Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Rugby without the side order of queer-bashing, thanks

Hannah Spyksma cannot expect to go to a rugby game without homophobic abuse, because Eden Park and New Zealand rugby don't want to be the "PC Police."

Quite right too, how on earth could they be expected to challenge men calling players not behaving in manly enough ways for them "homos and faggots"?  What is this, communist fairy land?

We haven't done that anywhere else, after all.  People can be told to stop "acting gay" at work and that's fine, right?  Or be criticised for having "man hands"?

It's not ok for politicians to say or do homophobic things either. 

Let's face it, this list could go on and on.  The point is homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are everywhere, and challenging them is a part of many queer* people's lives, as well as cis-gendered and straight people with integrity and confidence in standing up against oppressions they do not experience first-hand.  And rugby is far from alone in being a safe place for queer* hating.

But my second point is this: being able to go to flagship social events - and in Aotearoa New Zealand, an All Blacks game is a flagship social event - and not be surrounded by abuse should be a right.  We shouldn't have to listen to racist or sexist or gender policing or homophobic or biphobic or transphobic or ableist abuse.  We should be able to expect to enjoy a flagship social event safely.  We should be able to cuddle our same-sex partner or sit in our wheelchair or korero Māori or wear a short skirt or play with our gender presentation or not fit rigid gender norms.......

Without that being terrifying.  Without being scared of being verbally abused.  Without being threatened by people around us. 

So come on sports venues and sports bodies.  Welcome the bravery of Hannah Spyskma.  We shouldn't accept homophobia - or any other kind of oppression, discrimination and hate speech - in our sports grounds or anywhere else.  Other multi-million dollar professional men's sports have taken a stance on homophobia - why not the All Blacks?


Anonymous said...
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Brett Dale said...

One of the reasons I dont follow Rugby Union, is because of people like that. The last game I went to was in 1988.

What type of person in the year 2013 will still yell out homophobic slurs? Where the heck was the security to remove these guys.

You know something else, it's not a small minority of rugby fans either, that do this.

I myself have been called the F word for not following Rugby Union, although it must be a million times more degrading for a gay person to be called this.

It's the mindset of a lot of rugby union fans, that they think they can get away with the abuse they give people, because the sport is in such a position of power,that no one will ever dare question what a rugby union player or supporter has to say.

I remember about a year ago, walking thru a park and a game was going on, there was this guy in his 60's, standing next to his daughter and his grandkids, watching his grandson play, I stopped, because I heard him yelling out over and over again,

"Your playing like a bunch of girls, your playing like girly forwards, your a bunch of wimpy girls"

I said to him in the loudest voice I could muster.. "MY niece has a poster of the USA soccer player Mia Hamm in her room,it has the words, WHEN YOU SAY I PLAY LIKE A GIRL, I TAKE IT AS A COMPLIMENT"

The other fans on the sideline told me to F off.

To me that sums up a lot of Rugby fans in New Zealand.

Until you get someone like Dan Carter or other All Blacks going on tv, and talking about how disgusted he is with homophobic remarks at rugby games, it will always continue.

But since a few years back, the NZRFU, didnt wanted a poster of two gay men in the changing rooms in their rugby uniforms, it's not going to stop.

LudditeJourno said...

Brett - I love the way you challenged that sexism, beautiful. I think there is specific entitlement around rugby, but one of the links above is to similar experiences I had at a NZ men's cricket match, so I think it's wider than one sport too.

Brett Dale said...

Thanks for the kind words.

True, it seems to be part of New Zealand society, some of the comments at big cricket matches have been awful and Im guessing other sports also.

It's going to be a long while before all this changes.

Richard29 said...

This kind of masculinity peer enforcement in male team sports is all too common and it has knock on effects throughout society. This TED speech my favourite description of how it works:

It is such a shame - team sports are a huge opportunity to shape masculinity in a really positive way - it doesn't have to be all about sex, violence, individualism. This is starting to change is some places:

"Says the coach of the chaplain's role: "When Mua comes in, he has a bit of a prayer or chat - not so much about footie - about whether they are having dramas with mum or dad or the girlfriend".

