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Are the Oregon Ducks the nation’s first “politically correct” football powerhouse?

9 Jan
Marcus Mariota running the ball against the Wyoming Cowboys (Source - Wikimedia Commons)

Marcus Mariota running the ball against the Wyoming Cowboys (Source – Wikimedia Commons)

This post was written by Michael Kimmel, Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Gender Studies at Stony Brook University and founder of the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities.

Is Oregon the first Politically Correct football team?  And could such a team win a national championship?

Consider this: following their systematic, upbeat, and perfectly executed demolition of previously unbeaten Florida State in the national semi-finals last week, Oregon players were seen on the sidelines imitating FSU’s “Tomahawk Chop” and singing along to their equally disgusting “Indian War Chant” the phrase that rings out across the country around sexual assault: “No Means No.”

Excuse me?  Were these football players?  Good football players? Continue reading

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The Marathon and Gender Equality

19 May

By Richard Smith from Bowen Island, Canada (Chicago Marathon – the start) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

April marked the first installment of the Boston Marathon after the horrible terrorist acts of 2013. Although the world-renowned event will forever be linked to these atrocities, there are also acts of positive social change linked to its. Most famously, the 1967 Boston Marathon saw Kathrine Switzer become the first woman to enter the race as a numbered runner (there had actually been other women run the race unofficially before) by registering as “KV Switzer”. Her run and the attempt by a race official to remove her from the race show how sports can become an arena of progressive social change. Moreover, the history of marathon running over the past half century can also serve as a teaching tool to challenge myths about the supposed fundamental differences between men and women.

[This article first appeared at SociologyLens]

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Throwing like a Girl? The Case for Gender Similarity in Sports

12 May

Source: Nathan Rupert (SD) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Finally, it’s almost summer. And as the weather gets better, more and more social life in my neighborhood shifts outside to the street. As I was sitting at my desk the other day, I noticed two kids playing in the street, a boy of maybe 10 years and a girl, maybe 8. The boy was practicing his basketball skills, dribbling the ball between his legs, moving backwards, sidewards, spinning around, all while keeping perfect control over the ball. The girl on the other hand was listening to music and practicing dance moves from the latest music video (needless to say, both kids were far more skillful in their respective activity than I ever will be). Then something interesting happened: The kids started teaching each other their respective activities. And while the boy did quite a good job of learning the girl’s dance moves, the girl struggled when it came to dribbling the basketball: Whereas before as she was dancing, she was able to move extremely smoothly and elegantly, now her body became stiff. Her eyes fixated on the ball so as not to lose control, her upper body moved up and down parallel to her hand awkwardly and in a very choppy way; and she kept losing the ball repeatedly after every dozen or so dribbles. Is this little anecdote proof then that girls are just naturally less adept at ball games than boys [spoiler alert: it’s not]?

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Masculinities 101 Week in Review

18 Apr

What did you miss last week in the realm of masculinities and gender equity news?  We’ll tell ya!

This week Masculinities 101 hosted the second installment of Clay Darcy’s pub crawl narrative “drinking Down Masculinity.”  In this series Darcy shows us just how much a gender lens can add to the way we see even the most everyday experiences.

On Thursday, The Guardian hosted a live Q&A session on how the development sector can engage men and boys toward gender equality.  The panel included leaders of NGOs all over the world that are doing this important work.

The Shriver Report partnered with The Good Men Project to produce a list of what they believe to be the top 10 issues affecting men in 2014.  Check out their list and let us know if you agree.  Is there anything missing?  Is there anything there that you think isn’t really an issue?

Also, a few weeks ago we briefly discussed the backlash against New York Mets player Daniel Murphy taking paternity leave.  As you may recall, two New York sports talk-show hosts suggested that his wife should have scheduled a pre-emptive C-section rather than the player missing any games.  But, this week, that scandal has led to a deeper discussion of paternity leave.  You can find some of that discussion on Slate and on Ordinary Times.

Men in Roller Derby: A Review of This is How I Roll

12 Mar
Source: Vimeo.com; thisishowirollmovie.com

Source: Vimeo.com; thisishowirollmovie.com

Last Saturday, March 8, I attended a screening of the documentary, This is How I Roll, at the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities in the Stony Brook University Manhattan campus building. This is How I Roll traces the evolution of men’s roller derby in the United States (and to some extent, around the globe), capturing the perspectives of men who tried to enter a sport dominated by women. The film maker follows grassroots organized teams, in particular the New York Shock Exchange, who seek out a space in the sport of roller derby. Alongside the development of the men’s teams, we see the backlash from the women’s teams, players, and national organizations, including the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association. By the end of the film, the men’s teams have gained greater acceptance with the women’s organizations and they all have hopes of taking the sport to the Olympics.

 After the screening, a panel—including the director, Kat Vecchio; a producer and activist, Abigail Disney; New York Stock Exchange team member, “Patrick Bateman”; and a sociology professor, Tyson Smith—spoke about the themes of gender and masculinities in the documentary. Kat Vecchio said that she made the film because she noticed the exclusionary tactics of her fellow roller derby participants when she was a member of the Gotham Girls, a famous New York City roller derby league. She likened her teammates’ exclusion of men in roller derby to men’s exclusion of women in just about every other arena. Seeing this as an opportunity to capture a growing underdog movement, she picked up her camera and started filming.

