The World Cup is a chance to reflect on toxic masculinity

Antonio Roar Rookie

By Antonio, Antonio is a Roar Rookie New author!


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    Like most Australian sports fans, I am nervously awaiting Saturday night when our national team goes up against the might of the French, hoping for a draw yet dreaming of a win.

    But, having grown up in Melbourne, it also reminds me of the discrimination I faced playing ‘wogball’ at school. The throw-away remark of this ‘real sport’ of Australian Rules football always got to me, not because I didn’t like AFL – I do – but because it somehow associated playing football with weakness and a lack of masculinity.

    Like most Victorians, I enjoy watching the AFL. When living overseas I waxed lyrical about the commitment and skill required to be an AFL footballer, and people I talked to were in awe of the religious following of the game by people in Victoria.

    So when I was confronted today by Pat Cash’s tweet about “real mans [sic] sport” on the eve of the World Cup, it really got to me.

    Our modern society is acutely aware of our own problematic construction of masculinity and for the need for it to change. Muscle dysmorphia is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue among men and highlights the need to have very real and serious discussions about what it means to be a man and the power of the language used to construct and confine it.

    This article is not some platitudinous discussion about code wars or the merits of any sport, not only because it is a ludicrous argument, but because the words we use to describe our sports have deep and lasting impacts on the way in which men perceive themselves.

    Walking past my local footy and netball club last weekend I could hear a dad yell to a player, “Don’t be a girl” – right next to the girls playing a physical game of netball full of cheeky elbows that a ‘man’s sport’ would have been proud of. The ironic nature of the statement was not lost on others watching either, but the yelling continued and was repeated by other people watching the game.

    Scandal broke Victoria when Alex Rance was thought to have taken a dive during a recent AFL game. Such an action only causes outrage because it compromises the fallacy that AFL is a ‘real man’s sport’ or that any sport fits that description. Is there even such a thing as a ‘real man’? What do you call a man who doesn’t fit into the description? An ‘un-man’? A ‘non-man’? A ‘girl…’?

    Now, back to Pat Cash. A lot has been said about sportspeople and how they speak in the media, from Margaret Court to Israel Folau. Cash’s remarks are typical of discourse in Victoria and disappointing, firstly because they take away from the very real achievement of Shaun Burgoyne. Speaking to my rusted-on AFL colleagues and friends, it is their first argument against football – that they’re a bunch of divers.

    I did dive during my game on the weekend, which probably makes them right to an extent, but there is an underlying tone of contempt for a sport that is not seen as ‘man’ enough. It is this discourse of contempt reinforced by certain sections of the media that is truly dangerous for men moving forward. This is because not only does it denigrate certain sports and those who play them as weak, but it also imprisons those who hold these archaic views.

    Igor Akinfeev makes a save

    (Mike Kireev/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

    What must Pat Cash have been thinking at the time that he tweeted this? Does he see the World Cup, a beacon of hope and peace in the world and the flagship event of FIFA (which has more members than the United Nations) as an existential threat to his understanding of himself as a man? What does this say about our presentation of masculinity?

    These views make prisoners of us all, and as we begin our four-week cycle of telling ourselves that we are men because footballers are not, we really need to sit down and think about how powerful the language we use around this issue is. Because more than arguments about race, belonging and identity, how we see ourselves as men in a world where violence is not a necessity for survival needs to be discussed.

    To this I ask: what is a ‘man’? Do our conceptions of masculinity only extend to this narrow understanding of the man who sacrifices himself for others? Breaks a bone for a mate? Gets concussed for a mate? Should we remain Jack, or can we see a future for men where we could ask Rose to scoot over a little and so we can both survive?

    Personally I’d rather not drown in an unrealistic masculinity.

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    The Crowd Says (53)

    • June 15th 2018 @ 7:16am
      Peeko said | June 15th 2018 @ 7:16am | ! Report

      I saw the title and thought this would be terrible. Instead it was an extremely relevant and well written article

      • June 15th 2018 @ 8:30am
        Midfielder said | June 15th 2018 @ 8:30am | ! Report


      • June 15th 2018 @ 8:53am
        Post_hoc said | June 15th 2018 @ 8:53am | ! Report

        Same thoughts, same pleasant surprise, really well written, a credit to the author

      • June 15th 2018 @ 8:53am
        Marshall said | June 15th 2018 @ 8:53am | ! Report

        Agree, thought it was going to be rubbish but it was spot on the money

    • June 15th 2018 @ 8:30am
      me too said | June 15th 2018 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      Rance caused outrage because diving is seen as cheating, not girly. And it is.
      Played soccer my whole life and a bit of aussie rules. Of course the latter is a much tougher sport, but so what?
      Never bothered me. Soccer was tougher than tennis. Never bothered me. And maybe someone could have just mentioned the same thing to Cash?

      • Roar Guru

        June 15th 2018 @ 10:11am
        JamesH said | June 15th 2018 @ 10:11am | ! Report

        Yep, I liked the article as a whole (really sad, though not shocked, to hear about the dad using ‘girl’ as an insult) but the point about Rance missed the mark.

        I don’t see diving in either sport as a lack of ‘manliness’, just something that detracts from the spectacle and brings the standard of the game down. Soccer would be so much better without player playing for free kicks and penalties.

    • June 15th 2018 @ 8:43am
      Midfielder said | June 15th 2018 @ 8:43am | ! Report


      You article is both well written and I think describes many AFL people I have come in connect with…

      Tis interesting the same is not said say about table tennis, or golf, swimming, cricket, baseball, basketball and many other sports. There almost seems a real hhhhmmmmm looking for the right word … some would say hate I would say fear….

