Thursday, April 24, 2008

Love and Basketball: A Closer Look at Mainstream Portrayal of Gender Norms

In the opening scene of the movie Love and Basketball, three young boys are playing basketball at a neighborhood court. As they are playing, the “new kid” walks up and asks to join. The boys are pleasantly surprised because their mothers told them a girl was moving into the neighborhood. The “new kid” is dressed in a baggy shirt and a LA Lakers hat. As the game begins, the “new kid” is revealed to be a girl. The boys immediately say, “Aw man! She is a girl! Girls can’t play no ball!” (Prince-Bythewood, Gina). It turns out that the girl, Monica, is an outstanding basketball player and wins the game. One of the boys, Quincy, has a father that is in the NBA so he is threatened by Monica’s talent. He reacts to her win by pushing her down. This may be a scene out of a movie, but it accurately portrays real life circumstances many children face. Some may ask where these ideas come from and the answer is gender norms. Gender norms are what are considered as appropriate behaviors, beliefs, and attributes for males and females as directed by a society. Monica and Quincy’s lives are detailed in four quarter of the movie just like in a basketball game. It is during the second quarter that one is able to see gender norms being depicted. Quincy is praised for his athletic ability while Monica is criticized. In this paper, it is my goal to argue that Monica’s treatment throughout the movie exemplifies, promotes, and defies the ideas of gender norms that society has established today.
When I think about what makes me a female I immediately think about my sexual organs and how I was raised. My room was pink, I played with dolls, and I wore a lot of colorful barrettes in my hair. Now that I am older and have become more educated, I realize that the color pink or my love for dolls does not make me a girl. As soon as a mother finds out from her sonogram the sex of her child, she immediately starts to think of “appropriate” names. If it is a girl she may be named Allison, Michelle, or Brittney. If it is a boy, the father is ready to add the title junior and decorate the room in all shades of blue. During the preschool years, a child is able to comprehend that there is a gender binary: boys and girls. The idea is not fully understood, but it is perceived. When I was five years old, I remember owning all the ninja turtles, while also having every my little pony. I had frilly pink and yellow Easter dresses and cute blue sailor outfits. In the article entitled “ ‘A Van with a Bar and a Bed’: Ritualized Gender Norms in the John/Joan Case”, John M. Sloop explains how John/Joan, who is being raised as a girl, decides to urinate standing up. This observation causes a great deal of turmoil and makes people begin to think that John/Joan wants to be a male. I used to see boys and men on television urinate while standing up so for a period in my childhood I did the same thing. I did not comprehend why boys did it and girls did not. When my mom found out, she did what many mothers do. She told me that girls sit down and boys stand up. I was not chastised or reprimanded for doing this. I was simply told that I was a girl and I could not do that. It is with cases and stages of childhood like these that I truly believe that the binary issue is exemplified. Gender confusion is becoming more prevalent in children today. Children as young as the age of 5 are showing signs of wanting to dress in clothes of the opposite sex and they are being supported by their parents and mental health professionals. In fact, “At the Park Day School in Oakland, teachers are taught a gender-neutral vocabulary and are urged to line up students by sneaker color rather than by gender” (Brown, Patricia Leigh).
As described in the introduction, Love and Basketball begins with an example of gender norms being personified. It is evident that Monica is a “tomboy” and her mother does not like it. She dresses in baggy clothes, wears hats, and refuses to comb her hair. Monica has an older sister who is girly and her mom takes pride in her. On the other hand, she shuns Monica for her boyish ways, which ultimately leads to Monica not respecting her mother.
Gender norms are promoted in today’s society, even though there are many that oppose this idea. Unfortunately, it was not until I began watching Jerry Springer at the age of 9 that I began to get an idea that some women preferred to be men and vice versa. In the third grade, I learned that earthworms were hermaphrodites. When I heard this term being applied to humans, I was very confused. How could a person be born with both female and male genetalia? The movie Boys Don’t Cry received critical acclaim and opened many people’s eyes about transsexuals. The movie is based on the real-life story of Brandon Teena, who was a FTM (female to male). His male friends found out he had female genitalia and raped and killed him. After watching the movie, I had a little insight on the issue, but I still did not think it was real.
The most cliché promotion of gender norms is seen in highschools across the country. Numerous movies and television shows base their storylines on the all American football player and his cheerleader girlfriend because that is what society is supposed to be like. Right? He has to be extremely masculine and she must be gorgeous and the most popular girl in the school. This image is dramatically distorted. Unfortuatley, for some it is crystal clear; homosexuals and transgendered people are not “normal”.
