You Throw like a Girl: Sport and Misogyny on the Silver Screen

By Daniels, Dayna B. | Film & History, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

You Throw like a Girl: Sport and Misogyny on the Silver Screen


Daniels, Dayna B., Film & History


Introduction

Sport has traditionally been accepted as a male domain. Incorrect beliefs in and about the histories of games and sport, and their inherent invisibility of girls and women as participants, have built a foundation of myths upon which the contemporary culture of sport and the construction of masculinity have been built. ' As is true in many versions of history, women are absent from inclusion unless an individual woman or group of women was recognized as being exceptionally outstanding. The same is true for the history of sport. The invisibility of girls and women's games and events, not to mention many events held for women and men together in certain periods of history for certain classes of people, leads one to believe that only the Amazons, Annie Oakley, Mildred "Babe" Dirdrickson Zaharias, or the Edmonton Grads had any skills in physical activity or sporting prowess.2 This is as untrue as any history that relegates women and their involvement in various societies and cultures to footnotes or invisibility.

Most contemporary North American references to girls and women in sport began in the late 1800's. Common sense understanding and acceptance of the involvement of women in spoit since this time is based, to a great extent, on myth and misunderstanding.3 For the most part, 'facts' about women and sport are delimited to stories about and health cautions around physical activity for white, middle and/or upper class, heterosexual women. The sporting practices of poor and/or working class women, certain groups of immigrant, non-white, Aboriginal, and lesbian women are invisible in the mainstream historical records, newspapers, newsreels, and collective memories of most North Americans.

The participation rates of girls and women in sports and other physical activities skyrocketed in the 20th century. Women surpassed record setting performances by men in only a few years. Women participate in activities such as rugby, boxing, mountain climbing, tae kwan do, and hockey as well as in traditional gender appropriate activities for females such as gymnastics, swimming, tennis, and figure skating. Although there is growing acceptance across North America for girls and women to engage in all of these activities, there is still an underlying tone that they really do not belong in the male realm of sport. The abilities of women athletes are constantly compared to those of men. The femininity and sexuality of women athletes are often called into question and the value of women athletes-both financial and personal-is based more on heterosexy femininity than on athletic excellence.

The purpose of this paper is to investigate how language directed toward male athletes in sport genre films may have contributed to the traditional and collective beliefs about girls and women and their involvement in and relation to sport today. Has the practice of motivating men through language that demeans women in myriad, twentieth-century 'Hollywood' motion pictures about men and their sporting practices, perpetuated and reinforced the second class status of girls and women as athletes?

Setting the Scene

There are two primary fin de side factors that can be critically analyzed to construct the contemporary foundation upon which many beliefs and practices about girls and women's participation in sport and physical activity can be based: the social and economic conditions that led to the first wave of feminist activism in North America and the movement to rekindle the spirit of sport and manhood through the 'rebirth' of the Olympic Games. These factors likely contribute to the basis for the belief system about women and the role of women in the sport films used in this analysis. A third factor, relative to the purpose of this paper, the role of misogynistic language in feature films about men's sport, was the actual development of the first 'motion' pictures. This technology was also developed at the end of the nineteenth century and will be briefly discussed.

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