Femininity Masculinity and Physical Activity Essay

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Femininity/Masculinity and Physical Activity

Masculinity, Femininity, and Expectations:

The Result of Non-Conforming

In a society at any given time, there are preconceptions about what being feminine or being masculine (i.e., being a female or being a male). In this regard, a society holds that certain ideas, behaviors, activities, and so on are "right" for a person of a specific gender. This hegemonic masculinity/femininity notion often causes problems for people, young people especially who do not immediately fit the mold. Nonconforming to the expected ideas of what "being a female" or "being a male" can cause social, psychological, and sometimes even physical problems for people in terms school, their bodies and identities, health, and sports.

The Classroom

People start at a very young age forming the notions of what it means to be male and what it means to be female. Often, these ideas are codified in school by the expectations of young people's peers, teachers, and coaches. Females are expected to act "feminine" and males are expected to act "masculine." This means that they are expected to behave in such a way as to embody and display the characteristics that are associated with Femininity and masculinity respectively. Reversely, they are expected NOT to display the characteristics that are associated with their gender (i.e., females are not supposed to display masculine attributes and males are not supposed to display feminine attributes). Conforming and nonconforming to these two "rules" can cause problems in the area of school.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on Femininity Masculinity and Physical Activity Assignment

First, when a girl does not conform to the expectation that she will "act feminine" in the classroom, teachers being to indentify her as a "problem." In the classroom, "acting feminine" includes being non-disruptive, educationally oriented, and polite. When girls start to exhibit the signs of masculinity, such as assertiveness or sexual openness, she is treated as far worse than a boy doing the same (Jackson, 2006). These girls are labeled as "ladettes" and are said to act like "laddish." They "act hard, smoke, swear, fight occasionally, drink, disrupt lessons, are cheeky and/or rude to teachers, are open about (heterosexual) sex, and are loud…" (p. 346). Their behavior and attitude can stifle their education, and the want to act like a ladette can outweigh the expectations of acting like a girl (e.g., going to and listen in class). These "ladettes" are seen as more trouble than lads; they are perceived of as harder to deal with than boys and are not afforded the "lovable rouge" (p. 352) attribute often given to boys who act laddish. Their behavior is seen as both self-destructive and harmful of others (as they are disrupting the lessons and learning of their peers). Ladettes' masculine behavior also forces them hyper-feminize some aspects of themselves as not to be perceived of as gay or unattractive. This form of hyper-feminization often takes the shape of hyper-sexualization, including wearing skimpy clothes and talking about sexual exploits, which can cause even further problems in the classroom.

Boys, too, then are expected to be underachievers. Boys are considered as academically less inclined than females, and they are better at building things are playing sports. This, of course, is not the case; it does raise questions of how boys are treated as part of their educational experiences. A boy who excels at education may be labeled as a "nerd" or "dork" and are, therefore, deprived of some of their masculinity. Underachievement, coupled with physicality, seems to be the expectation of what it means to be "masculine" in school and non-conforming could mean that a male might be perceived as feminine or even homosexual (thereby possibly stifling academic performance of some male students to "fit in"). Further, expecting males to perform at a lower level than females could "seriously underestimate and disadvantage boys" (Gard, 2008, p. 184).

Physical Education

Physical education in school can be seen as one of the biggest problem areas for young people if they do not conform to normative notions of masculinity and femininity. In addition to identity issues, non-conforming can cause students in physical education classes to both be expected to perform different tasks based on gender and to perform at different levels because of their conformity or non-conformity.

One example of the problems that can arise as a result of notions of hegemonic masculinity and femininity in physical education is the expectation that males will perform in different areas than females. Males are expected to exhibit the characters that are associated with masculinity. That is, they are expected to be assertive, muscular, aggressive, competitive, and hard. They are not expected to do "female" activities when in physical education, such as dancing. Indeed, according to Gard, when asked to dance, male students are often opposed to the idea and even gloat at their inability to move in certain ways (i.e., dance). For many, dance is not just another physical activity. It is a gendered activity that requires certain characteristics to perform it (as is the case with most physical activities). Males are not expected to be, for example, graceful, delicate, or smooth, and being these things could compromise their masculinity (and, thereby, compromise their heterosexuality). Different movements have different gendered expectations (e.g., body contact vs. no body contact, violent vs. non-violent), and in performing these movements, individuals are embodying, replicating, and perpetuating these expectations, both good and bad.


However, it has also been found that females do not tend to do well in physical education practices that are conceived of as "male terrain (i.e., sports-based practices)" (Assurito & Solmon, 2009, p. 185). Sport is seen as a male area, and is, in some ways, similar to physical education. It uses the physical body in similar ways, but sport is also different. It has its own rules of governance and set of expectations. Non-conforming in this area could have implications not just for "sports" but also for other social areas.

One example would that of female athletes. Female athletes not only have to conform within the sport, but they also have to manage their bodies and behaviors in such a way as to conform outside of the sport. For society, female athletes are often considered oxymoronically. Being an athlete is almost synonymous with being a male, and surely caries most of the attributes of masculinity. For example, athletes are sweaty, tough, muscular, and aggressive. These descriptors are never applied to femininity. For females to be athletes, then, they must be both feminine and masculine (athletic). Indeed, "through history women's entrance into this masculine domain of sorts has been carefully monitored by claims that the athletic female body is…a gender-deviant, freakish body" (Adams, Schmitke, Franklin, 2005, p. 19). Sports, however, has many positive benefits (e.g., decreased alcohol use, better grades), but many females do not partake in sports because it is considered "masculine." Further, those who do must carefully manager their image and, often, must hyper-feminize themselves. Females who play sports must form to the expectations of femininity in other ways unless they want to be labeled as homosexual. They must flaunt their (hetero)sexuality with things like short shorts and long hair. Without make-up, jewelry, or other "girly girl" things, female athletes' sexuality is often called into question (after all, for many, "unnatural" is homosexual). Female athletes, though, must also be able to be taken seriously as athletes, and the "girly girl" image seems to contradict their efforts. Those who do conform are not taken seriously; those who do not conform are labeled as lesbians. However, they can manage this by being "tomboys," girls who dress more like boys but still like and hang around boys. However, it must still be noted that femininity is identified as heterosexuality in this way.

Males have similar but opposite issues when it comes to sports. If a man wants to be perceived as masculine, sports is often the expected arena for that display or achievement. This might be because "sports is the most masculine, male-identified institution in the United States" (p. 18). It exemplifies masculinity and maleness -- "competiveness, strength, aggressiveness, instrumentality, and often violence" (Schacht, 1996, p. 550). It illustrates how females are socially constructed as inferior while males are superior. If a male does not excel at sports, he is almost automatically deemed inferior. A male who is not good at sports (i.e., in some this way, is not masculine) is often called a "pussy," a "bitch," or a "fag," which reiterates his place among the inferior: the feminine, the female.


Health is another area where non-conforming to hegemonic masculinity/femininity can cause problems. It is common knowledge that not living up to society's expectations of health (which is often synonymous with beauty) can cause psychological health issues, such as low self-esteem, poor body image, and depression, especially in females. Not being "feminine," that is thin, dainty, smooth, and so on, can take serious tolls on one's psychological well-being. Not being "healthy" can used as a signal by society of one's moral character and value as a person (Wright, O'Flynn, & Macdonald, 2006). In this… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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