As prevouly stated, Monica’s mother is very prim and proper. She wants her to wear dresses and be more “lady-like”. The time approaches for the senior dance and monica’s mom is so proud that her daughter is going. Monica puts on a nice form fitting dress and her sister does her hair in a cute little style. Her mother is on the verge of tears as she places her family pearls around monica’s neck. The following day, Monica plays in one of the biggest games of her highschool career. The game is important beacause a college scout is present. Monica is a very aggressive player and this really irritates her mother. Nevertheless, she loses her temper during the game and is ejected. She is heartbroken because she thinks she did not impress the scout. Instead of her mother being comforting and supportive, she tells monica that she should focus on something else besides basketball and find a boyfriend. Monica angrily replies, “I wont I’m a lesbian. That’s what you think don’t you?”. In today’s society, many female atheletes are faced with the inevitable question “are you a lesbian?”. It is true that some female atheles are lesbians, but this does not mean that all of them are. In 2001, USA Today did an article on the lesbian fanbase of the WNBA. Local lesbian groups began showing up at many of the games and this caused an uproar in the communities. The WNBA was very appreciative of their lesbian fans and in turn took team trips to local lesbian bars. In the article, Pat Griffin who is a professor at the University of Massacheucets said, “Women’s sports have been built on the backs of the hard work of lesbians at every level. Lesbians have alwayss been a vital part of women’s sports. It’s long overdue to acknowledge that” (Weir, Tom).
Society is adamently defying gender norms. This defiance can be see with transexualism and the gay and lesbian comminity. Transexualism applies to people that identify with a physical sex different from the one they were born with or assigned in cases where ambiguity of the child’s sex organs led to assignengng them a physical sex (Lewins, Frank 4). Transexuals are subjected to tortious ridicule and many times death. The transexual community has proposed many terms to define who they are such as FTM (female to male) and queer. The community also explicity details the difference betewen gender and sex because socity has blended the terms.
Gays and lesbians are heavily portrayed in mainstream media, whereas transexualism is still a bit taboo. Shows such as Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy depict gay men as the ideal shopping companions. I am from a small town and the idea of transexualism and gays and lesbians was new for me. Our town has about 1,000 people and everyone knows everyone. There was one gay men I met when I was younger and his name was Orlando. I thought Orlando was entertaining because he would always strut down the street swinging his long ponytail and screaming “Hey Girl!”. I used to think he was acting and I did not realize this was his way of life. He was not close to the men in my town because they were all afraid of him and did not want him to ask them to be his boyfriend. Their ignorance made them think that just because they were men orlando would automatically be attracted to him. Orlando was not “normal” beacause he was not masculine and did not like women.
At the end of the movie, Quincy is drafted to the NBA and plays for the Lakers and Monica plays overseas. Eventually, quincy gets hurt and his career is over. His whole life he was praised for excelling in basketball. He faced no criticism because he was doing what he was “supposed’ to do. He was a man that dated many women and excelled in sports. On the other hand, monica excelled in basketball also but she was viewed differently. She was too masculine. She did not act like a lady. She had to be a lesbian because she played a sport. Why is this? Why did she not get the same praise as Quincy? The answer is because she was not acing like a girl should. She was not obeying the gender norm rules. In the final scene, the fourth quarter, monica defies the gender norm rules. She marries quincy and they have a little girl. As the movie is going off, monica is starting in her first game in the WNBA. Her aggressive and masucaline atttitude got her a six-figure salary with a professional baskeball team and she did this on her own accord. She did not conform to society’s and her mother’s standards of how females should act and this made her a better person.
I have never really sat down and thought about how society has had such an influence on gender and my view of it. I always viewed transsexuals as doing their own thing. It never really occurred to me that just like I feel like I am a female, they feel like they are the opposite sex. It is extrememly hard for transsexuals, gays, and lesbians to truly express who they are because there is a great chance that they will not be accepted. After reading various articles on how gender is depicted in other countries around the world, I realized that the United States has the most constraints on what is a male and what is a female. Hopefully, more people will gain knowledge on the difference between sex and gender and form a more educated opinion about this issue we call the gender norm.

1 comment:

alexse26 said...

I'm doing some research on black film and I just wanted to ask you if you think there is a problem with the ending of the film? In other words, do you think it is "less feminist" to have her go through life unfulfilled until she finally gets her man or no?