Light Fly, Fly High. Directed by Susann Østigaard and Beathe Hofseth. New York: Women Make Movies, 2013. 80 minutes.

Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. Directed by Sarah Knight. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 2011. 25 minutes.

Reviewed by Wendy Burns-Ardolino

Light Fly, Fly High and Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend powerfully convey the challenges and triumphs that two individual women experience when pursuing careers in the male-dominated sports of boxing and baseball respectively. Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend profiles the professional career of Nicole Sherry, the second woman ever to become head groundskeeper in Major League Baseball. This short film focuses on the opportunity for women to be a part of sports in new and innovative ways and to flout the conventions of traditionally masculine career fields such as agronomy (turf building). Sherry’s meteoric rise to head groundskeeper is well-documented by the film as it highlights her diligence and determination in working as an intern at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, her role as head groundskeeper for the minor league Trenton Thunder, and her active recruitment back to the Orioles as head groundskeeper. Sherry overcomes adversity by confronting management at the Trenton Thunder regarding serious drainage issues threatening their field, which may be of particular interest to students in internships as this segment demonstrates the value of transferrable skills such as problem solving, professional communication, and collaboration in experiential learning.

However, while Sherry’s story is one of triumph within the arena of professional major league baseball, the film skirts issues of sexism within the industry and underscores meritocracy, thereby largely ignoring the complex issues often facing women who work in male-dominated sports industries. The film may be used an example of alternative careers for women in professional sports. However, I recommend pairing the film with critical readings focused on the barriers that women in sports have confronted such as M. Ann Hall’s Feminism and Sporting Bodies: Essays on Theory and Practice, Nancy Theberge’s Higher Goals: Women’s Ice Hockey and the Politics of Gender, and Anne Bolin and Jane Granskog’s Athletic Intruders: Ethnographic Research on Women, Culture, and Exercise.1 These readings may be used to discuss the impact of Title IX on women’s roles in sports as well as issues such as the female apologetic, the glass ceiling, and the gendered division of labor.

In Light Fly, Fly High Indian boxer Thulasi immediately recognizes how boxing offers her freedom and autonomy not only in terms of her own embodied subjectivity but as a ladder to climb out of her socioeconomic status. As a member of a lower caste, she explains that she and other girls like her are without value. The film tackles several strong social issues including sexual harassment and bribery by boxing league officials and the patriarchal norm of marriage as a socially desirable outcome for young women. The latter is exemplified by Thulasi’s decision to leave her biological family to escape marrying an older man from her father’s ministry, which leaves her few options for survival.

Light Fly, Fly High addresses key themes in scholarship about women and sport research: body confidence as a means of fighting oppression; sport as social and economic freedom; economic desperation fueling a quest for personal freedom through sport. I recommend pairing this film with feature films Girlfight and Million Dollar Baby to analyze how race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and nationality intersect within the frameworks of structural oppression.2 This film is also particularly useful in explaining how social class operates within national economies and may be partnered with a review of the Global Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum, which ranks nation-states in terms of health and survival rates, political participation, educational attainment, and work force participation of women.3

1 M. Ann Hall, Feminism and Sporting Bodies: Essays on Theory and Practice (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1996); Nancy Theberge, Higher Goals: Women’s Ice Hockey and the Politics of Gender (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000); Anne Bolin and Jane Granskog, eds., Athletic Intruders: Ethnographic Research on Women, Culture, and Exercise (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003).

2 Girlfight, directed by Karyn Kusama (Culver City, CA: Screen Gems, 2000), 110 mins.; Million Dollar Baby, directed by Clint Eastwood (Burbank, CA: Warner Brothers, 2004), 132 mins.

3 World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report (Geneva: World Economic Forum, 2016).

Dr. Burns-Ardolino is professor of liberal studies and director of the professional M.A. in Social Innovation at Grand Valley State University where she teaches interdisciplinary courses that cross the disciplines of media, cultural, and gender studies. Her current ethnographic work brings together research in the fields of body studies, women and sports, and feminist theory with the lived experiences of women triathletes. She has authored two books, TV Female Foursomes and their Fans and Jiggle: (Re)shaping American Women and has published articles and book chapters in journals and edited collections including: Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy, Cultural Matters: A Journal of Cultural Studies, The Fat Studies Reader, and Co-opting Culture: Culture and Power in Sociology and Cultural Studies.