Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sports and the Reinforcement of Masculinity and Heterosexuality

Most of my life I’ve felt an inexplicable aversion to the world of organized sports. I enjoy exercise, personal achievement, and competition but I enjoy it on my own terms. I play on teams with my friends, where we play for fun and competition, and push myself to achieve in individual sports, like running, biking, and surfing. As for watching games and keeping up with teams and standings, I’ve never been one to get pleasure from passively watching other people live life, whether it be acting out a script on a TV show or playing a team sport. I’d rather be doing those things myself. That being said, I still couldn’t fully articulate why it was that I didn’t like most organized sports until I read an excerpt in my Social Justice textbook titled “Sport: Where Men are Men and Women Are Trespassers.”

The essay, written by Pat Griffin, dissects the hidden meanings and messages within sports and sheds new light on the effect they have on our culture. Let’s take a look at some of the messages Green mentions. 1. Boys learn at a young age that they are nearly required to take part in sports so they can, in essence, learn how to become a man. Through their participation in sports, boys are taught to be tough (and not be a “sissy” or “girl”) and to compete ruthlessly with other boys. They are also taught that athletics are a way to gain attention and status. This is part of a man’s socialization process and serves to reinforce traditional masculine gender roles.

What kind of room, then, is left for women? Or LGBTQ people? The fact is that this institution makes it clear that there isn’t a place for either. We’re seen as trespassers and those of us who want to play will pay severely for not conforming to gender stereotypes. 2. There has been great resistance to having equal access and funding for women’s sports teams. Further, when women do play, their femininity and heterosexuality are questioned. How often has the lesbian label been used as a mechanism of control that reduces women’s serious participation in sport? How often do women feel pressured to sexualize themselves in the sports world to assert their femininity? Google Amanda Beard, Danica Patrick, and Anna Kournikova and tell me what you find.

3. The world of sports is the only place where male intimacy is allowed. Teammates embrace to celebrate victory, guys will slap each other’s butts, and men cry without being ridiculed after losing a game. Massive amounts of time are spent together and this includes time in hotel rooms, locker rooms, and showers. But these men are still seen as pillars of masculinity. This is very important because a gay man would encroach on this heterosexual, fraternal bastion, which is why LGBTQ involvement in sport is so threatening. Of course there are gay men in sports but they remain in the closet. If teammates knew some of their comrades were gay they would no longer feel free to express closeness and intimacy. And they would feel as though their ability to define their masculinity through engagement in sport was in jeopardy. Oh, the horror!

What if… men were able to express affection and bonding at any time? What if… men didn’t feel it necessary to flaunt their masculinity as if it was in danger of evaporating? What exactly is masculinity anyway?! The “rules” of society and culture continue to confuse me.

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