Monday, May 25, 2009

Toastmasters Speech #2:
"The Feminine Athlete"

By Russel Roxas, TM

Lisa Leslie, Tina Thompson, Becky Hammon, do the names ring a bell? Maybe to some who are into WNBA but to others, it might not even trigger a spark in their neuron. What about Jester Teh, Bimbi Manalaysay, Ericka Dy, Manalo Twins, Julie Amos?

They are the female cagers who excel in the UAAP league same time as Bal David, Ronald Magtulis, JC Intal, Ren Ren Ritualo and Mark Telan. Now I see nods and hear “ahs”. Jester Teh, Julie Amos and Bimbi Manalaysay are my inspiration when I was still starting my college basketball career.
There are a lot of outstanding female players in the field of basketball, soccer, and judo in the Philippines. But often times, they are unrecognized and even frowned upon. The idea of sports always has a masculine viewpoint. It is considered unladylike for women to participate in certain sports, especially those that are primarily male dominated.
After this speech, you will learn to appreciate women who dominate rough sports and realize that they can be athletic and act like real women at the same time.
The public often fascinates female athletes in the sports tennis, golf, figure skating, and gymnastics. These sports demonstrate the agility and elegance "natural" to women. The individual stars are known, culturally at least, more for their "feminine" attributes like glamour and grace. The general public recognizes athletes on their feminine beauty and objectified status, rather than their athletic skill. That is a major drawback to women's sports. And probably a significant reason why many women drop out of sports or have their sexual identity questioned when they try to prove their athleticism.
I have played the basketball for 8 years beginning high school, 2 years of which is in the UAAP league. During the four years of my basketball career I’ve been courted by my teammate who has the mentality that women who get into basketball are into that type of relationship. Two years, I’ve been teased for applying make-up after every game. For eight years I’ve worked so hard trying to excel at the sports and at the same time prove my feminine side.
This issue of gender in sport occurs all the time. The masculine assumptions of team sports challenge the individualist and moralist ideologies that construct sports such as figure skating and gymnastics. The women of the WNBA have had to manage a contradictory set of cultural images and strategies. They need to reassure fans that although they are not dancing gracefully over the ice in designer outfits, professional female basketball players are feminine beings. Do you know that Lisa Leslie is one of the few WNBAA players who can dunk and at the same time one of the known figures who walk the runways of Los Angeles. I am sort of like her except for the dunking part which is my lifetime dream.
Why can’t we be accepted as athletic and sexy at the same time? What happens when society cannot accept women as athletes and feminine beings all in one package? This has a dramatic affect on athletes. The lesbian stereotype exerts pressure on athletes to demonstrate their femininity and heterosexuality. So, instead of athletes concentrating on training and competition, they have to spend their time defending their personal lives and sexuality, also reassuring their audiences that women involved in sports are indeed women. My college coach had to send us to personality development trainings instead of using the additional training hours for roadwork and tune-up games just to make sure we exude our feminine side when we are off the courts.
It is not surprising that sports such as hockey, basketball, and weightlifting, which resemble masculine athletics, have the greatest need to attract audiences and the fear of lesbianism are most prominent. But attracting audience is still yet another challenge. In my two years in the UAAP league, never was one of my games featured on TV. Not even the Championship game we had in Araneta. In sponsorships, we got less compared to our male counterparts. We ended up having just one pair of game shoes and one pair of practice shoes while the men’s team had four. Our allowance was by far lower compared to the men’s team.
Even the career path for professional female ballers is few. It is actually just limited to RP Team and WPBL. Both have less exposure in terms of publicity. Another example is the women involved in bodybuilding end up joining bodybuilding contests. Now, the contestants should be judged on muscle tone of the body right? Wrong. To define which woman has the best and most well defined body, the judges feel compelled to define "body" in relation to the "woman" form. There was one time when I was watching “Sa pula, Sa Puti in Eat Bulaga” The competition is between female and male bodybuilders. My colleagues’ reaction to the women is “eiiwww, scary” but to the male bodybuilders, “wow” – note the reaction came from both men and women.
Although women athletes experience many drawbacks, there are positive aspects to women competing in non-traditional sports. They open the door to something new, that although it may not be socially acceptable right now. These female athletes also works towards providing younger generation women more opportunities in sport. Some of my teammates in college are now coaching the same sports in high school and even basketball clinics. Eventually, the hard work and effort they put in will make it easier for women to enter into sports that they typically wouldn't and maybe there will even be more funding for women's sports and organizations.
Sports has become an essential part of the culture for women. Health issues are always important and let's face it, everyone whether male or female needs to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine. so what if a woman sweats when she is at the gym or playing a sport, it just proves that she is working hard at what she is doing. So, in a way, sport provides communication with other people and improves the physical, mental, and emotional well being of a woman.
I think we just need to look past the negative aspects of sport because they can distract athletes or even cause them to stop doing what they love. Pressure from society to fit in is always a hard thing to deal with and those who overcome the remarks from audiences or critics become the better person in the long run by looking back at what they have accomplished, what they have left behind for many other generations of women athletes to follow. I encourage you to see them beyond their jerseys and uniforms but with their contribution to our society.

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