      A common human deflection is to attack the thing that we fear the most and I wonder aloud if the attacks and name calling of Football reflects fear of a take over and the right to claim to be the cultural sports setting agenda driver and maybe loss of influence at government and business levels. Then wrap these fears up in a sorta I am tough and you are not …

      Work calls would love to add more but for now will have to leave hopefully will get back latter in the day.

      • June 15th 2018 @ 9:22am
        Fadida said | June 15th 2018 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        Agree, definitely hate based on fear

      • Roar Pro

        June 16th 2018 @ 2:31pm
        Barry & Zac said | June 16th 2018 @ 2:31pm | ! Report

        coming from a person that hates soccer: we do not fear you, soccer is the most popular sport in the world only because it is introduced in every nation. If cricket was not limited to the commonwealth then it would be head and shoulders above soccer as it is challenging them atm even without most of the world involved. You “blokes” can go around saying it is on fear but it is also human nature to water something down if it hurts. For all I know, you people are more scared of losing popularity and then copping it even worse when nobody likes soccer and you are even less a part of society. From experience, people who like soccer also reckon they are top notch and bring it onto yourselves.

    • June 15th 2018 @ 8:56am
      Post_hoc said | June 15th 2018 @ 8:56am | ! Report

      In the immortal words of Joe Jackson

      “What’s a man now, what’s a man mean
      Is he rough or is he rugged
      Is he cultural and clean
      Now it’s all change, it’s got to change more
      Cause we think it’s getting better
      But nobody’s really sure”

    • June 15th 2018 @ 9:18am
      Fred said | June 15th 2018 @ 9:18am | ! Report

      I am a sick of the commentariat’s obsession with “toxic masculinity”. There’s a whole industry devoted to whinging about this nonsense. And it’s not even original. I’ll give you a tip mate – read George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and have a think about why you use the phrase “toxic masculinity”.

      The way things are going ‘gender theorist’ will be the leading occupation in Australia.

      • Roar Guru

        June 15th 2018 @ 10:15am
        JamesH said | June 15th 2018 @ 10:15am | ! Report

        Way to miss the point.

        The label is irrelevant; the stereotyping of what actually constitutes ‘manliness’ is dangerous. That’s beyond debate, despite the protestations of the anti-PC brigade.

        But you keep pining for the good ‘ol days when men were men.

        • June 15th 2018 @ 10:20am
          Fred said | June 15th 2018 @ 10:20am | ! Report

          Runaway climate change wrecking the biosphere for most life on earth is dangerous. Tension between nuclear powers is dangerous. “Stereotyping of what constitutes manliness” is not dangerous.

          Get off your gender theory high horse, there’s a real world out there.

          • June 15th 2018 @ 12:07pm
            peeko said | June 15th 2018 @ 12:07pm | ! Report

            tell that to the boys that feel under intense pressure and bullying that are not considered manly. tell that to the women who suffer physical abuse from men

            • June 15th 2018 @ 12:22pm
              Fred said | June 15th 2018 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

              Righto, I’ll also tell that to the people who viciously disparage “meathead footy players” and “unsophisticated bogans”. Is that behaviour toxic non-masculinity?

              Anyone with children will tell you that bullying is more prevalent between girls than boys. Bullying has nothing to do with what gender theorists believe it does. Because gender theorists are scientifically illiterate (social science is not science) they are ignorant of the biological and evolutionary basis for various human (and animal) behaviours.

              • June 15th 2018 @ 12:59pm
                BigAl said | June 15th 2018 @ 12:59pm | ! Report

                So true that social science is not science – as has been dramatically proven of recent times.
                It is amazing that they gotten away with it for so long – are they still getting away with it ?

              • June 16th 2018 @ 1:37am
                peeko said | June 16th 2018 @ 1:37am | ! Report

                as you said its just one form of bullying. doesnt mean its not important. you just seem angry it gets a lot of coverage. yoour last sentence is not true

              • June 16th 2018 @ 12:35pm
                Fred said | June 16th 2018 @ 12:35pm | ! Report

                Bullying will carry on regardless of our interpretations of “what constitutes manliness”.

                If you can show me a gender theorist who’s scientifically literate I’ll congratulate you. To a man (no sexism intended) they believe all human behaviour is a “social construct”. Evolutionary biology begs to differ.

              • June 16th 2018 @ 5:52pm
                Kangas said | June 16th 2018 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

                Control your emotions mate

    • Roar Guru

      June 15th 2018 @ 9:36am
      Matt H said | June 15th 2018 @ 9:36am | ! Report

      It’s ironic that the most popular sport among men in the entire world is considered ‘not a man’s sport’ by a few dinosaurs. It’s also ironic that in the not too distant past AFL was considered not manly enough by the rugby cultures in the northern states. It’s all nonsense of course.

      Is it rooted in fear? Yes, but not fear of football somehow taking over from AFL. It’s a more unconscious fear of difference. ‘They are not my tribe’. It’s probably embedded in our genetic code from the days when javelin was a much more serious sport, but you would hope that our ability to think past our impulses would put that type of reaction out to pasture.

      A couple of anecdotes:

      1. I played mixed netball for 10 years or so. Many of the girls I marked against were the dirtiest, nastiest, roughest pieces of work. Elbows, scratches, shirt grabbing, tripping, quite apart from the traditional hip and shoulder while going up for a rebound.

      2. In primary school I had one teacher (who played AFL for QLD back in the dim past) who used to let kids out for lunch in order of what sports they played. AFL first, then rugby league, then the ‘girly’ sports of football and tennis last. Of course, I played both football and tennis. But then this same teacher did line up the whole class to belt them with a leather strap because he couldn’t identify who was talking out of turn. so I suspect the problem was his, not ours.