, but she was not publicized to grab more attention at first. Later, advertisements would announce her presence as astounding that a woman could play as well as a man. She was a novelty within a novel team. In the all-female league during World War 2, the managers would have the girls wear short skirts and put on makeup to look like "ladies". Men would come hoping for a striptease in the middle of the game, because women were placed in the same category of sports as the black leagues. That is, they were only to entertain and not actually compete. In 'Girlfight', the main character is at first skeptically viewed by her coach and then she is viewed as a humorous oddity until she proves her determination. Last year, Muhamid Ali and George Foreman's daughters decided to fight each other in a rematch of the famed Rumble in the Jungle. This received major network coverage and was a pay-per-view event on HBO, but the girls were trivialized and many late night commentators ridiculed the idea of women boxing more than one round. Jay Leno suggested that in between rounds, the ladies would stop to touch up their makeup or become enraged if their hair was mussed during the match. The event was well watched because of this curiosity, and it hopefully proved that the daughters of Ali and Forman were just as much an athlete as they were. Women or men who enter a non-traditional sport for their gender will always be viewed with skepticism.
In "Girlfight", the main character finds herself through boxing, but she has to overcome her family and boxing club's objections. Both see boxing as a phase for her, and so she must work harder to prove her worth. Most of the men do not believe that she is capable of handling the physical activity needed to box well. By proving that she is not boxing for the workout but for the sport itself, she changes the way that the men view women combaters. She makes the men see her as an athlete and not just a woman. From then on, those men will have more respect for women athletes and it will not cause them to prejudge another female trying to enter an unusual sport.
When women or men enter a non-traditional sport, there is always the shadow of homosexuality clinging in the background. Each time there is success; it further blurs the line of what is acceptable gender behavior. This is not a bad thing, but it makes the general population uncomfortable that part of their culture is eroding away. Most people who viewed Bev Francis in "Pumping Iron 2" thought she was trying to be a man. The opinion was that she was ashamed of her sexuality. However, there were many people who liked the difference and applauded her without questioning if she was a lesbian or not. Unfortunately, when gender is challenged, it seems that the target must prove his or her heterosexuality more than they would have normally. In the ice-skating movie "The Cutting Edge", the male lead, Doug, must return home to inform his family that he was doing pair's figure skating. Although he is ultimately joking, the first question that Doug's brother asks is if he is gay. The movie "Billy Elliott" explores the gender-homosexuality issue further as the young Billy decides to be a ballet dancer rather than a boxer. Billy's father asks him if he still likes girls. The fear that comes with participating in a gender-opposite sport only dissuades with each new participant.
As each new person joins a non-traditional sport, it helps to encourage the idea of individuality and breaking cultural barriers. Women's bobsled was finally introduced to the Olympics this year, and by having this exposure, more women are interested in the sport. Each time there is a groundbreaking new athlete in a nontraditional sport then more people join the activity.