Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
In this essay I will examine how feminine performativity is shown in sport. There has always been some discrimination when you think female being involved in sport. Whether it be by what sport females are participating in or how they look and dress or even outside of sports if they participate in photoshoots or not. Even though times are changing, and people are not as judgmental with women sports as they were 50 years ago, it is still important to be educated on how feminine performativity was and still is being show in sport.
Whenever you think about how the cultural norm of a women’s body should be, key word “should”, you think of petite, lean and maybe a little toned, but mostly small and not strong (Krane, V (2004)). If you see a woman with massive muscles and the look of a bodybuilder, you think that she is masculine and going against the cultural norms of femininity. On the other hand, when you think about the cultural norm of a man’s body and how it “should” look like, you think about him being strong and big muscles and just acting like a manly man with broad shoulders.
The typical thought process of gender performativity is that “doing masculinity is building strength and femininity builds weakness” (Roth & Basow, 2004, p. 247). These two concepts are based off of the male and female embodied socialization. It is so crazy to think that people still have this type of thought process in women; they should not be strong whatsoever, if anything, be weak. Even though times have changed a lot, people still have this type of thought process and that women should be the stay-at-home mom who cooks, cleans and raises the children and the man will work and provide and build strength in exercising to defend and take care of his family. However, times are changing year by year and people are thinking more about equality in sport.
Nowadays, women are speaking out more than ever to defend female in sport. You see female athletes like Serena Williams and Abby Wambach speak out about inequality in sport and what we, as spectators in sport, should do about it. It is important for strong female athletes to speak in public about this issue, because without them women would not feel as inspired to make a difference and take a stand in the inequality in sport.
One way in how women are seen as weak is throwing a ball. Society has a certain phrase “throw like a girl” to emphasize that women who throw a ball are weak, cannot throw it far and they don’t have the right fundamentals on how to properly throw it like a man. However, a study with male and female 2nd graders, defied the “throw like a girl” phrase (Dowling, 2000). The study showed that when the boy and girls threw with their dominant arm, the boys threw it faster (Dowling, 2000). The second part of the study made the boys and girls throw with their non-dominant hand which showed that the boys and girls threw identical (Dowling, 2000). Therefore, the reason that there is a phrase “throw like a girl”, and the phenomenon that females are not athletic, is not because of weakness in females, but that males are involved in more of a physical culture that gives them the opportunity to build their strength for sport. If females were given that same chance and were thrown into the same physical culture, women would be just as good, or maybe better, at being athletic and surpassing that femininity in sport.
The more-so feminine sports that you see women being involved in are synchronized swimming, gymnastics, cheerleading, ice-skating, etc. In these sports they all have he same concept for the participants to be beautiful, hold poise, always smiling, physical grace, etc. They are not about showing how strong you or to be relaxed and not care what you look like. They are about being judged on your looks and how you look when performing. The women cannot show any struggle in their routines, and must always hold grace throughout their performance. When growing up, girls are taught to not get hurt, not mess up their clothes or tear them (Roth & Basow, 2004, p. 247). These type of “rules” keeps females constrained, eventually teaching them to have a constricted way of movements and of how they live their life (Roth & Basow, 2004, p.247). While being constricted, they also have to build somewhat of a strong body to be able to perform well in their sport. At the end of a great performance, for example Simone Biles, the performance was seen as great elegance and she held poise and her pretty costume. No one was thinking of how strong she was or all the hard work it must have taken for her to get there. It is all about how the female should look beautiful and perform with grace. On the other hand, a female participating in a more masculine sport like rugby, they are larger built and show aggression and competitiveness in the game (mcj95, A. (2016, December 3)).
Since the norms of how a female body should look are being thin, beautiful, small, often times it leads women to feel the need to constrict themselves and constrain their body. Doing so, this leads to the female athlete triad. The female athlete triad is a component of three things: eating disorders, amenorrhea and osteoperosis (Otis C. L, (1997)) Women feel the need to be extremely judgmental against their own bodies and will do anything in order to feel confident and to make themselves feel like they are a part of the norm of feminine body types. It is so terrible that girls and women feel the need to harm themselves because the “norm” of feminine body types is telling them to be skinny and that’s the only way to be beautiful. It is not a female’s fault that she feels this way. Yes, she is the one who makes the decision, but society is the one that forces it upon girls and women. Social media is a big influence in today’s society and a huge impact on younger girls. If all that females see on the internet is skinny, small, perfected faces, etc., and those girls/women are the only ones getting the attention, then the viewers looking at the social media feel the need to do whatever it takes to be small, skinny and wear lots of make. There needs to be more women out there on social media to promote female body positivity. At the end of the day, it starts with small changes to fix issues like this.
Women obviously do not just play feminine sports. They also play basketball, soccer, volleyball, football etc. These types of sports are seen as more of a masculine. Therefore, heterosexual women who play these sports tend to find ways to emphasize their feminine traits. For example, Danica Patrick, a female NASCAR driver, did a photoshoot with a magazine. Now, you would think that she would be wearing her traditional NASCAR suit for the shoot and have the same look with her hair and well being of herself. However, it was complete opposite. She made sure to show off her body in a sexualized way, with her hair and makeup perfect. In her photos, they downplay her success in NASCAR and make them seem invisible. Whenever you see the pictures you think “nice body” or “her makeup looks really good”. You do not think of her great success she has had in NASCAR and all the hard work she has put into the sport. This type of outlook that females have in sport is consider the female apologetic defense. The female apologetic defense is a coping mechanism for women to use when they are performing in a more-so masculine sport or they show themselves being competitive in their chosen sport (Malcom, N. L. (2003)). This mechanism is an ongoing current issue because women always feel the need to showcase their feminine side even when participating in a more masculine sport.
In the article, The Female Gender in Sports: It’s A Balancing Act, the author talks about how female athletes use a balancing method of being a strong female athlete, however balancing it with being feminine outside of the sport (mcj95, A. (2016, December 3)). For example, sexualized photoshoots showing off the body, in press conferences talking about family, etc. Females have to find a way to balance the both of these that way they still reach that male audience and not just females.
Overall, femininity in sport is shown in many ways, whether it be women perceiving to graceful and holding poise in sport, going against the norm of femininity or showing the apologetic defense. It is society’s job to make a difference and to change the norm around. Times are changing and more people are starting to change the norm of femininity. More women are participating in the Olympics every year and I think this is a great start to changing to idea of femininity in sport. The more that famous athletes, and the media, speak up about the issue of feminine performativity in sport, it will make the biggest difference and start to broaden the idea of the norms of female’s body and their well-being as a whole. By taking notice to all these issues femininity, it will redefine the principles and values of female performativity in sport.