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Women, Sport, and Film - 2002
Student Papers
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The Female Athlete and the Search Equality

Suzy Skotheim

Soccer is not seen as a non-traditional sport for women, especially not since the US Women's National Team won the World Cup in 1999, but like most women's sports it was at one time thought of as a male only sport. I grew up in a very athletic family, where both my brother and my father loved to play soccer, so naturally I fell in love with the sport at a very young age, in fact I was about 5 when I started playing. At that time I was one of the few girls playing in the only peewee league; a league that was co-ed. It was really hard for me and I can remember the frustration I went though, because none of the boys believed that I was capable of playing at their level. In their mind I was just a girl and there was no way that I would ever be able to compete with them. This attitude did not just disappear with age, in fact it followed me until I finally found one of the local girls team. I am going to explore the challenges that women have to go through daily in order to compete at the highest-level possible. There are many issues that women must face concerning how they define themselves as a woman and how to relate to the rest of society.

Even though I was not entering a non-traditional sport I was still faced with some of the same issues that women who are entering bodybuilding, power lifting or boxing are. No matter what gender you are or what sport you play there will always be sacrifices and rewards but when one enters a sport that is in many ways considered "off limits" the sacrifices seem greater but in the end so are the rewards. No matter how frustrated I got because I was never given the same opportunities as the boys were I never quit because I loved the game and the game was not to blame for my frustration; society was to blame.

Women entering non-traditional sports are faced with issues about their femininity, their sexual preference and their place in society. Women who participate in non-traditional sports often do not know where they fit into society because usually the only role models they have are male; they therefore feel more connected to males than females but at the same time disconnected from them because they are not the "type" of woman that men are romantically interested in. Which often leads to those women not dating very often and society beginning to question their sexual preference.

The question about sexual preferences arises because the old "middle-class Victorian society had defined femininity and masculinity around polarized gender prescriptions in dress, activity and demeanor." (Cahn). Women were breaking the societal norms by finding jobs, entering college and challenge. Women and society were redefining femininity and sexuality and "psychologists incorporated this new meaning of sexuality into categories of illness, social deviance, and sexual perversity, they provided an intellectual framework for the modern lesbian taboo." (Cahn). Doctors and psychologist were giving a people reason behind why women were deviating from the norm and claimed that is was lesbianism. This is also where the issue of femininity comes into play. Society is used to women shopping, being in the kitchen with the children and being as feminine as possible but this mold is broken when women's goals are fueled by the desire to redefine women's roles in society.

A good example of how women's lives are affected when they try to redefine their role in society is shown in the movie Pumping Iron II. In the movie the cinematography blatantly shows each woman in a different light. Two of the major characters, Bev and Carla, were portrayed in very different ways. Bev, the stronger of the two, was seen in a negative way because the judges and the producers believed she was too masculine for a female, even though the goal of bodybuilding is to maximize the definition and strength. She lost the competition, which was supposed to based on how well one can build their muscles, because she was not consider feminine enough and "the judges feel compelled to define "body" in relation to "woman." (Holmland). Carla on the other hand, won the competition because the judges felt that she had the right amount of definition combined with the perfect feminine qualities. The competition became more about how attractive the women were than how strong they were. Women are treated very differently because "the more muscular women inflame male anxiety because they threaten the abolition of visible difference." (Holmland). Women are threatening men and what their roles are in society so to suppress women back into their normal roles they give them a negative stereotype.

Although there are many costs to women entering sports there are also positive rewards, no matter how small they are. The benefits may be very hard to see and usually come long after one's attempt at competing but women trying to grow in sports is helping our society as a whole grow. We can't grow, as individuals or as a society, without challenging our former beliefs, and I honestly hope that the majority of society wants to grow and change no matter how hard it is to do. Society is made to look at stereotypes, both unconscious and conscious, and learn to accept others for what they want and what they do. Not only do women athletes help society grow, it also helps them grow.

Women athletes grow very much during their journey to their highest level possible, no matter what that peak is. They grow because each barrier that they defeat they gain more and more confidence in themselves and become more certain about what they are doing. No matter what gender or what sport you are in there are always going to be times when you want to give it up and each time you work through those experiences you learn to embrace the hard times. One of the main problems that all athletes face are injuries; they can break even the most passionate athlete. I never had any injuries until my freshman year in high school but when I first got one I was sure make it the best I could; I tore my MCL. It was very hard to be injured and have to watch your team on the field, and all of sudden I missed all of the hard work and running. Since that year I have had nothing but bad luck in injury department but what I have learned to take away from all my injuries is a more passionate and mature love and understanding for soccer. I never appreciated the game until I couldn't play, and never realized that there was so much to learn off the field; I could now become a leader. I thought that I loved the game as much as possible but I realized that it was not as passionate as it is now because now I can say without any doubt in my heart that there is nothing or anyone who can ever stop me from playing soccer besides myself. I can say that because people and injuries have tested me, and each time I have come back.

Not only do the barriers give me a better understanding of the game but it has also made me understand more about my life and myself. I have learned that although soccer is amazing there is more to life and I have to learn to embrace everything that is given to me, and in many ways I have come to learn that things happen for a reason. I have grown both on and off the field and I know that this is the biggest gift that soccer could have ever given me. Women athletes need to understand that there are going to be many hard times and many stereotypes thrown at them but the most positive thing to do is embrace that and instead of using it to defeat them, they should use it as motivation to push them that much harder. Each one of us chooses how to use others negative, and positive, energy; no one can defeat you but yourself.

As we can see there are both positive and negative experiences for women entering a sport, whether it is non-traditional or traditional. The great thing about being human is that we have the opportunity and freedom to choose how we are going to let other people affect us. We, as women especially, have the greatest opportunity of them all; we have the chance to teach societies and help them grow. Not many people have the power to change society but women athletes are taking that power and using it well. No matter how hard it gets to be and no matter how much you want to give up a sport because of someone else's negative vibes remember that the cultural costs do not outweigh the benefits. The greatest achievement is to raise above all the negativity and be a role model for younger athletes; the best possible reward is to hear another athlete want to be just like you.


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