Masculinity In Sport

By Stephanie W.

The idea of masculinity is everywhere, and is even more prevalent in sport. Boys are taught from a young age to grow up to be big strong men and to show their dominance as these strong beings. As they get older, these ideas begin to unfold more and in some cases, such as sport, we see these ideas become harsher and more advanced than just wanting men to be masculine. This is why I would like to look at these masculine ideas that are related to this topic of men in sport. First, is hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is defined by Anderson in these four simple rules that men need to abide by in sport. 1. No sissy stuff, 2. Be a big wheel, 3. Be a sturdy oak, and 4. Give ’em hell. Second is hyper-masculinity. Hyper-masculinity is characterized by an exaggeration of traditionally masculine traits or behavior (Collins Dictionary, 2017). Both of these ideas show that men are to be very strong and fearless, and not to engage in activities or play in a way that would have you being perceived as sissy, or like a girl. This post will look at these ideas in the sport context and not only how they impact men, but how they also impact society and the ideas we attach to other groups of people.

We are able to see these ideas everywhere you look in sport. One example of this is the men on the cover of magazines, shirtless and showing off their muscles and toned bodies. They want to show their strength and masculinity to the rest of the world and prove the power they have in sport. However, what If you do not follow this idea of what it means to be a man in sport? As stated by Anderson (2005), “Hegemonic masculinity not only requires that a male maintain 100 percent heterosexual desires and behaviors, but that he must continually prove that he is heterosexual.” For men who are homosexuals in sport, they often are found to hide their true identity or to go along with the ideas of the team to make sure they fit in and are part of this masculine group. One male talked about his experience in football, he stated that “My coaches try to motivate us to hit harder, crunch more, or throw farther by calling us fags all the time. And if you can’t do something, or mess it up, you get called a fag,” (Anderson, 2005).  Due to the atmosphere around the sport and his team, he found himself dating women, and even using homophobic language when around his team members to make sure he would fit into the group. His time spent with the team was not him being who he wanted to be but was conforming to norms. He did this to make sure he was not the target of the jokes or even physical abuse by team members. He wanted to be part of the sport and he felt this is what he had to do to truly be part of it.

Within the article by Hickey (2001), the idea of violence and oppression of others who do not fit the norms of the group or their masculinity is presented. Males want to gain status within the group and this means not being different than the others in any way. Due to the hyper-masculinity in many male sports, there is this idea of creating norms within the group and sticking to them if you want to fit in. Even though this is looked at from a team perspective, Hickey also presents the idea that these attitudes can come back into the school since they tend to be school sports or teams. This idea of how men or boys should act and how they should behave is seen in cases such as gym class. It is even seen the classroom or at lunch break and makes many others the victims of these ideas that they have formed within their sporting atmosphere.

From a personal perspective, I have seen how these ideas have come into the school and affected someone who competes in an individual sport.  One of my friends competes in archery competitions. When he was in high school, people used to tease him and say that it was a “gay sport” and it was not manly if he was competing in it. Due to this, he always had it in the back of his mind that it was not a manly enough sport and that people were always judging him for it. Since he was part of this sport, he was able to and still does travels all over the world to compete. However, the idea of what is seen as masculine to some other males and the impact it can have on the participation of other males is very much a problem. He could have decided to listen to people at school, but instead he went on and because of that he was able to gain so much and see many parts of the world that he would have never been able to do on his own. For many others though, they sometimes change who they are and stop doing certain activities that they love due to the ideas of others.

In conclusion, the idea of masculinity and the consequences that come with it are everywhere not only in sport, but our everyday lives. This impacts not only males who do not want to conform to these ideas, but also women, homosexual men, and people who do not fit the stereotypical idea of a manly man. Even though there are many negative examples of this in sport, it does not always mean it is present, but most people have seen examples of this in their everyday lives at least once. These are ideas that need to be changed and help everyone to feel included in sport and that they are in a safe place when joining a team, or even in everyday society.

Sources:

Anderson, E. (2005). In the game: Gay athletes and the cult of masculinity. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Hickey, C. (2008). Physical Education, Sport and Hyper-Masculinity in Schools. Sport, Education and Society, 13, 2, 147-161.

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3 responses

  1. Great post Stephanie, this is an area within the study of gender and leisure that interests me as well. With a lot of focus on women and the ideals they must fit into within their participation in sport, I think some of the challenges men face within the context of sport, get downplayed. Perhaps this occurrence is due in part to the socially constructed idea that men are supposed to ‘put their heads down and keep going’, no matter the adversities they may face in life.

    The linkage you made in your blog post about issues of masculinity in school physical education classes and school sports teams, really made an impact. To apply your concept of masculinity in sport to another context of body type in boys and men, I clearly remember a few boys in our school who had body types outside of the norm, and they were often teased during their participation of gym class with homophobic terms. I believe this discrimination these boys faced, consequently caused them to shy away from trying out for the school sport’s teams. This negative occurrence for boys and men, is one that we need to be aware of as having a high probability of happening within sport and leisure activities, so that we can prevent them from occurring in the first place. Having educated facilitators, physical education teachers, and coaches, can help to create recreation opportunities that are inclusive and welcoming of diversity.

    Tamsin, F.

  2. Great post Stephanie! I read a saying about hegemonic masculinity the other day and it said “you are only as manly as you last were”, which really relates to what you’re saying here and how men have to be manly 100% of the time. When you talk about how men have to continually prove themselves heterosexual within hegemonic masculinity, it directly relates with the class discussion we had today. From the coach calling them “fags” when they weren’t throwing well enough etc, to him using homophobic language so that he wasn’t rejected by his teammates, these points were all bang on with the points raised in class. This is crazy, but it isn’t surprising. When we see the numbers of openly gay men in professional sports (literally 0%) we know that there is a problem, with sport being such a masculine domain, these athletes literally feel as if they have to conceal who they are for a period of their lives to be accepted on a large scale. If these individuals were openly gay they may receive homophobic comments and feel oppressed, much like the students in the gym class and on sports teams we talked about, and that you mentioned.

    Overall I really enjoyed reading your post, good job!

    Paige H

  3. Great Post Stephanie!!
    As much as most of us love sport, what a cruel world it can be. The world of sport (especially men’s sport) holds such an exclusive environment and really make it difficult for those who are LGBTQ to participate and feel accepted for who they are. In the paper you referred to in your article, the male football player mentioned that he felt as if he too had to conform and engage in the disrespectful language and behaviors toward to gay community just to fit in and avoid to being bullied and even physically harmed. The fact that the coach referred to them being “fags” if they didn’t perform to his standards is absolutely crazy and very sad. I couldn’t imagine how he must have felt. As Paige mentioned above in her comments, the numbers of openly gay men in sport is basically non-existent, which isn’t realistic, but why would they want to be be openly gay in such an exclusive environment?

    Danielle A

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