Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Football and Feminism

It is football season, and I am FUCKING STOKED. Always. Every season. Love me some college ball.

Now, due to my positionality within this world, my taste in college sports comes into question every year. Every year, the peeps from my pro-womyn crew are like, “Becca, say it isn’t so. How can you continue to support something so in the realm of patriarchy and hyper-masculinity?” Okay, so they don’t put it that way, exactly, but if I had to refine it down to something simple, that would be it.

Up until this point, I’ve just talked about my sense of history and community with the sport, but haven’t really critically analyzed how I can still be me and not feel hypocritical about supporting football. Today, I’m going to turn that critical eye on football and tell you why, at the end of the day, I will still bleed blue and gold and drive to NYC and fly to Minnesota and Cali just to catch a game.

“Becca … come on… Football is simply a sport that perpetuates hypermasculinity and violence…”

To this I say … true and not true. Yes, it is true that football is an aggressive and violent sport. It’s sometimes up to 4 hours of men beating the shit out of each other. Tens of thousands of people show up to watch it, and the harder the tackle, the more brutal the defense, the more excited the crowd gets. I will not say that football isn’t a celebration of violence. It definitely is.

But, at the same time, it is a celebration of consensual violence. When those boys step out on that field, they have consented to be tackled. They have consented to the risk of torn ACLs, brutality and violence. And I think, that places where aggression and violence are allowed in a consensual nature, it can be a good thing. I would rather a young man get all his aggression out on the football field than get it out by say, slapping his partner or drinking himself into oblivion or both. (I would also prefer that men learn how to talk it out, and think that someday that will happen, but right now, am realistic about reality…)

AND, although high levels of athleticism are expected and necessary for a good ball team, inappropriate displays of hypermasculinity are actually discouraged and regulated. Getting all up in someone’s face can get you a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. And as we’ve all learned from LaGarrette Blount … if you can’t deal with your sense of aggression and you punch Byron Hout in the face, your football career is over. There are consequences when violence is enacted outside of the bonds of the consensual contract.

So when my pro-femme friends ask me how I can support football it really does boil down to the fact that the violence being enacted is highly regulated and consensual.

And while this is not something that I may have thought about before this analysis, I take issue with the fact that I’m not allowed to celebrate violence. That as someone who believes very much in female rights, I’m somehow transgressing a standard that women are all supposed to be anti-violence. Yes, I’m against bombing innocent people and people battering their partners … but just because I’m a woman and agree with many of the tenets of feminism doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy watching two consenting people beat the shit out of each other.
Okay … but what about the hierarchilization of Male Sports over Female Sports?"

This one is tough because of my personal feelings about sports as a hetero woman and as a sports fan. I like watching sexy men touch each other (and that's not to say that the only body type and gender expression I find sexy in males is the hypermasculine. It's one, but not the only one). There is an element of eroticism and objectification in my personal reason for viewing. That’s one reason why I prefer male sports to female sports.

Then there’s also the level of athleticism. While I do feel that there are definitely women out there that could compete shoulder to shoulder with the boys if we could get over our ridiculous essentialism when it comes to genitals, the fact is that many can’t. Our bodies are physiologically different, and the physiological difference that occurs between the bodies makes for a difference in the level of play. Male sports tend to be more aggressive and more explosive.

With that being said, I think that female sports could be WAY more aggressive, but the ideas about how ‘ladies’ are supposed to act get in the way of truly allowing aggression into female sports. For example, when I was still at Cal, I attended my fair share of basketball games, both men’s and women’s. At men’s games, they let the players get away with a much higher level of physicality than they do the women. Women weren’t allowed to be as aggressive and would get fouls called for contact that would have been ignored or considered ‘standard’ in the men’s game. Also, at women’s games, fan interaction is more regulated. At men’s games, fans are allowed AND encouraged to talk shit about the opposing team. It’s almost expected and can increase the level of play and competition. At women’s games, heckling from the stands is discouraged because (and this is me projecting) we might hurt those fragile women’s feelings. Just like always, female aggression is institutionally seen as distasteful and women are not viewed as being able to handle adversity and need to be ‘protected’ by the refs. And if they changed the regulations, maybe at first shit would hit the fan. But I think eventually the game would adjust and be more successful for it.

Now, there’s also the argument that games should be about the skill of the sport and the execution. To that I say … duh. But, as a fan, I watch because I can’t play and since I’m not a former player, my understanding is only really enough to follow and understand the flow of play. Nuance isn’t exciting to me personally. The emotion of the play is what keeps me coming back for more. Aggression and explosiveness and passion are the elements that make sports exciting for me. Thereby, it’s my personal assertion that the institutionalization of ridiculous attitudes about female aggression is one of the reasons why female sports are not in the spotlight more. We assert that aggressiveness is a specifically male phenomenon, and don’t allow our women to bring it to the field or the court or whatever. And for the lay fan, if there is no emotion, there isn’t as much of a draw.