The documentary and the director’s comments brought up some larger questions with which I have been grappling and may be of interest to other scholars of gender and masculinities and activists. First, can we equate the discrimination faced by the men’s roller derby teams to women’s historical exclusion in other sports? If men wield power in the rest of the sporting world, is it fair to compare their exclusion in this one particular instance to the history of women’s exclusion from sports? On one hand, the roller derby women employed many of the same tactics used to exclude women in other sports. For example, the roller derby women explained that men’s bodies are too big for the roller derby track, an argument eerily similar to the justification for excluding women and their small bodies from the football field. On the other hand, the women were understandably protective of their sport; this was a safe space for them and something that they could claim as their own. Since sports are historically male dominated, is there some political importance to women having a sports space of their own?

The second point that I am left contemplating is the extent to which activists can harness situations like this to engage men in gender equality projects. After the screening, an audience member asked if the men felt any solidarity with female athletes who are marginalized in other sports, such as the WNBA. Though it seemed like “Patrick Bateman,” a member of the New York Shock Exchange, felt compassion for female athletes, it was clear that the men’s roller derby movement is not a political one. Men’s roller derby teams are not trying to produce greater gender equality through their sporting participation; they just want to play. This is a moment, though, in which men can understand the experience of oppression based on gender, a situation in which they rarely find themselves; moreover, the men who participate display non-normative masculinities, and are relatively open to queer and gender nonconforming teammates. It seems, then, that this is a space that could be harnessed for gender activism. How can we translate individual compassion into political sensitivity and action? How do we link these common experiences to produce solidarity and create social change?

I encourage you all to see This is How I Roll. In addition to giving us food for thought about gender and masculinities, it is a really well done documentary that will surely keep you entertained.

Make sure to check this blog and the Center for the Study of Men & Masculinities website for information about upcoming sponsored events.

Shifting Hegemonic Masculinity? Gay Male Athletes and Discourses of Masculinity

5 Mar

By mariselise derivative work: Steffaville [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The NBA has its first openly gay player in Jason Collins, and the NFL will follow soon, as former college player Michael Sam is expected to join a team this summer.  This might indicate that we are seeing a radical shift in society’s stereotypes about gay men. At the same time, it remains to be seen, as Dave Zirin asks at The Nation whether gay male athletes like Sam can help shift our definitions of masculinity more broadly or whether they might paradoxically reinforce gender norms and notions of hyper-masculinity at the same time.

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Athletics and Masculinity: Allegations of Harassment in My Own Backyard

9 Dec

Several weeks ago, the editors of Masculinities 101, all graduate students at Stony Brook University, raised an eyebrow when we received a mass email from our university president, informing us that the director of the athletics department, Jim Fiore, was leaving his post and an interim director was taking his place. Within a few days, we became even more suspicious when a fellow graduate student sent around an article from the local newspaper, Newsday, stating that Fiore was not only leaving, but would be paid out his $800,000 contract. Later that week, no one was surprised when allegations of sexual harassment emerged as the primary reason for Fiore’s departure from Stony Brook University.

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Guinness, ‘made of more’ or just more of the same?

8 Nov

Beer commercials aren’t typically known for their deep and meaningful messages, but a recent Guinness commercial has taken a different approach. In sum, it features a group of fit, happy-looking men in wheelchairs playing basketball. Toward the end of the ad, all but one of them stand up out of their wheelchairs before they all head to the pub to share a pint. This all takes place against the backdrop of sentimental music and inspirational narrative about dedication, loyalty, and friendship, concluding tagline: ‘made of more’. A number of online media outlets have written positive appraisals of the ad describing it as ”a touching sensation’ (MSN Money) that will ‘make your heart melt (HuffPost); ‘give you goosebumps’ (USA Today Sports); and ‘make you tear up’ (IndyStar). One outlet in particular, Business Insider, suggests that Guinness stands out from the competition by promoting a brand of masculinity that ‘breaks the industry stereotype’. Most beer advertising tends to depict men as irresponsible juveniles with only hot chicks and cold beer on the brain or as meat heads jocks with only hot chicks and cold beer on the brain. Guinness, on the other hand, has crafted a message that suggests that beer drinking sports-men can be sensitive and strong at the same time. This advertising approach works for Guinness in-part because of it having a reputation as a drink of the people and one that hails to make you stronger (see early ‘Guinness for Strength’ ads). Continue reading

“Jock Culture” or Sex-Segregated Socialization?

6 Nov
US_Navy_051008-N-9693M-022_Members_of_the_U.S._Naval_Academy_football_team_run_across_the_field_toward_the_home_team_stands_in_celebration_of_their_victory_over_Air_Force_27-24_at_Navy-Marine_Corps_stadium

Source: Wikimedia Commons

High-profile cases of rape and sexual assault perpetrated by athletes in the US have become far too common.  In a recent column for The Nation, Dave Zirin illustrated the ever more obvious connection between “jock culture” and the perpetration of sexual violence.  Jock culture and rape culture, Zirin argues, are intrinsically linked.  Young women are seen as “the spoils of being a jock” according to Zirin. In many ways Zirin could not be more right.  Clearly young male athletes are learning terrible lessons regarding what their status means about their relationships to women but is “jock culture” the right way to frame this issue? Continue reading

Football and Brain Damage, or How American Masculinity Ravages Men’s Bodies

2 Nov

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 2012, many retired football players and their families filed a class-action lawsuit against the NFL. The complaint states that the NFL hid evidence of the dangers of the game, dangers like brain damage from repeat concussions and sub-concussive trauma. New research indicates that the repetitive beatings that football players experience over the course of their career causes irreparable damage to their brains, leading to cognitive, emotional, and functional problems similar to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Several players committed suicide after repeat concussions left them with depression and mood swings, and many others continue to suffer memory loss, cognitive impairment, and balance problems.

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