Have you ever dreamt of becoming a successful athlete or in a broader context of becoming known for your abilities? I assume that – at least during our childhood – almost everybody of us had an aspiration in such a direction. But most of us lost sight of this dream – due to lacking opportunities, resources or talents. Sometimes, we might remember those early wishes, but isn’t it often too late then? The movie “Million Dollar Baby” by Clint Eastwood addresses exactly this issue. The thirty-one-year old waitress Maggie Fitzgerald aspires to become a successful boxer and has chosen the known trainer Frankie to help her (here is a good summary). Once Frankie accepted to be her trainer, Maggie, who is considered to be actually too old and unexperienced for such a successful career, refutes this widespread believe by becoming a feared rival. She won a lot of fights, until she was badly hit and suffered from paraplegia. Based on her story, we can learn several lessons concerning the perception of gender and underdogs by our society and its connection to sports.
The movie illustrates the differences among gender in sports in the particular field of female prize fighting. Boxing is widely acknowledged as a male dominated sport, mostly due to its violence. In the book “On Boxing” by Oates, the author explains the different conceptions of gender in this kind of sport: The high level of raw aggression seems to be reserved to the male part of our society. This fact might lead to the conclusion that “the female boxer violates this stereotype and cannot be taken seriously—she is parody, she is cartoon, she is monstrous” (Oates). Although this quote is very tough, it points out the reasons why female boxer are given a special role by our society: they break with the classical roles of sexes and their associated characteristics.
Along with the violation of typical gender attributes of female boxer goes the discussion started by the International Boxing Association in 2010 whether the female athletes should wear skirts during the fight (click here for the article). This dress regulation should distinguish them from their male colleagues and points out the wish that this “unfeminine” athletes should regain their femininity to some extent. This problematic nature is also addressed in LaVaque-Manty’s chapter “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities” of his book “The Playing Fields of Eton” in which he states that the “stereotypes of excessively masculine female athletes” is still relevant in our perception of females’ sporting activities.
“Million Dollar Baby” seizes this gender discrimination in the field of boxing based on Maggie’s and Frankie’s relationship. As can been seen in the trailer above, he strongly refuses to become her trainer since Frankie had been used to mentor male athletes before. Thus, he is prejudiced and doesn’t take Maggie seriously: “Girlie, tough ain’t enough.” Throughout the movie, he constantly answers: “I don’t train girls.”, when Maggie asks him to become her trainer. But as Maggie is proving great persistence by training every night, he finally accepted to start training her. From the beginning, Maggie is constantly showing great effort and no trace of weakness in order to convince Frankie that she doesn’t fulfill the typical female chlichés.
After Maggie’s first wins, the both of them are developing a tighter relationship and Frankie titles her as “his fighter” and abandons his prejudices. From this evolution, we can learn that the embedded gender clichés in our society need not to be true in general and are worth to be overthought: a female can compete successfully in a typically male dominant sport without losing her femininity. Maggie has a small frame, but can compete against physically superior rivals and can be simultaneously seen as a female human being.
Moreover, the movie doesn’t only capture the prejudices which might occur in the gender discrimination. It also shows that superficially untypical athletes can be nevertheless successful in sports. Maggie is already 31/32 when she really starts boxing and doesn’t almost have any experience which are widely considered as insurmountable impediments. “Normally”, athletes begin to train very early in their lives and often have a lot of experience when they start to compete against each other. Maggie’s story of success disproves this widespread believe and demonstrates that underdogs can succeed and should be taking seriously. This story of success can be also inferred to politics or our working life in which people are distrustful whether a candidate can be really competent when s/he doesn’t fulfill the typical criteria required for their position.
Although “Million Dollar Baby” is more often considered to illustrate the problematic nature of assisted dying (Maggie asked Frankie to assist her dying while she was completely paralyzed), it also shows that our embedded, unconscious prejudices are often causeless. Untypical and firstly considered as being inappropriate candidates have the power to surprise us and should be taken seriously. Often, they are degraded in various fields of our society. Along with this aspect, the movie reminds us to pursue our dreams and emphasizes that we shouldn’t give up due to the judgment of other people. Therefore, it is a very inspiring, but also sad and touching movie for me that I can definitely recommend to you if you don’t know it yet.