chapter  5
22 Pages

Gender and the sports film

The previous chapter examined the engagement of sports films, particularly those emerging from the United States, with the themes of race and social class. In important respects, there are parallels to be found with the representation of gender. Much as the sports film was identified as playing an important cultural role in affirming the American Dream ideology, this ideology has principally been associated with men, an association affirmed within the sports film genre historically. In one of the most influential contributions to gender theory, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1999), Judith Butler criticised the restriction of ‘the meaning of gender to received notions of masculinity and femininity’ (1999, p. viii). For Butler, rather than being an internal essence, gender is performative and manufactured through a ‘sustained set of acts, posited through the gendered stylization of the body’ (pp. xv-xvi). This is particularly so for masculine identities; as David Scott has surmised, drawing on the work of Elisabeth Badinter and Monique Schneider, ‘[w]ithin the western tradition from the Greeks onward, masculine identity seems, much more so than feminine identity, something that had to be constructed’ (2010, p. 143). Sport is one of the most revealing sites where this construction is evident. Indeed, sport has historically been concerned above all with the glorification of masculinity and the male body. By masculinity, I refer to qualities such as power, strength, height and wealth which men in the United States and elsewhere in the Western World have been encouraged to aspire to. However, hegemonic masculinity has traditionally, in the United States, had further associations, including with race. As noted by Erving Goffman:

In an important sense there is only one complete unblushing male in America: a young, married, white, urban, northern, heterosexual, Protestant, father, of college education, fully employed, of good complexion, weight, and height, and a recent record in sports … Any male who fails to qualify in any one of these ways is likely to view himself – during moments at least – as unworthy, incomplete, and inferior.