"Parents laugh and go 'What are you doing to our boys? They're making cups of tea for us and saying we should have a bit more family time and conversations around the table'," Rev Mua says.

Manager Pearce says Hanley is innovative and his could be a model for other league sides.

"He said, 'What do we need here? We need to build an infrastructure not just for playing the game, but to ensure there is education for the team, personal growth and development'. He brought in weekly speakers, role models in the community, not anything to do with league - musician Anonymouz, poet Josh Iosefo, people who told them about achieving goals. He's created such a successful team dynamic."

Rev Mua has played a huge part. "For the first six weeks we had the theme of 'champions'. We told them to be good sons, good partners, good fathers, to make a difference. The guys were asking 'How does this tie into our game?' and we said 'It's the big game'.""

LudditeJourno said...

I completely agree Richard29, I think men's sport can (and has been) mobilise to be very effective in terms of promoting positive messages of masculinity - both in terms of relationships with women and with other genders, as fathers, family members, community members. The fact that a slow drip of professional sportsmen are coming out as queer could help this - but we have a long way to go.

Hugh said...

Another incident of institutionalised sexism and homophobia in the world of rugby, and yet people still claim there is nothing innately problematic with rugby as a sport.

ChundaMars said...

@Hugh - while there certainly is institutionalised sexism and homophobia in the world of rugby, it certainly isn't "innate" to the game itself. What about rugby (the game itself that is played on the field for 80 minutes) could possibly foster sexism and homophobia?
If you're referring to the culture that has built up around the sport, then certainly I would agree. But that culture isn't "innate" to rugby either. Similar problems occur in, for example, the culture surrounding football in the UK - are those problems innate to football too?
Personally, I love the sport of rugby - I just hate all the crap that surrounds it (and I'm not just referring to sexism and homophobia either).

Hugh said...

@Chunda: The very act of playing rugby is brutal. It teaches players (usually men) to get what they want (the ball) through violence and brutality. Compare it to tennis or golf. When was the last time a tennis player indulged in this kind of behaviour?

I'm sure you and your mates have a great time playing rugby and would never indulge in this kind of thing, but I'm not claiming that every rugby player is a rapist. The fact is, we have been trying to disentangle the violence of rugby culture from the violence of the rugby game for decades now. Maybe it's time to consider that they can't be disentangled?

Simoon said...

@Hugh I'm sure sure exactly what you mean by "this sort of behaviour", but a quick google for "tennis violence" picks up plenty of incidents. "Golf violence" doesn't seem to be as much of a thing, but some nasty stuff has happened.

"It teaches players (usually men) to get what they want (the ball) through violence and brutality"

How about: "it teaches players that physically expression and interaction is ok as long as you respect the rules and the other players"? I'm not sure why the lesson necessarily has to be the former.

Hugh said...

@Simoon: Given that we have the whole kyriarchy teaching men that violence is an OK way to get what you want, I don't think the lesson needs further reinforcement.

LudditeJourno said...

Hugh, Simoon and Chunda - interesting convos - I have to say for me rugby *could* be played without becoming reinforcement for all - or many - things violent. I think that's true of lots of kinds of physical challenge. But there are some very problematic values that are currently entwined around rugby culture in my opinion, and untangling them seems very difficult.
If it was going to be untangled, the whole way of talking and thinking about the game would need to change - the celebration of "king hits" for example; the veneration of "toughness" (meaning not showing any vulnerability) and "sorting out" the opposition; the positioning of games as "wars" between "tribes"; the holding rugby up on a pedestal above other sports, other men, and other people.
Trends I see going the other way - rugby players talking about depression, like JK; rugby players coming out; rugby players celebrating other players skill; rugby players taking important time out to be with partners or family when they need to; rugby players refusing to fight as part of the game; rugby players standing up to team-mates who use violence.

This is too complex a convo for a comment, and I am an unashamed sports lover who really struggles with the misogyny, racism and homophobia/gender policing too many professional men's sports support - but in brief - I don't think rugby has to be the brutal, violent, hegemonic masculinity emblem it too often is now.

