In a Dillard’s dressing room at Governor’s Square Mall, the then high school senior slipped on a smooth strapless burgundy dress. She turned her arms inward and surveyed them both as she flexed from every angle possible. Embarrassed at the figure staring back at her in the mirror, she wondered what kind of shawl she could wear to disguise her bulging muscles.
“The whole time I’m thinking what can I get to go around my arms or what kind of jacket can I wear (to my senior prom),” said Q’Vaunda Curry, 22, a senior professional MBA student from Quincy. “After I tried it on, I looked at all sides and raised my arm in different directions to see what my arms look like. I kept thinking, well maybe I don’t need to make a 90 degree angle (with my arms) or I’ll hold my arms down or not bend them so much.”
Although squeezing into clothes may be a common problem for most, back then it was Curry’s muscular physique that made her feel insecure at times. Curry’s idea of how her sturdy build would be perceived by others supports a common stereotype many female athletes grapple with daily – facing the challenge of having to defend femininity and sexuality as a female athlete.
Assistant Coach Nikki Washington, of the women’s basketball team, was unable to be reached.
However, Rochelle Goldthreate, Florida A&M’s head women’s tennis coach, admitted that although the stereotype plagues sports such as women’s basketball, its not much of an issue for women’s tennis.
“With the type of clothes we wear it has gotten better,” Goldthreate said. “I think with females like Venus and Serena Williams coming out with the cat suits. We have become a lot more feminine with the clothes we wear but people still have their own thought process on how females should be portrayed when playing a sport.”
Goldthreate said the stereotype affects a lot of people, especially athletes that don’t feel comfortable coming out because they are afraid or some that won’t even come to a school because they have gay teammates.
“People are still fearful of being around homosexuals,” Goldthreate said.
FAMU psychology professor Dana Dennard expressed a different opinion. He said the stereotype is mainly rooted in sexism as a part of society’s social constructs on women.
“The cultural base about women is that they are weaker than and should be indoors and that men should be rough and competitive, so it starts from there,” Dennard said. “So if a woman is involved in sports that means she will show physical power, which is associated with masculinity and manliness. In nature, it would be considered a masculine trait.”
Another way the stereotype is strengthened is when popular female athletes become open about their sexual orientation. For Curry, this proved to be a shock when a certain WNBA player revealed her sexuality.
“The biggest thing I remember was when (Sheryl) Swoopes (of the Seattle Storms) came out,” Curry said. “And just talking about it among my teammates and friends, we were like she’s coming out and now everybody is going to think all females are gay. That’s not a problem and an issue personally, but it’s one of the biggest things we run into.”
DOUBLE STANDARD FOR MEN
Because there aren’t many openly gay male athletes, Curry said male athletes don’t have to endure the same scrutiny their female counterparts do.
“No one is talking about homosexual football players because guys don’t come out like that, but it’s not just female athletes, it’s males too,” Curry said. “They can’t come out because they have to look like a macho man but having a more toned body doesn’t say feminine. They just don’t have to deal with it.”
The double standard among male and female athletes can also be impacted by image. As a result, some female athletes may feel it is necessary to maintain a feminine look in order to dispel the stigma.
Fortunately, Curry said she’s never felt compelled to achieve anyone’s idea of femininity.
“Maybe I’m different than most, but I’ve never felt pressure…I like to dress up, but some days you may see me in sweats,” Curry said. “I go with what I feel and I never think ‘if I wear these basketball shorts today somebody might think I’m gay’ because its kind of ignorant to just assume (someone’s sexuality) without knowing.”
For Curry, femininity isn’t synonymous with a prissy attitude and not something you can always see.
“Femininity is definitely not defined by what you wear or whether you play sports or how many guys you’ve dated,” Curry said. “It’s knowing how to have class, and being a lady (and) everybody possesses it, it’s just how they choose to display it.”
Dennard said the way to defeating these kinds of negative stereotypes is by changing societal ways of thinking.
“The relationship between culture and sports is the key,” Dennard said. “Human behavior often socially emphasizes individualism, but most of the time it’s what the cultures think.”
For Curry, being an athlete along with having her own sense of femininity blend naturally.
“I think being an athlete and feminine is all one package…for me, I’m a feminine athlete,” Curry said. “I mean I’ve curled my hair before a game just to maintain my bounce, and I’ve never thought of it as something separate.”
Curry said her main goal is to make sure she represents herself and other female athletes in a positive way.
“…It’s not just for me, but for everyone because we get such a bad rep sometimes,” Curry said.
Despite the ugly label, athletes like Tiffany Chan, 21, a Lady Rattlers softball pitcher, said her love for the sport keeps her motivated, in spite of what others may believe.
“People will think things of you no matter what you do in life. Softball is a passion for us so that we can block out everything but playing hard,” said the junior allied health science student from Castro Valley, Calif.
Head Coach Veronica Wiggins, of Rattler’s softball, was unable to be reached.
Curry said, “At the MEAC conference banquet, there are some in dresses and there were some in really nice three-piece suits, like the same thing my boyfriend had on. Stereotypes have to come from somewhere, but your preference is your preference.”