So what’s my reconciliation? Hypocrisy, I guess. I’m going to continue to watch male sports because they are more exciting and I like watching co-eds run around in their pads and get all tangled up in one another. It gets me excited and turns me on, and I will not deny myself that because I ‘should.’ (Also, I know that I have talked about watching because of the objectification of the men playing. I would only ever do that in voyeuristic sense, and would never actually treat any of those men as an object. ...unless they asked me to.)

And on another note, I always get asked if I think women should be allowed to play college and pro ball. Hells yes. But if and only if they can compete at the current level of competition. I hate the way female sports are regulated and think that it needs to be changed, and I sure as hell wouldn’t want to see the sexist notions about female capability affect the current rules of football. But I also believe that there are women out there who can compete at the level of the fellas, who can take being tackled, who can go deep for a pass, whatever. I’d love to see it happen. I don’t think that women’s sports leagues should be dissolved either, but I think that if a woman can go for gold and glory in a men’s league (and vice versa for that matter) I don’t see why not.

"What about players who abuse their privilege and celebrity status?"

Yes, there is an element of all college and pro sports where there is an attitude of superiority, whether morally or financially or whatever. There are players out there who think that their status as players makes them above the law and above reproach for their actions. I wish that football programs would do more to encourage both the personal and professional integrity of players.

It is true that there is this sad and stunted element to football. And I understand that I am complicit in this when I pay to go to games. But at the same time, I also feel like there are so many legit, decent, and respectful men who are playing the game of ball less for the gold and the glory than for the love of the game. (Or even those who are playing for the money, but aren’t d-bags about it.) Don’t get me wrong, I love when our team has playmakers, but it’s the players that play with 100% of their heart that tend to make the game just that much better for me. The Vinnie Strang’s of football. That dude was 4 feet tall and weighed less than I do, but when he made a big play, it was amazing.

So should I stop watching football because there are rapists and sexists and ignorant players on the field? I could, but that would be like not interacting with men at all for the same reasons. I prefer instead to speak out when shit like that does go down. To call for action and suspension and disciplinary action when players act in ways which strike me as reproachable. If football wants to keep me as a female fan, they need to understand I won’t watch if they don’t punich the sexist/rapist player. Because, just like with masculinity in general, I don’t think the path to reform is through punishing innocents for the actions of perpetrators. I think that celebrating the good ones encourages others to be good ones. Not letting people who are assholes rise to star status in my personal sphere of consciousness. Because the truth is, I love the game too, and I’m not going to let the assholes ruin it for me.

"Anything else?"

So, even when my ladies and feminist fellas don’t like those reasons, I do also have some personal reasons for my pro-football leanings.

The first is community. Much of my own personal development as a human being happened with Cal Football as a backdrop. If Cal Football didn’t exist, the Cal Band wouldn’t exist, and I would have dropped out of college. I would never have met some of the most incredible friends a woman could have, and I would never have started upon the path I am currently on. So while Cal Football is not directly responsible for my success, in an oblique way it provided the arena for my success to exist. And thinking about where I could have been without Cal isn’t necessarily frightening, but it’s definitely not favorable.

Reason number two is gender based. Even if I’m not in the stadium, when I’m watching football, it’s the one place where I can swear and be a potty mouth and talk shit and not be looked at as this crazy anomaly of femininity. Everywhere else I go, this aspect of my personal timber of gender expression is something I have to fight for, defend, or tone-down. I grew up, for all intents and purposes, as a boy, and Cal Football is one of those spaces where I can get my ‘boy’ on without getting the resultant confused, dirty, or disgusted look. In fact, in terms of the privilege within the oppression, being a woman who understands even the slightest elements of football is given more respect than a dude who has a more nuanced understanding. I’m working to have a better understanding, but you know, there is more to life than football. (On the flip side of this, I also like football because it’s a place where men can express more emotion than just anger. Yes it’s related to football, but still.)

And the third and final reason. Football is a great escape. For up to four hours (and sometime longer if one engages in pre and post game activities), nothing matters but the game. Whatever’s wrong, whatever emotions are happening in life, during the game, the only emotions that come up are associated with what’s happening on the field. None of which occur as my own personal fault, and there are no emotions that I have any stake in. I can just be and feel and not be personally invested. And it’s nice to have that. It’s nice to be able to just let yourself get caught up in the game. And it’s temporary. Once the game ends, you have to return to reality and figure life out, of course, but sometimes you need to get away from yourself so you can even do that.


We’re #10. Go Bears, Beat the Eagles.