Femininity Masculinity and Physical Activity Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

It causes females to compromise their health by taking up very restrictive diets to be model thin (which could lead to other psychological health issues, such as anorexia or bulimia). Being overweight (which in many cases is one of the only measures applied to determine healthiness) is thought by many women to be a case of "eating too much food and/or not doing enough exercise" (p. 711).

Males face similar problems to females, but in a different way. If a man is not active and physically fit, he is not "healthy." While he does not have to have the restrictive diet of a female, he is still judged on his moral character by his level of health. Non-conforming signals that he is lazy and does not care about himself as much as someone who does conform. Being healthy is part of a conforming male's identity because it is synonymous with physical activity (which we have seen before through sport and physical education is a defining characteristic of masculinity).

Bodies and Identities

Throughout most of the previous topics, Physical Education, Sport, and Health, the body has remained a central issue or theme. It is through the body that activity is done and health is displayed. It is with the body that masculinity and femininity are displayed for the most part. Looking the part, acting the part, and doing the part are all components of being "masculine" or being "feminine" and are all done with the body. This is mostly because of the association between being biologically male (or female), of the male (or female) gender, and being masculine (or feminine). Therefore, one's body has ramifications for one's identity, masculinity, or femininity.

How a person looks is often an important part of who that person thinks he/she is. The visual (the body) has become symbolic of identity, and how we look signals a lot about us, such as our socioeconomic status or our group affiliations (Frost, 2003). For example, for males, looking "cool" (wearing certain types of clothes, keeping the hair a certain way) helps to define and identify their masculinity (such as keeping a "bad boy" image or helping them to "score"). Not looking a certain way puts one in an excluded category; it creates detrimental social isolation and alienation.

Males are expected to look masculine; that is, he is supposed to be sporty (i.e., have an athletic body) and cool (e.g., wear "in" clothes), and if they do not, their "power, control and sexual desirability" (p. 63) are compromised. Further, the most desirable male is black or white (which has become associated with masculinity). If one is, for example, Korean, he is seen as weak, lacking muscle, and, therefore, feminine. In this way, even ethnicity (or handicap) can be used as non-conformity to hegemonic masculinity and identify a person as non-masculine. In as similar fashion, females who do not look like thin, (middle class) white girls, according to Frost, are not exuding the traits of femininity. Much of one's identity is bound up in the body, such much so that non-conforming could lead to serious issues, from poor health to identity crises to even suicide.


Society has its prescripts about what it means to masculine and feminine, and the two seems to be (but do not have to be) binary opposites. While society's views are changing (especially with respect to what femininity is), there are still views that say there is a "right" way to be feminine or masculine. These notions are not seen to be on a continuum, and those who do fall closer to the middle of that continuum are caused problems by the hegemonic masculinity/femininity beliefs. While there are ways, e.g., for a female to negotiate herself as feminine while doing something masculine (like sports), there are nonetheless problems that arise from not conforming (including the need for negotiation itself). These problems arise almost everywhere, from bodies and images, to scholastic and physical performance, to health, and will continue to arise while society readjusts its views, expectations, and dialogues.

Works Cited

Adams, N., Schmitke, a., & Franklin, a. (2005). Tomboys, dykes, and girly girls: Interrogating the subjectivities of adolecent female athletes. Women's Studies Quarterly, 33(1&2), 19-35.

Azzarito, L. & Solmon, M. (2008). An investigation of students' embodied discourses in physical education: A gender project. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 28, 173-191.

Frost, L. (2003). Doing bodies differently? Gender, youth, appearance and damage. Journal of Youth Studies, 6(1), 53-70.

Gard, M. (2008). When a boy's gotta dance: New masculinities, old pleasures. Sport, Education and Society, 13(2), 181-193.

Jackson, C. (2006). 'Wild' girls? An exploration of 'ladette' cultures in secondary schools. Gender and Education, 18(4), 339-360.

Schacht, S. (1996). Misogyny on and off the "pitch": The gendered world of male rugby players. Gender and Society, 10(5), 550-565.

Wright, J., O'Flynn, G., & Macdonald, D. (2006). Being fit and looking healthy: Young women's and men's…

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