Thursday 26 March 2015

Undoing rape culture, one sports field at a time

This week we got the chance to see a key plank of rape culture in practice.

Masculinity cultures in men's sports, or rather the dominant men's sports, are without doubt some of the most important ways we learn what it means to be male.  Boys shouldn't "throw like a girl"; you must "toughen up, man up, harden up"; and instead of sports being a contest of skill and athleticism, we are taught to consider them battles, where the toughest of male warriors play on through the pain barrier or they are a "wuss".

So when Australian Rugby superstar David Pocock condemns homophobia he's breaking some masculinity rules and that's a fine thing.  More interestingly though, in this case, is the fact that Mr Pocock broke a key support for rape culture - "what happens on the field stays on the field."

The Sydney Morning Herald says their website comments have been loaded with ugly sentiment: 
"Has sport come to this? I don't agree with comments like that, but neither do I agree with making such an issue of it. Pocock knows the player(s) involved, and he'd be better served having a stern word to them during the game, or after the game. To bring the referee into it is unnecessary, in my view, although I'm sure plenty of the PC crowd will disagree."
Almost immediately, there were people predicting that David Pocock would not captain the Wallabies again.  Pocock was public in his support of Marriage Equality, and recently chained himself to a digger to protest mining in state forests in New South Wales.  He's a man who cares about the world, and isn't afraid to show what he stands for.  This didn't matter to rugby fans or the rugby hierarchy when he wasn't breaking the "what happens on the field stays on the field" rule, because he's a brilliant, brilliant player who wins rugby matches.

Now that he's naming other men's bad behaviour on the field though, he's fair game.  This isn't about the content of the naming - he could have been talking about sexism, racism or homophobia - it's about masculinity and rape culture.

Men consistently overestimate other men's use of and support for gendered violence.  Related to this, men consistently underestimate other men's willingness to stand up to gendered violence, which limits their own willingness to intervene.  Put together, these two planks of what men think masculinity means make it harder for men to stand up to other men when they behave badly.

To end rape culture, that's precisely what we need.  It's not enough, if you're a man who wants to end rape culture, to ensure you actively seek and give consent in your own relationships.  You'll have much better relationships and be a more decent human being, but undermining rape culture means undermining masculinity values which say solidarity with other men is the most important thing.  There are always more men watching than participating in gendered violence.  If those watchers become challengers, gendered violence becomes far more difficult to perpetrate.  "What happens on the field stays on the field" is offensive primarily for the fear it engenders in men challenging other men.

That's why David Pocock should be applauded this week.  He's showing all men that calling out other men's bad behaviour is possible, even in the most sanctified of masculinity shrines, the sports field.  Imagine if other man always did that every time another man made a rape joke; sexually harassed bar staff; groped someone at a gig; put their partner down; threatened or acted out violence towards others for being queer or Black or feminine?  We'd have an end to rape culture before we knew it. 

1 comment:

cjmax02 said...

I applauded him when that article came out, wish more rugby-mad blokes had his perspective and courage.