ChundaMars said...

@LJ: excellent comment. Another positive to add to that list: top players taking time out from the game, as Richie McCaw has done recently. Serves to remind rugby fanatics that really, it's just a game, and there's plenty of more important things going on in the world.

@Hugh: please don't make assumptions about me - I haven't played rugby since I was 15, and none of my "mates" play rugby either. Hell, I barely get a chance to even watch a game now and then: young children and 7:30pm kickoffs have put paid to that one.
If rugby (the sport) is unable to be disentangled from rugby (the culture) then the only sensible conclusion is that we should campaign to ban rugby - or all "violent" contact sports, really. Do you really think that's a) possible, and b) actually going to improve our society? What are all the sport loving teenagers in our country going to spend their time doing now - I doubt they'll all be overcome with a desire to read books and play chess.

To look at this from another angle, instead of imagining the All Blacks when arguing against rugby (the sport), imagine the Black Ferns... changes things a little.

Hugh said...

@Chunda: Well, perhaps I put words in your mouth, but now in saying I'm proposing a ban, you're putting words in mine. I'm not a big fan of bans if only because I don't think the power of the kyriarchal state is a good way to fight against kyriarchy.

All I am proposing is that, when discussing rugby violence, we call rugby what it is - a violent sport whose popularity leads to violence. It's a much more effective form of discourse.

It's continually amazing to me that, even in deeply feminist spaces, among people who are otherwise strongly committed to rigorous confrontation of kyriarchy, there is such a huge fightback every time the idea that rugby is innately violent is proposed. Often with a lot of "I'm a rugby player/fan, how awful of you say that about me!" thrown in the mix.

Hugh said...

@LJ: Here's the thing. A lot of what you have pointed out as positive, while they may be positive for the people involved, don't fight back against the violence that emanates from rugby. 'Depressed' isn't the opposite of 'violent'. Hell, 'gay' isn't the opposite of 'violent' either.

And conversely, given that the nature of rugby is a game where brute physical power applied to the opposition is the best way to win, how -can- the game not glorify 'toughness' and 'tribalism'? This is what I mean by not disentangled. The rules of the game themselves teach that you use physical power and force to get what you want, and stop the other guys from getting what they want. You say players refuse to fight as part of the game, but that's a large part of my point. What goes on on the rugby field -is- fighting, the only thing that says it's not is the rules of the game. A scrum or a ruck outside the context of the field would just be a huge brawl, tackling would be assault, etc etc. This, again, is what I mean when I say rugby teaches people to be violent.

I have to say, I don't really know how we could fight back against all this, mostly because the spaces where I would love to be having a conversation about 'what to do' are dominated by people who react to any criticism of rugby as a game (as opposed to rugby culture) with extreme defensiveness.

ChundaMars said...

@Hugh: "Perhaps"? Nice non-apology. In my case, I can see how my post would give the impression that I was accusing you of proposing a ban (something I didn't mean to do), so I apologise.

Your argument has changed significantly since your first post Hugh - initially you raised the "institutionalised sexism and homophobia in the world of rugby", with no mention of violence. Your posts since have been all about violence, with no mention of sexism and homophobia.

I certainly can see how violence could be considered as "innate" to rugby, although whether that is a problem or not is entirely debatable (I'll return to this later). The same argument applies to any contact sport of course, not just rugby. But how could homophobia or sexism be innate to a sport? You've not explained how that could be the case.

The problem with saying things are innate, is that you're really saying those things can't be changed. It's the same problem (and you're using the same language) as people who argue that men are innately violent, or women are innately more maternal, or any other of the numerous arguments used to justify gender norms.

I also think you are painting the game of rugby as an overly simplified slug-fest. Sure, physical domination plays a large part, but what about the skills? The tactics? The chip over the top, the kick to the corner, the side-step to avoid a tackler? There's far more to rugby than smashing the hell out of the other guy.

