Masculinity in American Baseball Films

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

23 Pages, Grade: 1,7



I. Introduction

II. The topic of masculinity
IIa. The difference between “sex” and “gender”
IIb. Modernisation and patriarchy
IIc. Gender fluidity and alternative masculinities
IId. Masculinity in all-male-groups: Aggression, struggles for power and homosocial bonding

III. Masculinity in American baseball films
IIIa. Bull Durham (1988)
IIIa1. Crash as an embodiment of ideal masculinity
IIIa2. Female masculinity and modern femininity: the character of Annie
IIIb. The Natural (1984)
IIIc. Mr. Baseball (1992)
IIId. A League of Their Own (1992)

IV. Summary

V. Works cited

I. Introduction

In the United States of the mid-19th century, the game of Baseball became popular to such an extent that it was from then on closely associated with American national culture as such. The “National Pastime”, the “American Game” or even the “National Religion” as the sport also soon was called, represented not only American values like teamwork and meritocracy, but also to a certain degree symbolized the expansion, industrialization and the economic boom in the United States of the 19th century. Baseball has therefore been an important topic in many works of American literature and films ever since. Hence, among many other points of view, American baseball fiction has also shaped the perception of American masculinity. The concept of masculinity is important in the academic field of gender studies which came up only as recent as the 1970s. In its first part, this paper is going to explain the concepts of gender and masculinity and the complexity which surrounds them in some detail. Secondly, this paper is going to approach some works of baseball fiction from the 1980s and early 1990s from the gender studies -perspective, namely the films Bull Durham (1988), The Natural (1984), Mr. Baseball (1992) and A League of Their Own (1992). It will try to answer the question what conclusions can be drawn concerning the representation of masculinity in American baseball films of the 1980s and early 1990s.

II. The topic of masculinity

This chapter deals with the concept of masculinity. It analyses the concept in some detail in order to apply it to the baseball films that will be dealt with later in this seminar paper. Masculinity is a concept that is dealt with in the scientific branch of gender studies, or to be more specific in this case, literary gender studies. Masculinity as a research topic is relatively new. It came into being in response to the women’s studies, created by feminists in the 1970s. As Sweetman points out: “A focus on men, their sense of themselves as ‘masculine’, and the relevance of this for development is new for most gender and development researchers and practitioners” (Sweetman 1997:2). The reason for the need of this new scientific branch will be illustrated later in this chapter (cf. section IIb).

IIa. The difference between “sex” and “gender”

Masculinity – as this section will explain – is something that is hard to define comprehensively. In order to understand why that is, one must first understand the concept of gender. Until the 1970s, sex was the term of choice among researchers investigating women and men (Pearson and Cooks 1995:332). It is important to mention that there is a difference between gender and sex. Sex nowadays refers to the biological, anatomical distinction between men and women. Gender, on the other hand, can be defined as “the cultural prescriptions that each society attaches to one’s biological sex at a particular time” (Armengol 2007:75). That means gender aims at the social, psychological and interactive level. Whatever is attributed to a gender depends on the cultural and social context. The terms masculinity and femininity aim only at the concept of gender, not at the concept of biological sex. In other words, the term sex is used to refer to biological differences between males and females, and the term gender is used for those “attributes and behaviours acquired as a consequence of being male or female in a specific culture” (Spence 2002:105). Thus, many attributes and behaviours that are considered masculine may also be considered feminine in one culture, while in another culture they are not; however this paper is going to approach the topic of gender from the masculine side and mostly leave out the feminine approach. Since gender refers to the acquired attributes and behaviours in different cultures, there is not just one masculinity, but according to the transsexual Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell, there are many different masculinities, some of which may even exist in the same culture (Connell 1999:137). Furthermore, masculinities come into existence at particular times and places, and are always subject to change (Connell 2002:245).

Sweetman writes: “Many variations on the concept of ‘masculinity’ exist within and between societies. This challenges the idea that gender identity is natural, unchanging, and ‘given’” (Sweetman 1997:3). Nevertheless, it is debatable if sex and gender are not interconnected at all and if gender identity is necessarily entirely acquired and never at least partially based on natural behaviour of men and women. “There is a division between those who believe the influences of biology are indirect and mediated by society (social constructionists) and those who believe that direct effects of biology endow each gender with certain essential characteristics (biological essentialism)” (MacCorquodale in Pearson and Cooks 2002:333). This question cannot be answered so easily and unambiguously and will not be comprehensively dealt with in this seminar paper. Still, the view of “ultimate biological determinism” exists and is argued for by notable authors such as Sigmund Freud, Desmond Morris and Lionel Tiger (Connell 1987:67-8). The view that “all sex differences are socially produced” originated in “the second-wave feminism of the 1970s” (Connell 1987:67). According to Connell, the notion that there is a fundamental difference between men and women is very approved in biology, yet very disputed in social sciences, where genders are perceived as generally “socially constructed” (Connell 1999:23). Still, “social scientists soon learned that, although gender and sex could diverge, they tended to covary. Women are more likely to be feminine than are men, and men are more likely to be masculine than are women” (Pearson and Cooks 2002:333).

Again, this seminar paper will not make assumptions about the biological or social construction of gender differences. Thus, even in the case that the biological point of view of “ultimate determinism” is true to a certain degree, it is important to detain that males and females are doubtlessly at least partially educated to masculinity and femininity and the fulfilment of gender roles. This can be simply be exemplified by comparing an average woman in Germany and an average woman in a third world country like the Philippines. They have the same sex, but they have different femininities, different behaviours that are expected, and different abilities that are required from them by their societies. In social sciences, gender is defined by society’s cultural prescriptions, not by biological prescriptions. Therefore, the difference between sex and gender is clear without ambiguity and does not produce obstacles in this analysis of masculinity in baseball fiction.

