Liberalism and Feminism

Liberalism and Feminism

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Throughout American history, baseball was something of a universalizing national pastime, which a social commentator, Barzun once explained, expressed a “unification of America” because of the teamwork involved.  Requiring only a stick and a ball, it was a sport that represented a democratic society in which everyone could participate—rich or poor—in a universal American experience.  It was a symbol of how “America was the land of opportunity where even a poor boy could grow up to be Babe Ruth” (Walop).  Notably, except for the short-lived AAGPBL (which was also long forgotten), there were no professional baseball leagues for women.

The film, A League of Their Own, can be considered a “feminist” film.  The liberal narrative articulates a discourse of individual rights, justice, and freedom for women at a watershed moment in American history–WWII.  For the first (and last time) in U.S. history, women played baseball professionally.  However, the film also illustrates the role that women have played in the past in relation to important American traditions.  In relation to baseball (and other American ideals and practices), “women” have a different standpoint than that of many American men.  Using the film, as well as factual information from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) website, discuss the ways that the film illustrates the ways that women were constructed as illegitimate subjects (of baseball, sports, or other activity) but rather as objects “other” to full subjects (men).  What obstacles do the women in the film confront?  What relationship did women have to baseball prior to and also after the AAGPBL?  How does the film use arguments like Wollstonecraft’s and de Beauvoir to argue that women are in their own right, legitimate subjects (baseball players)?  Clearly, the women in the film were positioned as objects of the male gaze who, over the course of the film become active agents of their own lives.  But as a mainstream 90’s Hollywood film, how is this new sense of agency instilled at the expense of reinscribing gendered/sexualized norms?

Lastly, if baseball marked an individual as a real “American,” then the film demonstrates the ways in which “women” can also be full American subjects.  However, advancing the freedoms of “women” in this film comes at the expense of the erasure of “others” who are present, yet do not materialize fully in the film.  While the women in the AAGPBL were/are the classic subjects of liberal feminism, what are some contradictions, absences, exclusions, etc. in the film that make it difficult for “other” racialized male and female subjects to materialize as full subjects of this film?  Why do these women materialize as full human subjects while racialized, sexualized, disabled, and other others fail to materialize as full subjects or at all?

After watching the film, A League of Their Own (I recommend watching it several times, and perhaps, watching and discussing this film with others in the class), adopt a poststructural feminist approach and analyze the film as if it were an artifact before answering the questions below (5-7 pages):

1) who is the universal subject of rights?

2) how are important contextual objective “facts” eliminated, excluded, and/or not considered in recruiting the women players?

3) how might this liberal narrative of “women’s rights” limit or exclude inconsistent, inconvenient, and/or contradictory facts that might reveal the limits of liberal feminism for “other” subjects”?

3) Does the film appeal to naturalized and normative understandings of gender, sexuality, race, etc. to make its argument?


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