Rugby, Riverdance and Bar Fly Masculinities

25 May

My wife and I recently travelled to Edinburgh to celebrate a Scottish friend’s 40th birthday. The party was held in a local rugby club, and coincidently on the day of the party, Ireland was playing against Scotland in an important rugby match. We arrived in time to watch the rugby and have a pre-party drink with other Irish friends who had also made the journey over. At this point you may notice, I said it was “an important rugby match”, which to the astute observer might reveal my rugby ignorance. I am not a big sports fan, actually I don’t watch any sport and I don’t really know anything about rugby. Even my in-laws, who are staunch rugby fanatics – professional appreciators of the sport some might say, have lost all hope of trying to convert me and fuel my interest in the game.

My rugby ignorance became noticeable to others early into the match, and for the remainder of the game, the other men took the proverbial out of my sporting ineptitude. It was tongue and cheek; the other men roared laughing at their jokes (and at me) and I took it as it was intended, a bit of fun. However, this type of interaction highlights how some men do masculinity.

Playing sport and knowing about sport are ways some men can demonstrate or prove masculinity, and jostle for social position. The sports field is a space where men may perform and achieve masculine status. Through games like rugby men can demonstrate their physicality, power and sporting prowess.   Male spectators, in part, affirm their masculinity through in-depth knowledge of the game and by participating in sports talk. There is nothing new in this, and anyone with an interest in gender or masculinities will be well aware of the relationship between men, sport and masculinity.

Besides the sports talk, the men spoke about the quality of the Scottish beer and stout on tap. We’d take a drink and I would pass comment “Jesus this stout is not bad, it’s not Guinness, but it’s not bad!” and so on. However, during the rugby another game was taking place right beside us, a game that did spark my interest – a drinking game (and for the quick witted among you, I mean my academic interest!).

A group of young men, all members the Rugby club, sat in a circle playing a drinking game along with their coach. Two pints of beer were placed in the centre of the table. Each man took turns flipping a coin up into a shot glass. After each attempt, the glass and coin was passed from one man to the next. Upon getting the coin in the glass the man cheered and took a mouthful of his beer. If a man missed getting the coin into the glass the group cheered and taunted, but the ‘looser’ had to down one of the pints in the centre of the table. This game was about endurance and tolerance; it increased the pace of the men’s drinking and required the men to maintain control over their ever increasingly intoxicated bodies. To bow out of the game, the men would lose masculine position within the group and face ridicule from his mates.

As both games came to an end (Ireland won by the way!), the party was taken downstairs to a large function room with a long bar. A band was setting up in the corner of the room, as people flocked to the bar to continue quenching their thirst. Loosing is a thirsty business, as much as winning is.

The band began playing, people chattered on, and a line of men had gathered the length of the bar. As the evening rolled by, the band continued to play to an empty dance floor. Our merry Irish group had noticed this and were in agreement, it was a terrible shame. Now Irish men are not known for their dancing dexterity, well I should say most Irish men are not to be more precise. There are some mighty Irish men of the dance; unfortunately I am just not one of them! However, our concern for the lack of appreciation demonstrated towards the band grew, and eventually culminated in my male Irish friend giving me a nod and a head throw in the direction of the dance floor. “Come on” he whispered in my ear “Come on and dance!” Those of you acquainted with Irish culture will know the strangeness of these words, alarm bells may be ringing in your ears – heterosexual Irish men don’t generally ask each other up to dance – a certainly not in front of a large group of unknown men. It is not a culturally normative masculine thing to do! Heterosexual men are supposed to ask women up to dance, right?   Here are conventional notions of masculinity at work.

However, alcohol has an interesting way of subverting the normative. In Ireland, as in many other places, it is culturally normative to get quite intoxicated and act the ejit (Irish for fool). Now I’m not saying I was quite intoxicated, I was however receptive to this proposition. After all, we felt sorry for the band playing to such an unappreciative audience. So to the astonishment (and amusement might I add) of my wife and his partner, two inebriated Irish men took to the empty dance floor!

While my partner in dance-crime performed a contemporary twist on the traditional jive, which had a flair of interpretative dance to it. I re-enacted Michael Flatley’s famous Riverdance in a solo performance. Yes, it was epic, honest! We did this, I might add, to encourage some fellow dancers onto the dance floor, and it did work. We were joined in our dancing endeavours by many of the women there. None of the other men in the room joined us, with the exception of the birthday boy himself. Either our dancing skills intimidated the other male partygoers or it simply terrified them. My wife is of the opinion my dancing horrified the other men! Either way, the other men were steadfast; they remained firmly planted at the bar, with their beer in hand.

"The Dancing Sociologist" Illustration by Clay Darcy - © 2016

“The Dancing Sociologist” Illustration by Clay Darcy – © 2016

It was at this point I decided to try a little social experiment of sorts. And so, like a graceful Irish Deer I made my way across the dance floor to some of the bar fly men. And in my best Scottish accent and with a Celtic style foot stomp for added flare, I declared “Are ye men or are ye mice? Are ye coming up to dance?” Their expression was one of total bewilderment and mild amusement. Now luckily I must have a charming face or the men detected my bit of devilment! I was thankfully unharmed. But none of them budged, none of them would join us on the dance floor.   Unsuccessful in my attempts, I happily danced away the rest of the night with my wife and friends.

For me, this night revealed so many examples of how some men can do masculinity – through participation in sport and demonstrating sporting knowledge, through competitive drinking games and displays of physical endurance, through control over intoxicated bodies and the maintenance of a socially accepted masculine front.

These bar fly men performed masculinity by their posturing within this social space and their display of heavy drinking. Their drinking activity was about power, control and hiding their drunkenness. They maintained a controlled bodily performance and in this way, these bar fly men were doing masculinity. This appeared to be the social norm in this context. Men drink, women dance. The men stood at the bar drinking and no doubt engaged in sports talk, while the women danced. This, it appeared, was how women do femininity within this social context. The two Irish Paddy’s giving it socks on the dance floor were mostly likely not doing masculinity, rather in the eyes of these men, femininity.   We were displaying our drunkenness and femininity, and thus posed no masculine threat to these men. That is why I probably came away from my little social experiment unharmed. Had I actually contested these men’s masculinity in any real sense, they probably would have danced all over me!

Disclaimer! These are only observations; this was not a scientific experiment nor is this analysis scientific. Rather they are just musings of a dancing sociologist with a particular interest in alcohol, drugs and masculinity. You may be relieved to know, no bar fly men were harmed in the making of this blog!

Bio:  Clay is a PhD Candidate at the School of Sociology, University College Dublin.  His research explores masculinities and men’s recreational use of illicit drugs.   To find out more about Clay visit or or follow him on Twitter @Clay_Darcy.

This blog was originally posted at on 04/26/2016.

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