Friday, 20 June 2008

Sport and violence: what goes on tour stays on tour

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 Auckland police are investigating the report of an eighteen year old woman that she was raped by four English team members at the team's hotel. This is yet another in a stream of rape allegations against rugby and rugby league players in New Zealand and Australia.

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.


Tui said...

I became increasingly frustrated with the coverage of this on the news this evening: reporters did absolutely everything they could to get away from using the word "rape." "Auckland Hotel business", "Hotel assault investigations" - how right you are that coverage persistently linked serious allegations of rape with the frankly trivial, like drunkeness or noisiness - and most insidiously of all, "sex allegations." Rape is a far cry from sex, in all aspects other than the purely physical, and frankly I found referring to it as sex to be at best, obscuring, and at worst, reducing rape to the most trivial gossip-column who-slept-with-who scandals. Ugh.

I did think the policewoman interviewed on 3 News who said that, although no formal charges had been brought, it was important that police investigate these kinds of crimes promptly, spoke well.

Anna McM said...

I agree with you Tui - it suggests that the Police are trying to make themselves more accessible to sexual assault complainants, which can only be a good thing.

ms poinsettia said...

Thank you for covering this. I've been watching the media coverage with growing horror and feeling just awful for the woman at the middle of it all.

Particularly nasty was our media quoting British tabloids dishing out the usual 'she can't have been raped canards': she went to find them, she had been drinking, she works in a lapdance bar.... I wouldn't advise anyone read the comments on Stuff - it'll make you feel ill.

I hope the woman has some really supportive friends and family at this time.

Lita said...

Great post. I also noticed the tone of the newsreaders during the week and balked at Hamish Mackay's statement about motivation and competitive edge. What was he thinking?

It's no wonder that many women don't come forward/lay formal complaints. I wouldn't blame the girl at the centre of this for not wanting to progress with charges. What an immense pressure, she can only expect to be further vilified, regardless of the truth.

Anonymous said...

I just wanted to pipe up and say the idea that because a man is an environmentalist or admits that he is suffering from depression he must be less violent than another man is quite an amusing one.

I forget who said it in the sixties but they said it well - 'beware the tyranny of radical men'.