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
It goes without saying that a person's gender, racial and social origins influence their participation in sports. Particular races and genders often dominate certain sports. African Americans, for example, tend to dominate football and basketball, while Caucasians tend to dominate ice hockey. The same holds true for gender as well. Football is an entirely male dominated sport, while horseback riding, gymnastics and figure skating are much more female oriented. How and why did these divisions come about? Determining the origin of gender goes beyond the scope of this paper, however one can speculate about how gender classifications and stereotypes affect one's role in the sports arena.
The movie "Girl Fight" did an excellent job of depicting how one person dealt with and overcame gender stereotypes. The movie depicts the struggle of a high school girl, Diana Guzman, to overcome gender buriers and become a boxer. Her mother having died when she was young, she lives with her father and younger brother, Tiny. The father forces the son to take boxing lessons because he feels that it is important that Tiny know how to defend himself. However Diana cannot even tell her father that she wants money to take boxing lessons. Her father constantly hassles her about behaving more like a "girl" i.e., wearing skirts and giving more consideration to her appearance. He does not think it at all important that Diana should know how to defend herself as well, even though she obviously lives in the same dangerous neighborhood as her brother.
In fact, her father has extremely traditional stereotypes of "male" and "female." He believes that the male should be the defender—strong, powerful, and dominant and that the female should be attractive and submissive. Ironically enough, his children are exactly the opposite. Tiny is not just a clever name, he has a small build, is academically inclined and hopes to pursue art. He has no interest whatsoever in learning boxing. Diana, on the other hand, has a large, sturdy build, and a hot temper. It is Diana that defends her brother when another boxer takes advantage of him in the ring.
Diana's relationship with Adrian is another form of tension between gender stereotypes in the film. Boxing is traditionally a sport where men prove their "manhood." They prove that they are categorically the alpha-male by defeating their opponents. Therefore, to have a woman, who should traditionally be submissive and dutiful, step up to the ring turns everything that boxing stands for upside down. Much of the movie centers on the conflicts that develop within their relationship because of this paradox. At first it seems that Adrian is completely open to Diana's boxing. However his true beliefs are challenged when he and Diana are forces to fight one another. Adrian has to struggle with his own definitions of masculinity and femininity before he can come to terms not only with Diana's boxing him, but also beating him.
In effect, Diana defies everything that is traditionally identified as male and female. In the end it is not clear what happens to Diana; whether her relationship with Adrian is successful or whether her father can finally accept Diana's boxing. However one still comes away from the movie feeling that she has accomplished something significant. By breaking into a sport that has traditionally been extremely male dominated, Diana takes the first step in bridging the gender gap. She shows that the rules which govern gender stereotypes are in fact stereotypes, that they are not set in stone and that they can be broken. All it takes is one person, and when others see that what they once thought was black and white is in fact gray, they realize that they too can bring about significant changes. However these changes never come about over night. If one defines one's world with a certain number of boxes and categories, it's always difficult to see that perhaps those boxes never existed. Thus, to be among the first people to break out of these roles Diana leaves herself open to ridicule. This can be seen in the strained relationships she has with her best friend and others in her high school. Moreover, because Diana defies the gender stereotypes she has a hard time being accepted by both boys and girls—society does not know how to treat her since she does not fit into any of its categories.
Diana is an excellent illustration of the many struggles of women to find a place for themselves in sports. On an individual level, defying societal stereotypes is extremely difficult. The buriers that the first person must overcome are often extreme. However once the first person breaks down those buriers, it becomes increasingly easier for others to follow in their footsteps. Diana's struggle demonstrates both how far women have come and how far women still have to go.
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