Posted: February 1st, 2023
Bend it Like Beckham — An Analysis Through Gender-Lens
Women’s role lies at the heart of a number of cultural norms, forming a salient aspect of their survival. The football-themed movie, “Bend It Like Beckham” portrays an Indian girl, Jesminder “Jess” Bhamra struggling over her passion for football with her mom and other family members. She meets Jules (or Juliette Paxton), who invites Jess to become a part of the Hounslow Harriers, Jules’ football team. Jess accepts, joining the team against her mom’s wishes. Jess’s situation at home complicates further on account of the impending nuptials of her sister, an event that places considerable stress on her whole family. In spite of cultural differences, Jules and Jess face a situation at home where their moms cannot simply understand and support their passion for football — a sport for boys (Jamie Rees, 2012).
A young woman’s role in a gender-biased society
Upon learning that Jess wishes to join the Hounslow Harriers, Mrs. Bhamra bluntly tells her she can’t do so, as there are other, significantly Asian endeavors Jess simply must engage in (Gamal Abdel-Shehid & Nathan Kalman-Lamb, 2015):
She asserts her daughter’s played enough and that she dislikes the idea of her daughter “…running around half-naked in front of men.” She further rants about the unlikelihood of her getting wed if she continues running around with a football the entire day and doesn’t learn to “make round chapattis.” She asserts her wish for her daughter to quit football and learn to make a proper Punjabi dinner.
Gender is a significant theme in the movie. Traditionally, sports have, by and large, been viewed as masculine activities, diametrically opposite to feminine qualities. However, “Bend it Like Beckham” does not accept this view. By contrast, it believes females are more than competent when it comes to playing sports, and that the activity is definitely appropriate for females.
Overcoming Traditional Boundaries
One situation that tells the viewer on challenges faced by women in crossing traditional chasms is when Jess faces peer confrontation while playing football. A disturbing scene unfolds early on in the movie: three South Asian males with whom Jess has been playing soccer start poking fun at her and passing racy comments after the girl’s fouled. One asks whether she actually thinks she’s Beckham, another asks her whether she can chest the football like him, and the third actually urges her to do so. While their comments are clear attempts at reducing the girl to nothing but a sexual object, thereby negating her skill, she appears unruffled and actually kicks the ball at one of the boys’ groin, immediately making him an object of ridicule. The next scene shows her back at home, having been forced to leave the game early to help her mom with housework. The scene focuses on gender inequity, with Jess remarking about the unfairness of the situation, and how males never need to help at home (Gamal Abdel-Shehid & Nathan Kalman-Lamb, 2015). This scene is an example for the film showing women attempting to be progressive.
Attempt at underplaying stereotypes
Viewers get their first glimpse of Jess fantasizing about being a member of the Manchester United team. The scene shows her having scored the goal that brought them victory. Immediately, the scene cuts to Jess sporting a Manchester United shirt, in her bedroom, which is very unlike that of the typical girl; the room mostly features icons that are linked traditionally to men — football scarves and posters. Jess appears not to be conscious of her appearance like other young women, and doesn’t display any interest in ‘typical’ adolescent girl activities like shopping, clothes, make-up, boys, pop music, and so forth. When she’s finally forced by her mother to learn to make a traditional Punjabi meal, we can see her play keep-up with vegetables. It is only after Jess gets close to her coach, Joe, that she starts becoming conscious of her femininity, and changes (as depicted in the scene set in Hamburg, where she’s dressed up like a typical girl for a party, with her hair done up by Jules) (KIRKUP, 2003).
Understanding Maturity whilst being Progressive
Towards the movie’s end, both Jules and Jess have successfully bent gender norms for pursuing their dreams to become professional footballers. Their mothers, mostly shown cooking food, or working with it, appear to finally accept this future chosen by their daughters through food. At the onset, Mrs. Bhamra acts as an obstacle to her daughter’s future in football, by expecting her to stick to the kitchen as she does. However, she ultimately, lets Jess go after being certain that her daughter can continue her own heritage (symbolized by Punjabi cuisine). On the other hand, Jules’ mom is a comparatively less formidable obstacle to her daughter. However, clearly, her actions reveal a distancing between mother and daughter, because of the latter’s career choice. At the zenith of this estrangement, she is shown bearing a tray laden with food; subsequently, she uses food when she eventually understands and begins supporting Jules. As the movie comes under the comedy genre, it has a happy ending: both families are content, two girls become and remain the best of friends, and there emerges a novel, multicultural definition of the British teenage girl (Jamie Rees, 2012).
