movie, A League of Their Own centers on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s (AAGPBL) first season; the league was initiated to bridge the chasm that was formed by disbanding of the Major League Baseball on account of the Second World War. For the very first time in baseball history, young females from urban softball and farm leagues across America were sought for playing professional baseball. The league was fairly short-lived, partly due to a return of the men following the war’s culmination and subsequent re-establishment of MLB; as a result, the AAGPBL’s popularity dropped. The dozen years for which the league operated left its mark on sports history, since it offered female athletes a chance to professionally pursue baseball and make much more money than factory workers.
How does the film relate to what you read about the early history of sport (Module 3: The Early History of Sport in North America)
In the U.S., gender forms one among the key stratification categories. The central ideology of Americans is that “Every man is created equal.” However, women have not been mentioned anywhere in the American Constitution. It has been asserted that sport was a fundamental means to convey the dominant belief regarding the superiority of males. This has been witnessed via the comparison between abilities of men and women (e.g., the infamous tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King) (Early History of Sport in North America). Male superiority in the sports arena is established by media marginalization of female sports, branding female sportspersons as lesbians, the very way athletes are defined, and what sports are counted as the “major” ones. All this reflects male dominance. Sports history, in fact, echoes male dominance, resulting from societal patterns that establish who participates as well as how sports must be managed, played and viewed. A majority of sports exhibit male strength and are structured to reflect the physiology of males rather than females. Thus, sports have frequently played the role of an agent for the reproduction of male dominance (Early History of Sport in North America).
This process was outlined by Whitson (1990), who writes that sport is classified as “a male institution,” in its numerical sense (noted by many) as well as, more significantly, in the behavioral standards and values espoused by it; it eventually naturalizes, not just on the playing field but “in organizational hierarchies” as well. Secondly, and in turn, he states that, it has been maintained that the acclaim and attention which are, thus, given to the male lifestyle facilitate with confirming patterns of female subordination and male privilege (and, in fact, dominance structures) existing outside of sports (p. 20) (Early History of Sport in North America).
The baseball movie A League of Their Own revolves around females in a not-very-traditional sport setting (i.e. professional baseball). This choice of sport offers a greater likelihood of noting the evident barriers females need to surmount for achieving heroic status. Traditional society does not exactly approve of women playing baseball. Though, in the past 20 years, there has been a shift in what constitutes acceptable sport, there have been no new definitions to address this issue (Vantornhout, 1995). Taking into account the era the movie is set in, the definition for less traditional forms of sports, as stated by a 1965 study of Metheny’s, appears to be relevant for this movie. The period’s cultural beliefs and history closely impact women’s depiction in sport. Several women have been portrayed as sex symbols in the movie (Miller 1985), or as the seductive, powerful Pandora (Kaplan, 1985). While the film is a 1992 production, it is based on an older time period (i.e., 1943-1954) (Vantornhout, 1995).
What issues from your reading from Module 3 were portrayed in the film?
In the mid-nineteenth century, there were a number of major economic and social changes in western society, including the development of industrial hubs in cities, the emergence of a capitalist, industrial economy and corresponding societal reforms. A research on the females of North Carolina’s Petersburg maintains that the role of women (as well as their political influence and economic independence) expanded during the early part of the 19th century. It is only after application of gender analysis to sport’s development that one can explicate why sport thrived in an increasingly rationalized society. During a time when manliness and sexuality were important, sport became a sensible and meaningful activity. Just like wealth accumulation was an indication of an ethical lifestyle or salvation in an earlier era, athletic skills signified dominance, morality, and reasonableness and, among youth, denoted a measurable indication of a clean life and success in the future (Crosset, n.d.).
Dottie’s story reveals the key tactic employed to keep at bay the threat women sportspersons posed to national identity’s stability. In spite of the diverse composition of the team (ranging from a barmaid to a former beauty queen), the story focuses on the sisters Dottie and Kit (the star of the whole story is Dottie).Via this screen domination, Dottie rises as an example of the ideal American woman. However, her life choices reflect conservative repressiveness, outshining the rest of the team, and Kit’s choices that are slightly more modernistic. Though some researchers contend that the movie may be viewed as part of a pursuit of feminists to uncover the history of women, the highly conservative femininity exhibited by Dottie neither defies, nor extends, the limitations of present gender roles; on the contrary, it appears to have reinforced them (Bonzel, n.d.).
Early into the movie, the boundaries of women’s social comportment and what constitutes appropriate female behavior have been established. With the men either off to war or back home and deeply traumatized in the 1940s, women were mobilized to enter the workforce and there was significant anxiety in the nation over whether these females would readily relinquish their newfound social and financial independence and return home to tend to their families. One of the scenes in the movie directly and explicitly addresses this issue of females taking charge — Dottie, her sister and the rest of the team are at tryouts, and the sport action is interrupted and superimposed with commentary by a concerned, elderly lady from Chicago, Maida Gillespie through a radio network, The Mutual (Bonzel, n.d.). This scene, subtly accepting the modern audience’s positions, concurrently mocks these traditionalist concerns and gives voice to them:
Miss Gillespie states that: higher education and careers are causing female ‘masculinization’, posing an immensely dangerous consequence to children, families and the nation. When the young men return from war, “what kind of girls will they be coming home to?”She further voices her opinion of “the most disgusting example of this sexual confusion,” addressing Harvey Bars’ Mr. Walter Harvey — the man behind the AAGPBL — and calls him ‘completely nuts’. She expresses her disappointment regarding the fact that young girls from Chicago leave home, and pitch against one another to see who is more masculine.
