“The Sports Construction of Masculinity”
The sporting culture in the today’s society reflects the traditional masculine gender role stereotypes accepted by society. Sports are a tool that creates society’s norms of behavior that contributes to the ideology of masculinity. The masculine gender role stereotypes can be held and reinforced by this ideology. Male sports have different levels of masculinity and play an important role in masculinity because men in general spend a great deal of time watching and/or playing sports. Society enforces the image that if a male are not involved in sports at least to some degree, he will be questioned about his masculinity and manhood. This article will explain how sports contribute to the construction of masculinity in today’s society.
Sport, what is it? There are many definitions of the term sports. However, they all have the same common theme and that is that sports are “institutional competitive activities that involved rigorous physical exertion or the use of relatively complex physical skills by participants motivated by personal enjoyment and external rewards” (Coakley 20). In other words sports are physical activities, competitive activities and institutionalized activities. Sports are talked about day to day and have become a part of everyday life. In addition, sports are more than a friendly contest between teams and players; they are social phenomena that have many meanings besides winning or losing. Over the years, sports have become “one of the central sites in the social production of masculinity” (Messner and Sabo 19). In reality, “sports are related to the social and cultural contexts in which we live; they provide the stories and images that many of us use to explain and evaluate these contexts, the events in our live, and our connections to the world around us” (Coakley 2). The following sections will examine the social phenomena and ideology of masculinity in sports.
The Cultural Practices and Social Construction of Masculinity
As we know, a culture is the way people interact with one another in society. A culture creates beliefs, customs, practices, and social behavior within society. Over the years sports have become a part of society and have led to culture practice. As a result, sports have contributed to the cultural practice of masculinity. In fact, in 1992 Mike Messner a sociologist conducted interviews with male athletes and the results showed “that sports were sites where male athletes created identities that influenced how they presented themselves in public, how they related to women and how they defined and evaluated themselves” (Coakley 104). In addition to his findings, Messner also concluded that sports become a part of masculinity and reproduce ideas about manhood. It is said that sports “emphasize aggression and domination often lead to self-destructive orientations in the forms of chronic injuries, an inability to relate to women, fears of intimacy with other men, and homophobia” (Coakley 224). Thus, sports contribute to the definition of manhood and masculinity.
As stated above, sports are an important site of masculinity, in which, “physical prowess have become devalued and in which direct aggression is officially illegitimate” (Messner and Sabo 28). Children have learned this act as they engaged in physical aggression sports as boys, “towards other boys, but occasionally toward girls” (McKay, Messner and Sabo 16). Sports have become interactions between people in society and give meaning to society, which creates a social construction of masculinity within the culture.
Clearly then, sports are “activities to which human beings give form and meanings as they live their lives with one another” (Coakley 3). Sports thus create a social relationship in society of masculinity. With that said, in sports, people “must practice gender to keep the system viable, and the system is most effectively maintained when gender categories become embodied dimensions of people’s lives that is, they are built right into the way people move and experience the world with and through their bodies” (Coakley 227). This is how and why sports have become an important contribution to masculinity. Sports are a symbolic proof of masculinity, in which men achieve power and respect through “men’s aggressive nature, their superiority over women” and demonstrate that masculinity evolves around being physical, big, tough and powerful over others in society (Coakley 227). It is assumed that an “athletic career is explicable as an individual’s rational assessment […] means to achieve a respected masculine identity” (Messer 58). In other words sports are images of a men’s world evolving around the male ego.
Sports Ideology of Masculinity
Certainly, sports are an important part of society and social phenomena that forms a cultural ideology of masculinity in society. Thus, sports become the “general perspectives and ideas that people used to make sense of the social world […] and determine what is important, […] and what is right” and wrong in society creates the cultural ideology (Coakley 10). Sports have many ideologies revolving around the theme of masculinity. We shall focus on the two major ideologies in sports: the dominant ideology and the gender ideology.
Surely, sports produce many ideologies about masculinity. The first of many is the dominant ideology of masculinity in sports. In which the “perspectives and ideas favored and promoted by the dominant and powerful groups in a society, and it serves the interest of those groups” (Coakley 10). In society, “hegemonic masculinity provides cultural icons or mythic images of masculinity that privilege the most powerful half of multiple dichotomous social locations and the most dominant form of masculinity is white, middle-class heterosexuals” (McKay, Messner and Sabo 48). In other words, heterosexual men are considered to be the powerful and dominant group within the culture. The same applies in sports. The male body especially, the “athletic male body has been a mark or power and moral superiority for those who bear it” (McKay, Messner and Sabo 49). In fact, men’s “sports have always been key sites for reproducing dominant forms of masculinity” (Coakley 234). It is said that sports turn boys into men, and boys learn the “cultural values and behaviors, such as competition, toughness and winning at all cost, that are culturally valued aspects of masculinity” (Messner 50). This gives privilege and creates an institution for the dominant group, the men. In fact, since men hold the power in sports and masculinity, sports “is one of the only institutions that a man can become truly emotional, […] whether it is in a bar watching a football game on the television or on a softball diamond cheering on a fellow teammate […]; the sporting culture is one of the few major institutions that allows males to exhibit their emotions” without being considered a ‘woman’ or ‘gay’ or not being a man (Dissert 9). Sports generate the ideal of hegemonic masculinity in the most dominant form of heterosexual.