The movie enhances self-esteem, advocates following one’s personal values, and recognizes the acceptance of one’s flaws. Jess has a burn scar on her leg and initially, she feels embarrassed and ashamed. However, the support and positive attitudes she encounters help her get over it. Moreover, the movie furthers interpersonal value, in the form of camaraderie with people from other backgrounds and tolerance of others’ culture. A fine and natural blend of Indian and English culture is seen in the movie, despite only the 2nd generation of Indian immigrants being portrayed, who are still quite close to their native culture. Close familial bonds are apparent among Jess’s family members, particularly between her parents and her sister, Pinky. Also apparent is the strong South Asian value of utmost respect for elders: despite the conflict with regard to football, Jess respects her parents, and dislikes the idea of lying to them (Nunez, M.T. & Garcia, A.J., 2014).
Stereotyping spring from a belief that a particular culture or population is the ‘standard’ and, hence, superior to the other cultures or populations. Specifically, gender stereotypes emerge from the conjecture that females and males are two opposite categories: the males represent the standard and hence, females are the unfortunate exceptions to this standard. This tendency of gender categorization leads to stereotyping of labels employed when referring to females and males, and the establishment of fixed roles for them. Stereotyping’s relationship with gender portrayal in cinema may be explained by the fact that media is typically closely linked to popular ideologies which, successively, are inclined to overwhelmingly endorse binary gender systems (Marcella De Marco, 2006).
Determination and the courage to fight for what one believes in and wants to pursue lies at the core of this movie. Importance has also been given to intercultural friendship, an ever-increasing occurrence in the globalized 21st-century. As the story unfolds, one can see how well the sport has been utilized as a device around which themes like cultural tolerance, gender biases and norms, etc. have been dealt with (Nunez, M.T. & Garcia, A.J., 2014).
A key limitation in this movie’s ‘multiculturalism’ theme is that a rather narrow picture of culture has been portrayed, relying on numerous stereotypes (multiculturalist essentialist). Culture under multiculturalism has typically been reduced to clothing, food, music and dance. More significantly, multicultural versions have been frozen in time. In other words, they fail at testifying to how cultures are continually in flux, as culture is not naturally but historically constituted. Hence, through multiculturalism, the cultural domain is narrowed down, and how individuals from “other” cultures speak has been limited. If they fail to speak in terms of music, costume and food, there are many who quickly disregard them (Gamal Abdel-Shehid & Nathan Kalman-Lamb, 2015).
Progressive multiculturalism doesn’t constitute the movie’s lone social theme; women’s empowerment is equally portrayed here. Just the way assimilationist concepts are integrated into multiculturalism in the movie, some gender norms are reaffirmed, while others are trounced. On the whole, the movie rejects conventional femininity norms (for instance, the need to be heterosexual, domestic, and dress and look physically attractive to males). However, unfortunately, this hasn’t been achieved in a complicated way. Instead, characters who are most closely conformant to “traditional femininity” appear least credible in the movie. For instance, towards the movie’s end (Pinky’s wedding), Jess’s sister, Pinky asks her whether she doesn’t wish for all this, further remarking that this is supposed to be the best day of one’s life. In response, Jess claims she wants more. Whereas Jess plays soccer in her kitchen, Jules prefers sports bras over the push-up ones her mother suggests. The problematic aspect of this way of thinking is, women who choose to be something other than the standard North American woman (characterized by autonomy, a lack of enthusiasm for cooking, loose family ties, etc.), are viewed in a rather narrow fashion. As they have been portrayed in this light, viewers cannot really see the motive behind these women’s choice of life. The general view of them is that they’re foolish and backward (Gamal Abdel-Shehid & Nathan Kalman-Lamb, 2015).
Gamal Abdel-Shehid, & Nathan Kalman-Lamb. (2015). Multiculturalism, Gender and Bend it Like Beckham. Social Inclusion, 142-152.
Jamie Rees. (2012). Bend It Like Beckham and “Bending” the Rules. A Journal of Undergraduate Writing.
KIRKUP, M. (2003). Bend It Like Beckham. Film Education.
Marcella De Marco. (2006). Multiple portrayals of gender in cinematographic and audiovisual translation discourse. Audiovisual Translation Scenarios: Conference Proceedings.
Nunez, M.T., & Garcia, A.J. (2014). Analyzing and Teaching Diversity and Gender with a Case Study. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 70-77.
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