In the above scene, clearly, humor conceals the hard-fought nature and gravity of gender role maintenance; this is because, though the girls are not intentionally striving towards being ‘masculine’, they play a game like athletes — in an era when, often, the athletes were men (Bonzel, n.d.)
It is contended that women’s association with domestic life as well as the role played by them in a nuclear family represented a relatively modern, 18th century ideology. It, however, assumed the shape of a popular ideology that defined women and was linked directly to her belonging to the feminine gender. Bourgeois families’ solidification co-occurred with industrial capitalism’s development, and with the onset of the 19th century, it became a major social institution that rendered females relatively powerless. One intrinsic component of the patriarchal society (with which the females colluded), and which was tied to ideas regarding gender identities, family arrangements, women’s biological, moral and psychological characteristics, and sexual moves, was the primary assumption with regard to family as a natural unit that exists separate from the overall formation (Hargreaves, n.d.).
Was the film historically accurate? If there were inaccuracies, what were they?
By autumn 1942, several small league teams broke up because of the war. All American youth (aged 18+) were sent off to war. Philip Wrigley, the chewing-gum manufacturer and MLB executive, fearing that the trend of team dissolutions would continue, leading to collapse of MLB parks in the country, began seeking a solution to the problem. He approached Ken Sells, who worked as assistant to the General Manager of Chicago Cubs, with a proposition to lead a committee and brainstorm ideas. Sells’ committee suggested establishment of a female softball league whose games could be played at MLB parks in the event that attendance falls because of the absence of a majority of crowd-attracting quality players (AAGPBL, n.d.). Immediately after the war, the League was still thriving. The women as well as supporters agreed to and appreciated the introduction of a bigger diamond and truer, smaller hardball making the game a lot similar to that played by men. Initially, the League only had four teams; by the year 1948, however, when the fans grew to nearly a million, the number of teams also grew to ten. (AAGPBL, n.d.)
However, as the years wore on, men rejoined the game and home entertainment modes like the TV grew popular, the all-girl league lost popularity; its last season was played in 1954. Also, the girls began retiring, and franchise owners stopped recruiting fresh players; consequently, women’s baseball disappeared from the sports arena. Several accounts of baseball history, while citing America’s joy at having the men back at the game, fail to mention the all-girl’s league and how, at the time of war, America’s women assumed the mantle of ensuring baseball’s continuity (AAGPBL, n.d.)
The movie, A League of Their Own, makes use of fictional players, events, and team managers for communicating the AAGPB’s general history in an interesting way. The movie’s key events, like players’ recruitment and the World Series are based on actual occurrences and are depicted relatively accurately (McLaughlin, 2014).
Recruited players were, in reality, gathered from across America. But in trials, a team only comprised 15 girls, and not 16, as the movie depicts. The film features four teams — these were the teams that existed from the league’s beginning; ultimately, however, the number of teams had grown to ten. The girls depicted in the movie fictionally represented a fusion of the kind of girls that made up the real-life teams. The movie’s writer and director, in this manner, could accurately depict the road trips and everyday life of the era. The players are shown to use overhand pitch, a larger diamond, and the smaller true hardball all through the movie; however, these regulations only got introduced some years following formation of the League.
Compulsory enrollment of the players in charm and beauty school for protecting their feminine image is a historically accurate occurrence. The film depicts the League striving to gain popularity, leading the girls to consider showboating gimmicks for attracting crowds — this part is false. Right from the start, the AAGPBL had a big fan following (McLaughlin, 2014).
The girls’ uniforms and the way they react to them, as depicted in the film, is very accurate. One girl states that “That’s what they wanted” and expected, for the girls to appear feminine while playing like boys — they were expected to wear dresses and keep their hair long. She goes on to state further that “When I first saw those uniforms I said, ‘Oh, I’ll never play for them,’ because you didn’t show your legs in those days.” Subsequently, she realized that in order to play, they had no other choice but to don on that uniform. The Racine Belles really did win the World Series; however, the competing team was not the Rockford Peaches in reality, but the Comets. There are only two key elements that were not accurately depicted in the movie: the League’s popularity at the start, and the use of a smaller ball, overhand pitch, and a larger field, right from the start (McLaughlin, 2014).
AAGPBL. (n.d.). League History. Retrieved from www.aagpbl.org: http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/pages/league/12/league-history
Bonzel, K. (n.d.). A League of Their Own: The Impossibility of the Female Sports Hero. Retrieved from www.screeningthepast.com: http://www.screeningthepast.com/2013/10/a-league-of-their-own-the-impossibility-of-the-female-sports-hero/
Crosset, T. (n.d.). Masculinity, Sexuality, and the Development of Early Modern Sport.
Early history of sport. in North America. (n.d.)
Hargreaves, J. (n.d.). The Victorian Cult of the family and the early years of female sport.
McLaughlin, J. (2014, February 2). A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN, 1992. Retrieved from melissawalker1962.wordpress.com: https://melissawalker1962.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/a-league-of-their-own-1992/
Miller, G. (1985). The (sex) symbol: Marilyn prime time, and the Nielsens. Literature Film Quarterly, 13, 257
Kaplan, E. A. (1985). Hemingway, Hollywood and female representation: The Macomber affair. Literature Film Quarterly, 13, 22.
Vantornhout, K. (1995). Film analysis of A league of their own: myths and portrayals of heroines in sport. San Jose State University.
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