IIb. Modernisation and patriarchy

As mentioned before, masculinities are subject to constant change. These changes of masculinities are often motivated by other cultural changes. For example the decline of the catholic church in the 16th century led to a replacement of monastic denial by married heterosexuality as the most honored form of sexuality (Connell 2002:246). Hence, masculinity underwent a change. Nowadays, equality is a high-held value, especially in democratic Western societies. There are ideally supposed to be no legal differences between people of different races, beliefs, origins, ethnicities and – of course – genders. Everybody is supposed to be treated equally. In earlier times, and still nowadays in many societies, the principles of equality were by far not as appreciated as they are nowadays in Western societies and women usually were in inferior positions to men. Even in early democracies, women usually had no right to vote or influence politics. Men were, and in many societies still are, the dominant power all along, even though the contributions of women to family life were often of much higher importance, though “invisible” (White 1997:14). Men earned the money, men took the decisions, and hence patriarchy and androcracy were widely the only acceptable social structures in families and societies. In many countries of the Western world, much of this has changed in the late 20th century at the latest. The Sexual Revolution of the late 1960s, accompanied by the emancipation of women and reorganization of family structures, has led to dissolution of traditional hierarchies. Therefore, nowadays femininity is different from femininity of the 19th century. Women’s gender has undergone a development in countries of the Western world. Consequently, men’s gender underwent a development as well, or at least it was forced to adapt to the social changes and the new femininity. Unlike earlier times or other cultures, society no longer expected them to be the sole provider of the family. The fact that men were no longer needed as the “breadwinner” of the family widely used to be an obstacle to their self-esteem (White 1997:14). Men were, and still are, in the situation of having to adapt to this changed situation. Therefore, the relatively new scientific branch of Gender Studies was soon extended from the mere research on the new femininity to the research on both genders.

The modern situation has led to confusion among men as well as among women. As Sweetman points out: “Why is it so difficult to promote the idea that men can do ‘women’s work’? (…) Changes to either gender role are potentially threatening to both women and men since they question personal identity. Not only is doing ‘women’s work’ unacceptable to many men, but women themselves may be unwilling to allow part of their role to be taken over by their partner“(Sweetman 1997:3). Even though values like equality are highly appreciated, both men and women resist against complete sameness. This might on the one hand partially have to do with actual biological differences, but it might on the other hand also very motivated by the fear of losing the acquired gender identities. Some women may be afraid of being too masculine and especially men may be afraid of being too feminine. Spence and Buckner write: “From the time they are born, males and females are treated very differently in both obvious and subtle ways and are expected to behave differently. (…) <They> adopt characteristics and behaviors that make them recognizable members of their gender. Masculinity is a quality prized in men and those who are judged inadequately masculine or worse, to show signs of femininity, are generally derogated” (Spence and Buckner 1995:105-6). Thus, an important aspect of masculinity and femininity in modern societies is that there is supposed to be complete equality, however by far not complete sameness. Masculinity and femininity in modern societies are doubtlessly still very distinct in certain aspects, even though overlaps are usually accepted. For example it is accepted when a man goes shopping for clothes with his best friend or a woman goes to a football stadium to see a game while drinking a beer, however on a continuing basis it is considered rather unusual. Only a behaviour that seriously and continuously threatens the gender identification of men or women is often not tolerated by many individuals involved.

IIc. Gender fluidity and alternative masculinities

As mentioned in the last section, gender differences are still very important in modern societies; overlaps are usually accepted, though. In cases of seriously questionable gender identities however, male femininity and female masculinity tend sometimes to be discriminated against, even in “enlightened” modern Western societies. Since many women participate in sports, that were formerly very male-oriented, female masculinity appears to be more common and accepted than male femininity, for example female weight-lifters, boxers or football players are accepted and admired. Furthermore, women appear to be also more accepted in traditionally male-dominated-professions than men are accepted in traditionally female-dominated professions. Occasionally they are even encouraged to develop masculinity (or to develop a femininity that is more compliant with male-dominated domains). For example, young women occasionally tend to be encouraged to become craftsmen, politicians, physicians, sports commentators or engineers while men, who become kindergarten teachers or secretaries, more often appear to be frowned upon. The welcome and acceptability of women in areas that were traditionally very male-dominated might have to do with the compensation of former inequality. Women were suppressed in their opportunities of development for many centuries (or even millennia) and hardly could exist independently. Furthermore, Western societies are still very male-dominated in general. Arguments, debates and other struggles for power, status and hierarchy are domains which are usually and traditionally coined by men. Women can nowadays play important roles in these hierarchies as well and are even encouraged to do so for the sake of equality. However, that means that they have to develop a certain degree of masculinity (or a femininity that is closer to masculinity) in order to be more powerful. Radical feminists in the 1970s have even articulated the need for women to create a society totally apart from men, in order to be able to be completely independent and dominate society (Pearson and Cooks 2002:339).


Excerpt out of 23 pages


Masculinity in American Baseball Films
University of Bayreuth  (Nordamerikastudien)
HS Field of Dreams - Baseball in American Literature and Popular Culture
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
538 KB
Masculinity, American, Baseball, Films
Quote paper
Uwe Mehlbaum (Author), 2010, Masculinity in American Baseball Films, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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