Women’s Ultimate Frisbee is not a highly recognized sport in the media so there are almost no advertisements for this sport. I chose an image that is constructed and representative of a Women’s Ultimate team name. This is an image of the symbol for the Stanford Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team the “Pretty Fly.” This is an image that consists of only two colors – beige in the background and black in the foreground. This black color constructs a figure. This figure has a body that is extended horizontally. The arms and legs are reached out, appearing to be reaching for a circular object (presumably a frisbee given the context). The body is slim, and contains two wings that are protruding from the figures back. The head is upright and looking out, and the hair of the figure is tied up neatly in a ponytail. The entirety of the image suggests that the figure is a woman that is reaching to grab a frisbee. I argue that this image challenges masculine stereotypes of the sport to depict athleticized femininity and emphasize the hegemonic ideal body of a woman. This is happening through the image’s portrayal of ideals of femininity, the idea of soft essentialism embedded in the image, as well as the message this image portrays about the ideals of a balanced body for women.
Although this image is just a shadow of a woman, the depiction of her body type and position portray feminine attributes (as defined by hegemonic society). Her body is thin and her posture is straight and extended horizontally to suggest gracefulness, as if she were a ballerina (a hegemonic feminine activity). However, it is important to note that her breasts and butt are not overly emphasized in this image, suggesting that there is more of an emphasis on the elongated slender body to provide a focus on the athletic position she is in. This gracefulness that is portrayed is used to depict the idea of Women’s Ultimate, more specifically Women’s Ultimate at Stanford, as a feminine activity while also hinting at athleticism. This conceals the masculine traits (intensity, competitive, etc.) of the sport. This tactic is not new by any means, as feminizing sports was widely practiced as more women began to play sports in the early twentieth century. Vertinsky discusses how women skiers were nicknamed ‘skierinas’ due to the “widespread fears about the masculinizing effects of competitive sport,” and that these fears were “alleviated by stressing the good looks and femininity” of women (Vertinsky 32). This idea is therefore transhistorical in that this practice of emphasized femininity through depiction is still used today as seen in the construction of this image to challenge the masculine stereotypes of Women’s Ultimate.
The image depicts this woman in the act of playing this sport, however does not depict the actual intensity of the sport. The wings represent ease and maintain the idea of grace in this image, which are not traits of intensity or aggressiveness. The wings also suggest that these women glide toward the disc, instead of diving or grabbing the disc harshly as an aggressive player would. Her hair is in a high Barbie-like ponytail and not free flowing as would be expected in a hyper-feminized image, suggesting athletic implications to this female body. The construction of this image therefore contributes to Messner’s definition of soft essentialism – the idea that women have tendencies that men “naturally” have (i.e. competing in intense and aggressive sports), while also having to reassure their femininity [Messner (2011) 161]. This image is used as a site that encompasses the ideas of soft essentialism by portraying hegemonic femininity through the elegant placement of the body, while also suggesting that this feminized body is also taking part in a sport that encompasses masculine traits – athleticized femininity.
Since this image is constructed to portray femininity (as defined by hegemonic society) with subtle athletic attributes, as I have previously discussed, it contributes to the emphasis on a balanced body for females. The slender body type and the poised posture of this woman suggest elements of athleticism as well as feminine traits. As discussed in lecture, there was an emphasis of females having balanced bodies that began in the Victorian Era that constructed a modified version of what ideal (as defined by society) feminine bodies should look like (lecture 1/13/14). This emphasis on the balanced body still resonates today as seen in this image, in which it looks as if the creator of the image wanted to incorporate athleticism to this figure without portraying masculinity.
This symbol for the Stanford Women’s Ultimate team is thus used to portray an image of this team as an athletic team that still upholds ideas of hegemonic femininity while concealing the hegemonic masculine aspects of the sport.
McCullough, Sarah. COMM 111 Cultural Politics of Sport Class.13 Jan. 2014. Lecture.Messner, M. (2011). Gender ideologies, youth sports, and the production of soft essentialism.Sociology of Sport Journal, 28, 151–170.
Vertinsky, Patricia. “‘Skierinas’ in the Olympics: Gender Justice and Gender Politics at the Local, National, and International Level over the Challenge of Women’s Ski Jumping” Olympika 2009, 25-56.
McCullough, Sarah. COMM 111 Cultural Politics of Sport Class.13 Jan. 2014. Lecture.
Photo credit: http://ultimate.stanford.edu/prettyflyLOGO.jpg