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
What are the social and cultural costs and benefits of an individual (male or female) entering a non-traditional sport for their gender/sex?
The lines that separate the sexes in sport have been historically rooted in society's way of thinking. Though these lines have lately begun to fade, they are still embedded in the attitudes of the majority of the public. Women and men alike have been and still seated in their respective sports without much room or access to cross that gender line. These limitations take various forms, such as the availability of opportunities that are given to those that wish to enter certain sports to the media portrayals of athletes crossing these gender boundaries.
The costs and sacrifices for an aspiring athlete entering a non-traditional sport for their gender are sometimes overwhelming and detrimental to their sport career. These athletes often experience the frustration of finding training facilities catering to their gender. More so, the lack of financial support from family or even endorsements hinder athletes from pursuing the best training available. Aside from financial considerations, finding willing mentors and coaches willing to blind themselves from the sex of the athlete doesn't come as easy as for instance, Diana in Girlfight. Most importantly, the emotional support that is greatly important in the mental preparedness of an athlete is often not existent. Young children are often discouraged and not offered opportunities to pursue desired sports if they are considered gender bending. In Billy Elliot, though Billy has a real passion and talent for ballet, it is after much time that his family accepts it. Billy's father and brother, employed in mining, a traditionally masculine field, are initially disapproving of his aspirations mostly because of the stigmas on sexuality placed on male ballet dancers. These stigmas appear throughout numerous sports; women who body build or play rough sports like rugby or hockey are often looked at as butch and thus characterized as lesbians. In Pumping Iron II, Bev appears to have been in the best shape, but she is deemed too masculine to win a body building competition. Similarly, men who ice skate or are cheerleaders are considered feminine or gay. On the same note, the strengths of men in these non-traditionally male sports are often doubted; it is speculated that the male might be weak and cannot handle "manlier" sports. Even women who enter male dominated sports are considered to be too tender to play. These athletes are constantly dodging one generalization after another, whether it is a question of sexuality or physical abilities.
Despite the sacrifices and struggles of these athletes, the benefits of breaking the gender barriers in athletics outweigh the costs. The attention brought to the sport and just tipping that outer surface of the sport narrow the gaps that separate traditionally male and female sports. Men and women who enter unconventional sports broaden their respective sexes' involvement and create opportunities for other aspiring athletes. For example, women's hockey had become an Olympic sport and women's basketball had achieved national status. As a result, media coverage of the sport widened and commercial support was greatly increased.
In spite of all the recent transitions that sports have gone through, one cannot expect complete acceptance of dissenters of these gender roles. The limits places even on the athletes in any sports, whether respective to their sex or not, remain apparent in the expected behavior of the athletes. For instance, women still wear skirts to play tennis and field hockey, though it seems that in our time, it is quite common and even more reasonable for women to wear shorts. The difficulty in fostering a better environment for creating male and female counterparts for every sport lies in the traditions placed on sports in general.
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