I try not to be one of those dour feminists who vilifies the activities which men enjoy – really, I do. If a bloke wants to tinker with his car or make dubious home improvements, that's fine with me. He can even leave the toilet seat up, for all I care. But what I can't cope with is the misogyny and violence which continues to lurk within the cultures of some sports.
Case in point: the current rape allegations against four members of the English rugby team. No formal complaint has been made, and therefore no charges laid, but
The media is being extraordinarily glib about the seriousness of the present allegation. This evening's news reported that the alleged rape was one of a number of 'hi-jinks' occurring in the hotel that night, including a player's pulling off the duvet of a sleeping woman. It was reported that the team's management is considering banning women from their hotels in future. What a stunningly ALAC-like bit of reasoning: women, alcohol, everything but rapists cause rape. And no distinction is drawn between hi-jinks, consensual sex and rape. To add insult to injury, Hamish Mackay suggested that the rape allegations will give the English team a competitive edge on the sports field. It'll make them angry, and hungry to win. A comment so flippant indicates how little sympathy the victim is likely to get. She was in the team's hotel, after all, and probably drinking – asking for it, really.
Somehow, violence remains OK when it's connected to sport, for men at least. Punching someone in the head on the street earns you a prison sentence. Doing it on the sports field wins you a spot on Plays of the Week. But you can't blame this straightforwardly on the institution of sport itself. Violence, sexual and otherwise, doesn't seem to be a feature of all sport – we don't hear about the aggression of our national golf representatives on or off the course, for example – and I can't remember ever hearing a complaint about violence from a sportswoman. Certain sports remain bastions in which the worst sorts of stereotypical male behaviour receive some tolerance.
Certainly, all sportsmen are not mindless thugs: Anton Oliver's recent environmental activism and John Kirwan's courageous campaigning about depression are a far cry from the days of 'Foreskin's Lament'. But somehow, society seems complacent about violence from certain of our sportsmen, even when it leaves the sportsfield for the hotel room. And this complacency, added to our culture of blaming sexual assault victims for their own attacks, will translate into little sympathy for an eighteen year old woman raped in a hotel room by four rugby players.