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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
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Non-Traditional Sport Roles, Society and Culture

Stephanie Kristal


Sports have become a major part of American culture and society. It is ingrained in us as a small child that playing a sport is almost necessary. In elementary school we take physical education where we are exposed to competitive sport. But even at this level it is our genders that control which types of sport are deemed "appropriate."

Since women started to become involved in sports, there have always been those who have apposed them being there. We saw an example of this in the movie Girl Fight. By allowing a woman to partake in a sport, in this case boxing, that is typically viewed as male oriented in caused society to alter its views. This created many problems though. People do not want to see woman is a fighting role. It is thought to be unladylike and too rough. Because fighting is masculine, seeing a woman in that role changes gender roles in her community. Though it is clear that the Diana can handle herself in this movie. Her culture and society does not want to see her in a strong way. She faces many obstacles in order to show that she does belong where she is. In this movie she is victorious because it is her skills and determination that win out in the end, not her gender.

Both in Girl Fight and in Pumping Iron 2 the question of what is feminine and what should a woman look and act like is brought up. In Girl Fight, the idea of a female boxer is deemed not feminine. Diana is told that she is wrong for being interested in male sports. Also, her sexuality is questioned. People call her a dyke and other derogatory terms because they do not believe that she could possibly be a "normal girl". By questioning her sexuality they are saying too her that she is not allowed to be who she wants to be. Even though it is clear to us as the viewers that she is not a lesbian. She, nonetheless, has to defend her sexuality because she plays a sport that is not traditionally seen as a woman's sport.

The same was true for the women in Pumping Iron 2. Because of their strength and physical stature, certain men and women seemed to be intimidated by them. We saw this specifically in Bev's case. She was the one with a physique most like that on a male body builder. She placed extremely low in the competition because there were judges who felt that even in a body building competition, women should still look feminine. Though the crowd was very supportive of Bev, as we heard in their booing when she did not win, the judges were against her because of what looked like, confusion, and the fact that her body was too muscular. Even though this was a bodybuilding contest.

It is not just women that experience biases when it comes to sports. Men to can be the subject of ridicule for playing sports which are thought to be for women. We can see this in the movie The Cutting Edge. Here, an ex-ice hockey player becomes a pairs figure skater. You can see how his gender and sexuality are questioned by his family and friends for no longer playing the manly sport of ice hockey, but rather the, thought to be, dainty and ladylike sport of figure skating. Though, the protagonist's masculinity is questioned. There is never any question about his sexuality. The movie does not take the film to that level.

Another film that shows men having to defend both their masculinity and sexuality is Bring It On. This is a movie about a high school cheerleading team. Of course this movie is meant to be funny and light hearted, but it does show us what society thinks about men in sports not traditionally thought of as "right" for their gender. Many times during this film, members of the football team (a masculine spot) call the male cheerleaders derogatory terms referring to their sexuality. Even though the football team is horrible and the cheerleaders are national champions. It is the fact that these male cheerleaders are involved in a feminine sport that makes them subject to ridicule.

There are positive things that can happen as a result of people playing sports not traditionally thought to be okay for their gender though. By having people in these roles it breaks down barriers between men and women in society. There are always going to be those that resist this, but in general people become more excepting of one another. At least that is the hope. Diana, Bev, and the others were either portraying or being, in Bev's case, pioneers in their sports field. But the fact that they got to compete at all shows us that our society has come a long way. Yet, the obstacles that they faced, shows us that we still have a long way to go.




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