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
Nontraditional Sport: The benefits and Costs
Women and men play various sports because they as Americans want to experience the excitement of playing for fun, and doing something they love. The idea of what men and women can do for fun in sports has been shaped by the American society in many different ways through the media, schooling and education, and professional sports organizations. America portrays women playing field hockey and doing synchronized swimming while men do boxing, and body building. If a woman chooses to do boxing because to her it is fun and if a man chooses synchronized swimming because he likes it, they face many cultural costs and benefits of choosing this sport. Society does not like change and holds female athletes up to ideals such as being beautiful, graceful, and healthy. Male athletes are held to ideals such as strong, aggressive, and powerful. People who choose to play non-traditional sports risk being judged by society as unnatural and homosexual, instead of being viewed as an athlete who is special and unique, they are often subjected to unwanted sexual advances and assumptions. The benefit of doing an untraditional sport is that you are able to do something you love. As a result of people who do non-traditional sports, they open the doors for future generations of women and men who might want do play an non-traditional sport.
The movie, "Pumping Iron II" is an example of women doing bodybuilding which is considered a non-traditional sport. Images of muscular women are viewed by some people as threatening and imitating. The benefit of this non-traditional sport is that it forces us to question our thoughts about women and what they are. We must ask, what is a woman? Bodybuilding of women forces our society to question and ask if a woman is a woman if she looks like a man. In the movie, the judges of the bodybuilders were faced with this question up front. The judges were forced to make an ambiguous line between what the difference was between a man and a woman. The costs of this sport may be unfair judging of the bodybuilders because the judges are still divided on what makes a woman's feminine form better.
The bodybuilders had to deal with assumptions of the public that accuse them of unnatural or homosexual. A main character, Bev Francis had to frequently insist that she was a woman not a man, and she was faced with the questioning of her sexuality. Bev's muscles, dress, heavy facial features, and "unfeminine" body language evoke the stereotype of what a lesbian looks like: the butch, the lesbian who is immediately recognizable as such, visibly different. Bev had a strong belief that she looked like a woman and that she was beautiful and strong. A risk she faced was being hurt by the public's comments about her body and sexuality.
The social and cultural costs of being a male playing non-traditional sports does not seem as severe as it does because men are not driven away from sports. Women are constantly being driven away from any sport from the fear of being labeled as unfeminine or lesbian. Men who want to play non-traditional sports will probably be more likely to be stereotyped as gay, or feminine. But if a man plays a traditional male sport, he will not be subjected to unwanted assumptions or sexual advances. Men do not benefit much from playing non-traditional sports because men have this privilege of not needing to prove anything. Society knows that men can do almost anything they want. One benefit of this may be that society can become more open minded about these differences, and a male playing an nontraditional sport will compel people to think about their definitions of men, and what men can do.
These people who play non-traditional sports pave the way for some sports organizations in finding sources and popularity. These stereotypes are not new as said in Hoop Dreams, "Indeed, the threat of women participating in the sporting world is by no means a new one, Susan Cahn has argued that the stereotype of the mannish lesbian athlete has worked to shape not only female competitors themselves, but also sports organizations, funding sources and the overall popularity of women's sports." To overcome the stereotypes of women athletes is to demonstrate that women who play sports are still women. Non-traditional sports give people a better opportunity to further define women in sports, and to diminish the stereotypes that are often attributed to women in sports.
Women have come a long way in sports. Each step in athletics for women is a fight. Title IX did not solve all the problems as colleges and schools across the country have an equal number of sports for men and women. Over time women's athletics have acquired this image that is negative and often times drives women away from playing sports at all. We need to change this negative image so more women will be conformable doing the sports they love. Women playing un-traditional sports are a start in this process. Along with the cost of playing non-traditional sports that are sometimes harmful, there will be a benefit no matter the consequences. The benefit of women playing freely, without the fear of being judged or hurt by other people is a benefit that is superior than all the obstacle women go through. It is my hope that someday women will be able to play freely, and in hopes in having fun playing the game.
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