Therefore, it is assumed that every male who plays sports is to be heterosexual because sports are assumed to be created and played by the dominant group in society, heterosexual men. Therefore, homosexuality is discouraged and is kept in silence. The message from sports to society then becomes clear: “don’t be a fag and don’t play like a girl” (Coakley 234). The ideal that sports are created and played by heterosexual men, gives the message to homosexual men not to challenge the system; just keep quite. Yes, the ideal has been met as stories about “gay male athletes are nearly nonexistent; homosexual men have kept quiet, even when coaches have sexually abused them” (Coakley 234). This leads to the context in which men feel guilty about their affection towards other men and forces them to hide behind the walls of masculinity and play sports.
It is said that “real men play with pain and injuries; they don’t admit they are afraid; and they don’t confide affectionately in other men, even the teammates they care about deeply” (Coakley 234). Every man’s sports have their own ritual of masculinity that shows heterosexually. For example, in football players are physical and violent to each other, and coaches “know athletes fear any association with homosexuality”, and refer to their players as ‘fags’ or ‘ladies’ in order to get them to play more physical and violently like a man (Coakley 234). In summary, the dominant ideology in sports reinforces masculinity in several ways. First, real men play sports and sports teach boys to become real men. Second, sports are an institution of heterosexuals and therefore, homosexuality is discourage and is kept in silence. Finally, sports have ritual in favor of the dominate group which promotes masculinity in sports.
A second major ideology that is used in sports to explain and show masculinity is gender ideology. Gender is “seen as a multilayered social process that is not simply part of the personality structure of individuals, but also a fundamental aspect of everyday group interactions, institutions, and the cultural symbols that swirl around” society (Messner 3). As sports evolved over the years and become more organized they have created a form of gender ideology. This gender ideology works in favor of the dominant group in society; the men. As a result, when people play sports, they learn common sense “that led to the conclusion that women were naturally inferior to men in any activity requiring strength, physical skills, and emotional control” (Coakley 11). This is seen in many sports through out the world in the usage of phrases and terms. For example, in sports when someone throws the ball hard and strong they threw like a man, verses someone who throws the ball soft and bad is known to throw like a girl. Therefore in sports if a skill was done correctly it was done like a man, and if the skill was done wrong and poorly it was considered doing it like a girl or women.
Gender ideology has become a strong part of the sport culture and is used in many male sports by coaches as a tool of motivation. For example, in football when the team is not playing physical enough, the coach may use the phrase “you are playing like a group of girls” (Coakley 11). The gender ideology forms the idea that men are powerful and winners and girls are losers and failures. The use of gender ideology in sports not only leads to masculinity but it has “promoted or reproduced dominant gender ideology in the society as a whole, which has, in turn, privileged men” (Coakley 11). Over the years, the gender ideology in sports has created and reinforced the ideal about “masculinity, promoting the notion that manhood is based on being hard, big, tough, strong, aggressive, and willing to endure pain without showing weakness” (Coakley 11). In other words, sports demonstrate male power over women and other males in terms of aggressive play in order to achieve manhood. Only men can do things right is the image provoked by this ideology in sports.
The sporting culture in society reflects the traditional masculine gender role stereotypes. Sports are a tool that contributes to ideology of masculinity. Over the years, sports have become an “important organizing institution for the embodiment of masculinity” (Messer 54). Sports have become social phenomena’s that have many meanings besides winning or losing. The cultural practice of sports reproduces the ideas about manhood and masculinity.
Sports have become a symbolic proof of masculinity, in which men achieve power and respect through sports. Sports thus, create images and messages about masculinity revolving around the male ego. The role of masculinity is played out in sports making it a part of society. As a result, sports create two major cultural ideology of masculinity in society. Sports create a dominant ideology of masculinity in which heterosexual men are considered to be the powerful and dominate group. This gives privilege and creates an institution for the heterosexual men. Thus sports generate the ideal of hegemonic masculinity and homophobia. It is then assumed that every male who plays sports is masculine, physically aggressive and heterosexual because of this ideology. Another ideology that shows up in sports to support masculinity is the gender ideology. This ideology works in favor of men. People learn common sense through sports that women are naturally weaker and lower than men. This ideology is seen in sports through skill. If a skill was done right it is assumed to be done like a man and if the skill was done wrong and poorly it is assumed to be done like a woman Gender ideology supports the idea of masculinity and creates an image that illustrates men are powerful and winners and girls are losers and failures. It also creates the image that men are right and stronger than women. Overall, masculinity is reproduced and protected through sports by the practices and images sports create about masculinity and manhood.