Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Womens Studies

Major Professor

David Rubin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michelle Hughes Miller, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Diane Price Herndl, Ph.D.


women’s bodybuilding, femininity, masculinity, gender performativity


The question of what constitutes femininity has been widely debated, not only in gender studies, but also in the broader social world. A venue for this debate is the 1985 documentary, Pumping Iron II: The Women, in which gender and femininity in particular become part of the central plot of the film when Bev Francis, a woman bodybuilder more muscular than any other competitor, enters the competition. While feminist scholars have analyzed gender and sport from a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives, little attention has been paid to female bodybuilding in particular. To fill this gap, this thesis will examine the ways in which Bev Francis’s portrayal in Pumping Iron II: The Women reinforces and challenges ideas about gender, femininity, and embodiment. In Pumping Iron II: The Women Francis performs gender subversion, actively rebelling against gender norms while the film adheres to rigid definitions of femininity, resulting in her punishment. I seek to understand how female bodybuilding symbolizes larger cultural tensions around feminine gender performativity.