Monday, February 15, 2010

Football: A Patriarchal American Metaphor

Last week, I wrote about how that American holiday that is Super Bowl Sunday is alienating to many women, relegating them as it does to the marginal roles of sex object, mommy-wife, or fetal incubator.

Yet, it is also valuable to think, for serious, about the men. For, on this day that revolves around celebrating the construct of exaggerated macho-masculinity that is football, we learn that if men are not on the field being Big Tough Manly Men, they are obsessing about sex, acting like man-boys, or- if they have no interest in the Big Game- being faggy girls. That is, through our television sets, Super Bowl Sunday (among other culprits), reduces both men and women to exaggerated caricatures of masculinity and femininity.

Observing the football field, we see the athletes themselves. Like Roman gladiators they are worshiped for their skill, their strength, and- perhaps most of all- their size. Whereas the ideal woman in society is the lady who continually shrinks her body, men are encouraged to take up space with theirs, preferably through the consumption of copious amounts of Man Food. And, through the power and strength of their physical size, they are celebrated for dominating other men through force, with everyone else spectating. These athletes are paragons of the concept of masculinity, which is also known as Not Woman. For, without fail, whenever comparisons are made between male and female athletes, many conversations come back to football.

Read the comment threads on ESPN and FoxSports that follow any article about female athletes, especially articles that discuss a female athlete who has successfully competed against men. Observe the male commenters anxiously asserting the Truth of Male Physical Dominance which, although it often goes unsaid, implies Male Dominance in every other sphere of life.

A woman bowler just beat a bunch of male champion bowlers
, but- they say- "Whats the big deal, its not like bowling requires some great physical ability...its a GAME, not a sport. It requires skill, not physical prowess." (Quotation in comment following article). It's a game, not a Real Sport- like how football is a sport.

The same sentiment is echoed even when women beat men at activities that are undeniable sports. In the world of ultra-marathon running and long-distance swimming, for instance, studies have demonstrated that women are more resistance to fatigue than are men, which, of course, is extremely ironic given that men used to bar "the weaker sex" from long-distance competitions. And yet, if an article on say, FoxSports, were to report one of ultra-marathoner Ann Trason's multiple wins against both male and female competitors- which of course, it wouldn't- I would bet a large sum of money that at least some male commenters would make some sort of comparison of the sport and Trason to football and football players.

In other words, "the stronger women get, the more men love football."

Because, really, perhaps more than the "physical prowess" that football involves, aren't many Americans so enamored with the sport because of the sheer, extreme stereotypical masculinity that it represents? And, in a nation whose military spending constitutes half of the world's military spending, it is no coincidence that a sport glorifying violence, aggression, and size is the measure of what counts as a Real Sport and whose athletes are the standard against which female athletes are measured?

With this backdrop, we come to the February 8, 2010 edition of Time magazine, in which the nihilism, the utter pointlessness of hyper-maculine destruction, is demonstrated. From an article entitled "The Problem With Football":

"The more we learn about the human cost of this quintessentially American sport, the more questions are being raised regarding the people who run it and play it.... a consensus is emerging that reforms are needed to keep football from becoming too dangerous for its own good.

...Repeated blows to the head, which are routine in football, can have lifelong repercussions. A study commissioned by the NFL found that ex-pro players over age 50 were five time as likely as the national population to receive a memory-related-disease diagnosis. Players 30 to 49 were 19 times as likely to be debilitated.

...Bravery. Bravado. Machismo. These qualities create superior football players. But they can be poisonous."

Ya think?

Of course, feminists have been saying that these traits are poisonous for years, but hopefully now that it is a man speaking, this argument will be taken seriously and hailed as a Brilliant Revelation.

If we look at football, specifically its hyper-masculine dominator culture, as a metaphor, we see very clearly that patriarchy has a price. It's a price that both men and women pay, albeit differently. Young men, pay with broken bodies, rendering them proud owners of the beaten brains of elderly men. Male spectators, pay with the knowledge that they don't live up to that gladiator-hero standard, which is somewhat tempered by the privileged consolation that at least they're Not Women. Women, pay for the "privilege" of being sperm depositories, fetal vessels, and/or nagging shrews.

For all of Time's health stats, stats that Glenn Sacks and other men's rights activists would likely cite in order to demonstrate that Men Have Things Bad, they get no argument from me or many feminists that patriarchy hurts men too.

As much as some will blame feminists for the state that men are currently in, it is clear that some men are not willing to give up the glory of the gladiator arena for the sake of their own health and humanity.

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