Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon

Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon

Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon

Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon

Synopsis

The sculpted speed of Marion Jones. The grit and agility of Mia Hamm. The slam-dunk style of Lisa Leslie. The skill and finesse of these sports figures are widely admired, no longer causing the puzzlement and discomfort directed toward earlier generations of athletic women. Built to Win explores this relatively recent phenomenon--the confident, empowered female athletes found everywhere in American popular culture. Leslie Heywood and Shari L., Dworkin examine the role of female athletes through interviews with elementary- and high school-age girls and boys; careful readings of ad campaigns by Nike, Reebok, and others; discussions of movies like Fight Club and Girlfight; and explorations of their own sports experiences. They ask: what, if any, dissonance is there between popular images and the actual experiences of these athletes? Do these images really "redefine femininity" and contribute to a greater inclusion of all women in sport? Are sexualized images of these women damaging their quest to betaken seriously? Do they inspire young boys to respect and admire female athletes, and will this ultimately make a difference in the ways gender and power are constructed and perceived? Proposing a paradigm shift from second- to third-wave feminism, Heywood and Dworkin argue that, in the years since the passage of Title IX, gender stereotypes have been destabilized in profound ways, and they assert that female athletes and their imagery are doing important cultural work to that end. Important, refreshing, and engrossing, Built to Win examines sport in all its complexity.

Excerpt

For me, sports have always been about expressing myself through competition, perseverance, laughter, and self-confidence. I started playing soccer, tackle football, and softball as soon as I could walk. As the youngest of four kids in a very active (most would say hyperactive) family, I had no other choice: sports were a way of life for the whole Foudy household. Our vacations centered on ski trips, hiking trips, and sport outings. Mom never told me I couldn't play tackle football because it “wasn't feminine.” Dad never told me that skateboarding was for guys. I just followed my passions—and being outside, playing anything, was the first one I can remember.

Those opportunities shaped my life. I have traveled to more countries than most would consider sane. I have forged lifelong friendships with teammates who redefine character and selflessness. I have learned the value of faith in teammates and faith in dreams. I thank my mom and dad daily not only for giving me the opportunity to embrace sports but, equally important, for making sports gender-free.

I used to play tackle football with the boys after elementary school. If new guys joined our game, my guy friends would work the system and say, “Ohhhhh, okay, okay, I guess we will take the girl.” Then we would promptly kick the new guys' butts. Before they knew what hit them, we were celebrating our victory. I gained confidence from these experiences. I gained respect. I learned to love competition. Winning was not just okay, it was preferred. I was a young girl who loved sports and the boys thought I was cool. What else could you want at eleven years old? I look . . .

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