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Journal Issue 2.1
Spring 2010
Edited by Deanna Utroske, Julie Ann Salthouse, Jillian Hernandez, and
Karen Alexander
Editorial Assistant: Katherine O’Connor


License to Thrive: Title IX at 35. Directed by Theresa Moore. New York: Women Make Movies, 2008.
She Got Game: Behind the Scenes of the Women’s Tennis Tour. Directed by Abbey Jack Neidik and Bobbi Jo Krals. Montreal: DLI Productions and Esperanto Productions, 2003.

Reviewed by Joan Grassbaugh Forry


“After a match, the bathwater would turn red from wounds caused by the corsets digging into their flesh as they twisted and turned to chase the ball.” From She Got Game: Behind the Scenes of the Women’s Tennis Tour, this statement describes early twentieth-century women’s tennis and the challenges faced by female athletes. Similarly, in License to Thrive: Title IX at 35, Bernice Sanders relays the following story, characterizing the state of women’s sports before Title IX: “A basketball player sprained her ankle and she wasn’t permitted to see the athletic trainer that the men’s team had… He told her coach to ‘tell the girl to stick her foot in the toilet and keep flushing.’ That was the medical advice.” These stories are powerful reminders of how far women’s sports have come, providing the backdrop for understanding the present state of women’s sports.
            License to Thrive: Title IX at 35 chronicles the passage and aftermath of the 1972 law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal funding. Title IX is most prominently known for its impact on scholastic and intercollegiate athletics. The film devotes considerable attention to this aspect of the law, but also shows Title IX’s effects in other areas where girls and women are underrepresented, such as math, politics, and filmmaking. The film’s other merits include its interviews with key figures in the fight for Title IX. The DVD helpfully comes with a seventeen-page facilitator guide. The film also has a frequently updated companion Web site,, which carries relevant headlines as well as video clips and hosts a members-only online community.
            However, this film’s shortcomings far outweigh its merits. The film begins with Bernice Sanders telling her story of sex discrimination at the University of Maryland, where she was passed over for a faculty position because, as her colleague put it, she was “too strong for a woman.” While Sanders’s experience was a critical motivating event for Title IX, the abbreviated, decontextualized version presented is not an effective opener for the film. I can easily imagine students who are skeptical of pernicious sex discrimination immediately discounting Sanders as a complainer. Such lack of context is a persistent problem throughout the film. Very little background is provided on the challenges historically faced by women in educational contexts. An interview with Yale graduate Anne Keating raises another problem. Keating recalls that one of the glaring inequities of the Yale sports program was that the women’s teams “had to wash their uniforms themselves.” This inequity was one that deserved attention. But foregrounding this example as indicative of the inequities suffered by female athletes delegitimizes more profound and pervasive inequities. There is no mention of the fact that the National Collegiate Athletic Association lobbied vigorously against Title IX. There is no mention of the pivotal legal cases that marked Title IX’s triumphs and setbacks, such as Grove City College v. Bell or Cohen v. Brown. There is no mention of the fact that a majority of universities today are not Title IX compliant. The film concludes that one of the major problems today is a lack of knowledge about Title IX. Unfortunately, this film does little to remedy this situation.
            She Got Game: Behind the Scenes of the Women’s Tennis Tour takes a different approach, presenting an in-depth look into the lives of female professional tennis players by following them throughout an entire season. This film importantly resists the superficial glorification of professional sports and the glamorization of professional athletes’ lifestyles, revealing a complicated, thought-provoking view of what it is like to be a female professional athlete. Sonya Jeyaseelan is the main character of the film. Jeyaseelan’s father quit his job when she was six to coach her full-time, and Nike started investing in Jeyaseelan when she was eleven. The film reveals the often invisible operations of women’s professional tennis through interviews with a variety of Women’s Tennis Association personnel, players, sponsors, and players’ family members. In addition, She Got Game chronicles Jeyaseelan’s internal struggle to manage pressure, injuries, and politics, a struggle that often manifests as intense self-criticism. The film offers many teachable moments, particularly for addressing issues of empowerment, commodification, sexualization, and exploitation. For example, a promoter from BMW comments on the company’s sponsorship of women’s tennis players that “They are athletic, agile, sexy… . [They] represent a lot of values you find in a BMW.” When asked whether she was comfortable with the sexualized promotion of Anna Kournikova, tennis legend Martina Navratilova claims, “I think we need to focus on the athleticism of the women, and not just in tennis but in all sports... . That's not what you want little girls to aspire to, become famous so they can take their top off.” Emphasizing the complexity of being a role model, sports commentator Mary Carillo points out, “Many of the players on the tour don’t finish high school.” Jeyaseelan is forced to take three months off because of an injury and psychological burnout, but she returns to the tour rejuvenated and refocused, with different priorities. The film is particularly successful in that it manages to present important feminist problems while largely withholding judgment, prompting viewers to arrive at their own conclusions.1


Joan Grassbaugh Forry is an assistant professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she regularly teaches courses in sports ethics and philosophy of education. Her recent research focuses on conceptualizing the relationship between feminist theories and gender politics in contemporary sport.



1Accompanying texts could include Leslie Heywood and Shari L. Dworkin, Built to Win: The Female Athlete as Cultural Icon (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003); Eileen McDonagh and Laura Pappano, Playing with the Boys: Why Separate is Not Equal in Sports (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); and Jean O’Reilly and Susan K. Cahn, eds., Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2007).



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