Uncovering the Stereotype: Femininity in a Masculine World
This is the first essay that I wrote in HUM100 – Engaging in the Humanities. Essentially the course was a preparatory unit for University beginners and as such was a mandatory unit in my degrees.
The sports world has traditionally been man’s domain. It has been argued that women’s role within this world is insignificant as the grace and softness of femininity is no match to the strength and physicality of masculinity. These masculine qualities have been demonstrated since the days of the Roman gladiators when women did not have a place in such spectacles. As such these stereotypes are antiquated and are in need of a radical overhaul. Modernity has born rise to highly talented female athletes including Indy Car driver Danica Patrick proving that it is not only possible for women to participate in sports but to ultimately prevail both on and off of the field.
ABC America’s documentary 5 Years Running (2009) details the career of Patrick from her rookie season through to the 2009 Indianapolis 500. As a rookie Patrick finished fourth in the most prestigious race on the circuit, the Indianapolis 500 and earned selection as the 2005 Indy Car Rookie of the Year. While she was not the first woman to compete with the men in the motor sport she had already become its most successful. In winning the award the world began to take notice and her popularity and global marketability blossomed. She was requested to appear in magazines, on television shows including the Tonight Show with David Letterman, commercial spots and was recognised by Google as the Internet’s most searched athlete for the year 2005.
Patrick’s early success is effervescent of the developing trend that women’s position in the sporting world is growing. The United Nations (2007, p. 17) found that despite stereotypical attitudes towards the value of women’s sport fuelling inequality in the wages, prizes and other financial incentives there is a developing trend of change. The French, Australian, Wimbledon and US Tennis Opens have achieved equality in prize money. This trend continues in regards to commercial endorsements and sponsorships with athletes including Patrick and Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova ranking among the biggest money earners in sports (Forbes, 2012).
Patrick continued her emergence as she finished second at the Belle Island motor speedway in 2007. The following season Patrick won the 2008 Indy Japan 500 held at Twin Ring Motegi raceway and becoming the first female athlete in Indy Car history to win a race. Patrick’s response to winning echoed the expectations that had been placed on her as she proclaimed “here I am finally” (ABC America, 2009). However, despite her victory and demonstrating that she was as talented as her male counterparts Patrick maintained that she was different from the men by stating that “in the eyes of some I may never measure up as an equal” (ABC America, 2009).
The stress Patrick overcame to win her first race is not unique. Dr Earl Smith (McManus, 2012) argues that the physical challenges faced by female athletics breaking into the professional ranks would be dwarfed by sociological challenges. He argues that female athletes would be vilified for how extraordinary they were and would be criticized for lacking femininity. The United Nations (2007, p. 12-13) found that there is enormous potential for gender equality among the younger generation in the success of women competing in sports as role models as they play a central role in challenging stereotypes which compound the stress that a successful female athlete must endure.
Patrick’s commercial success became front page headline news in the United States when she filmed a 2008 NFL Super Bowl commercial that was considered too racy for television (ABC America, 2009). This demonstrates that from a marketability standpoint that Patrick’s sexuality is held in a higher regard than her athletic ability. Patrick maintains that “my gender has made me an instant punch line”, however, “being a girl describes me but it never defined me” and that she “wasn’t there [racing] because I suck or I’m pretty or something, I’m there because people think that I can win races for them” (ABC America, 2009).
The question demanding to be answered is who is to be held responsible for the stereotype that female athletes are figures of sexuality rather than equals to the world’s leading male athletes. Iceland’s Centre for Gender Equality (2006, p. 5-22) places a significant proportion of the blame on the media who are guilty of overplaying gender stereotypes. The media conforms to traditional beliefs and attitudes in order to maintain circulation and audience ratios. Thus, women are marketed more for their sexuality in contrast to men who are measured by their prowess.
The advancement of women in sport has come a long way since the days of the roman gladiator. However, the media with their antiquated audience measuring devices remain steadfast in promoting female athletes as tools of sexuality rather than acknowledging their ability to compete on a professional level and recognising that there are some sports in which they can excel alongside male competitors. Although this essay acknowledges the progress that women have made in regards to their athletic abilities progress must continue to be made in order for the stereotype to be destroyed and for women to be viewed as equals. Ultimately, the responsibility falls upon the likes of Patrick to prove to the world that she can indeed win the race.
Badenhausen, Kurt. 2012. Mayweather Tops List of The World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes. Forbes Magazine. Accessed June 28. http://www.forbes.com/sites/kurtbadenhausen/2012/06/18/mayweather-tops-list-of-the-worlds-100-highest-paid-athletes/
Centre for Gender Equality Iceland. 2006. Sports, Media and Stereotypes Women and Men in Sports and Media. 5-22. Accessed June 22. http://www.mujerydeporte.org/documentos/docs/sms_summary_report.pdf/
Danica: Five Years Running. 2009. Television Program. Indianapolis. United States of America. ABC America. 24 May.
McManus, Jane. 2012. Can women play with the men? ESPNW. Accessed June 21. http://www.espn.go.com/espnw/news-opinion/6495612/women-pro-sports-women-play-men/
United Nations. 2007. Women, Gender Equality and Sport. Women 2000 and Beyond. 1-30. Accessed June 22. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/public/Women%20and%20Sport.pdf/