While you're correct that many of the actions that occur on the field would constitute assault in public, you're completely disregarding context. Pulling out a metal club and smashing the hell out of a small hard white ball on Queen Street at midday would probably be seen as a violent and dangerous act too, wouldn't you agree?

And finally, you say rugby is "a violent sport whose popularity leads to violence" as if this is a proven fact. Violent sports cause people to be violent? Or are violent people attracted to violent sports? And is it possible that sports provide an outlet for aggression for some people, and therefore may REDUCE violence in society (in aggregate, of course)? Last I checked the science behind this wasn't exactly settled, and probably never will be (being a social science and all).

Hugh said...

@Chunda: Yeah, it was a non-apology, because I don't really think I owe you one. If that's a dealbreaker for you, fair enough.

Presuming that you are not going to refuse to engage until I apologise, you're right, I have changed my tune a bit. To me, homophobia, misogyny and violence are all connected - homophobia isn't just a personal aversion to homosexuals, it's a desire to dominate and erase homosexuals from the world. It's not necessarily violent in the sense that rugby is violent - e.g, it doesn't necessarily have to involve brutal physical force - but it is violent in the more broad and meaningful sense of being callous towards other people. You can't be homophobic or misogynist without having a violent personality. Not necessarily personally violent, but accepting of the idea of violence as good and helpful.

Your saying that rugby doesn't count as violence because it's "in context" is just special pleading. A group of people (men, actually) decided that they wanted to be able to be violent on a regular basis, so they made a society and a bunch of ways to structure that violence. They called this the sport of rugby. Now, we could, as you are doing, imbue the structure they've created with some form of transformative aura, and say that the violence they commit isn't -real- violence, or at least isn't problematic violence, because of that structure. Or we could say that making rules to validate one's violence is actually the standard way to practice violence, by states, by individuals, and by groups such as rugby players and rugby fans. It's a very big group, of course, but that's not necessarily a meaningful distinction.

LudditeJourno said...

Hi Hugh,
the things I pointed out - and they were off the top of my head, not meant to be an exhaustive list - were all about unsettling the rigid masculinity that rugby can enforce and reinforce. And as such, I do think they would contribute to shifting rugby's connection with violence.
I don't agree with your description of rugby - or at least, I don't agree it HAS to be like that. Sometimes rugby can be beautiful - watching the running of Philippe Sella say, or the kicking of Hugo Porta, or the ball retention of Michael Jones. I wonder what happens if we frame many of the things you are talking about as contests of strength - scrums say - rather than brute force, which is in fact accurate?
I guess I'd like to find a way to celebrate the physical skills and athleticism but shift the problematic attachment to hegemonic masculinity, which as you point out is linked to violence. And I don't believe in "innate" very often, if ever.

ChundaMars said...

@Hugh: no toys thrown out of the cot over here, don't worry :-)

I think our definitions of "violent personality" differ, as I'm sure there are plenty of lovely little old ladies out there who are shockingly homophobic, just by nature of the time and place they grew up. If that gives them a violent personality, then it's a pretty broad brush.

Oops, there you go again Hugh - I didn't say rugby "didn't count" as violence at all. Violence is unavoidable on the rugby field, that's for certain. I don't view any and all violence as negative, that's all - something that it seems we differ on. It seems that rugby is but a small part of how you view violence in the world, so I'm pretty sure we're not going to reach any agreement here (not that we have to, of course, but we could talk around in circles for days).

I'm in complete agreement with LJ here: there are problems with rugby in this culture, but these are separate from the sport itself and most certainly can be changed, and indeed should change. Hopefully, one day anyone will be free to enjoy the sport without being subject to sexist or homophobic or any other sort of derogative remark.

Oh, just as one final thing worth a chuckle - if there's any further evidence needed that I'm not your typical one-eyed head-in-the-sand rugby defender, it's this: here I am at 8pm on a winter's Friday night writing on a feminism blog :-) Good night!

Hugh said...

Well, I honestly wish you guys all the success in the world trying to separate the sport from its harmful culture. But as I say, people have been trying to do this for a very long time, with no real success, and for me this is because the project is basically doomed.