This weeks readings were very interesting and cool to learn about. Flying, Flirting, and Flexing: Charmion’s Trapeze Act , Sexuality, and Physical Culture at the Turn of the Twentieth Century, by Bieke Gils, and We Were Ladies, We Just Played Like Boys: African American Women and Competitive Basketball at Bennett College, 1928-1942, by Patrick Miller. Flying, Flirting, and Flexing was my favorite to read about. It was about a woman named Lavarie Vallee, who was very popular artist for using the trapeze bar. Vallee, or “Charmion” was filled with fame for her moves, body, and her desire to change how women were viewed. Her muscular body caught many individuals attention, gasping for her entertainment and looks. She was considered really beautiful and attractive, but her body kept her back and seen as weird/strange. Charmion knew her body could catch this attention so she took advantage, disrobing before events, providing her view. It was frown upon, as women during this time had much of their body covered up, with no say. I did not know Charmion was very muscular until our zoom call. I continued to look through google and other websites to come upon many pictures of her spectacular build. It makes me think of how women today feel about this topic. For example, Serena Williams is a very athletic and great athlete, but she known for her strong and powerful style of play. The criticism she takes goes out of this world, with many people judging her for her broad shoulders and arms. Although women have a hard time pleasing others for their appearance, it doesn’t take away the fact that they are great athletes and humans.
Women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries experienced a lot of mixed feelings for showing off their bodies’ abilities through athletic pursuits. The trapeze artist named Charmion was an example of how to push the boundaries of women not only in sports, but also in how they did or didn’t dress. Charmion was famous for doing vaudeville and burlesque performances as a trapeze artist, but mostly for her gimmick of “disrobing” beforehand and suggesting the idea of public nudity, something incredibly scandalous for the turn of the twentieth century. Women were expected to wear clothing more constrictive of movement doing gymnastics, and Charmion was able to do so without as restrictive clothing, albeit with much public adoration but more disparagement. Not only was she feminine, but she was also muscular, which was incredibly juxtaposed to the societal feminine ideal at the time of the frail, skinny, weak woman who needed a man to help her survive. She broke many scandalous boundaries of her time, but the idea of feminine muscularity is still, to many in today’s society, looked down upon.
The public’s attitudes in the south towards sports for black women in the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s, however, was slightly more diverse. Many black female universities did not allow for their students to participate in competitive sports aside from ones that were deemed as more feminine, such as archery and badminton. Others only allowed their students to participate in intramural leagues or noncompetitively. However, an exception to those institutions was Bennett College in Greensboro, who allowed for women to be competitive and also to be in touch with their “femininity.” There were a lot of rules to follow off the court for the students at Bennett, such as strict dress codes and etiquette, but on the court the women were allowed to compete as they saw fit. Bennett believed that women could still be feminine while challenging feminine norms and sports were the perfect way to do that. They faced a lot of discrimination as not only blacks, but also as women, but were able to fight the norms that many women are still subject to to this day. Women’s basketball is still seen as lesser than men’s basketball by the general public, in addition to many other dual-sex sports, and it is incredible that the women at Bennett and other colleges were able to challenge the norms that were facing them during the interwar years.
The readings this week consisted of Flying, Flirting, and Flexing: Charmion’s Trapeze Act , Sexuality, and Physical Culture at the Turn of the Twentieth Century by Bieke Gils and We Were Ladies, We Just Played Like Boys: African American Women and Competitive Basketball at Bennett College, 1928-42 by Patrick Miller. Both articles were about the gender roles of women in different sports. I found a particular interest in Flying, Flirting, and Flexing: Charmion’s Trapeze Act , Sexuality, and Physical Culture at the Turn of the Twentieth Century. This text was very interesting. It is about Lavarie Vallée, better known by her stage name as Charmion. She was a very popular acrobat on the trapeze bar in the twentieth century. She used her body, which was frowned upon by many to become so popular. She took advantage of the new technology that was available in order to gain that popularity and spread her name around the world. In doing this, she broke social norms and worked to eliminate gender roles and create a new view on what was considered socially acceptable for women in sports. She was also considered very beautiful, yet also masculane because of her muscles and strength, which man found strange. This interested me because this can still be seen today. Women are still fighting for their bodies in a way. Women have to fight to not be sexualized by viewers but at the same time express their bodies however they want to. This is a common thing in today’s society, especially in sports. The other reading did not speak to me as much but was still very interesting. I love a story where people are not afraid to break social norms and express themselves, or in this case play the sport, however they choose to. I hope in the future that people, especially women, will continue to be as brave as those written about to change the way that a broken society thinks. These are the people who will stand out in sports, these are the people who will make the history that we read and learn about, and these are the people who will make a difference in the world.
This week’s readings consisted of the changing perceptions of female athletes in the United States during the early to mid twentieth century. The journal article “Flying, Flirting, and Flexing” written by Bieke Gils is about how Laverie Vallée through her trapeze act demonstrated her upper-body muscularity. Laverie Vallée or her stage name, Charmion was part of a wave of new aerialist athletes who helped Victorian society revisit their views on women’s physicality, and sexuality. Charmion took advantage of new technology to promote herself, which in turn promoted a new image of female athletes. I found the reading interesting due to bringing up new points about female athletes in a new sport we have yet to explore, gymnastics. In this piece Bieke Gils offered new perspectives on the changing opinions on women and their bodies at the turn of the twentieth century through the lens of Charmion. Charmion being a very muscular woman would have been tough for Victorian Era New Yorkers to see her as anything more than a circus act. Due to Charmion, and many other trapeze acts, they helped American society, and culture revisit their views on the female body and its physicality. The other reading comes from Rita Liberti titles “We Were Lades, We Just Played Like Boys: African American Women and Competitive at Bennett College, 1928-42.” Rita Liberti writes about how during the 1920s and 30s elite black schools began to discount and dismantle their black women’s basketball teams but Bennett college became an exception to this change. Other schools around the country sought for women to play sports like table tennis, badminton, or archery instead of basketball, arguing that the other sports were more suitable for female involvement. Bennett College saw women’s basketball as a means of expression, and it was used over time as a way for women to challenge the notion of being “ladylike.” The chapter covers women’s basketball programs around the country facing problems as people at the time wanted them to play five on five instead of six on six, in an attempt to simplify the sport for women. These two chapters cover the change in the views on female athletes in the United States during the early twentieth century. The view on female athletes changed as they began to play a variety of sports, or market themselves with more physicality instead of the ladylike norm. Challenging the status quo of the time of what could be seen as “ladylike” with the new views of athletic femininity. Showing the world at the time that women could be athletic, muscular, and play the same sports as men. These readings presented changes that I was unaware were going on during the early twentieth century, and cover a growing new field in sports history. The women in these readings were developing a new gender identity out of their physical prowess, physicality, skills in sports, and overcoming the gender stereotypes of their time.