And Mckeown, M. (2012) a critical exploration of using football in health and welfare programs: Gender, masculinities and social relations. Journal of Sport and Social Issues. 36(4): 387-409 A



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Football as re-working gender and masculinity

Football does not just exclude women and reinforce male privilege through the assertion of hegemonic masculinity; and even within football these are constantly challenged. We will give two recent illustrations of the challenge to gender relations in football.
In January 2011, two Sky Sports presenters were forced to resign over their insulting comments about a woman assistant referee at an English Premier League football match (Booth, 2011). This was by no means the first outburst of its kind at the presence of women football officials (see Caudwell, 2011b). This time, their comments - suggesting that women

‘couldnt understand the off-side rule - were widely discredited by the public and the mediaix. Despite Sky Sports themselves having a poor track record of womens participation (they had no regular women football presenters) they knew’ these comments were out of kilter with their audience and the two presenters were deemed pre-historic’ in their attitudes. Second, in 2009, in an event which resulted in very little media coverage, boys in an under-

12 football team in Warrington, in the North West England, reportedly went on strike after the FA banned two of their team from playing because they were girls who were not allowed to play in mixed teams (Bridge, 2009).


These examples indicate a shift in gender relations. If football is seen as a way to legitimise male superiority and if women are beginning to be seen as players, officials or commentators in their own right if they metaphorically understand the off-side rule - it undermines the legitimation of male superiority and helps prevent womens continued exclusion. Moreover, if boys are coming out in support of their female team-mates this demonstrates a form of solidarity which potentially undermines gender inequalities and highlights the possible convergent interests of men and women.
If hegemonic masculinity is defined as the current most honoured way of being a man in a given culture (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005), and the two male sports presenters were publically dis-honoured, then hegemonic masculinity is surely shifting. However, whilst the challenge to prevailing gender relations is evident in this example, the limits to its success are equally apparent. Although the presenters had to leave Sky Sports, they were quickly offered a regular spot as commentators on another popular radio sports show ironically, in the light of the remarks above - Talk Sport, aimed at, and presented by men, and known for its traditional views about sport and masculinity. This is perhaps not surprising as many sports scholars have analysed how, in the face of challenges to masculine hegemony, sports talk’ shows, have become an ‘attractive venue for embattled White men seeking recreational repose and a nostalgic return to a pre-feminist ideal’ and thus operates to restore masculine hegemony (Nylund, 2004, p.139) In relation to our second example, whilst the English FA have caved into mounting pressure to slowly increase the age at which girls are officially

allowed to play in mixed teams, adult football is still strictly segregated (Caudwell, 2011b) x.

These shifts in gender relations can be understood within the notion of hegemonic masculinity itself. This is because the notion is embedded in the Gramscian idea that cultural hegemony is continually contested (by various counter-hegemonic forces) and therefore has to continually reinvent itself in order preserve its legitimacy and survive (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005). Indeed the term explicitly refers to the ways that gender relations are not static but are modified in practice and can differ according to the gender relation in a particular social setting (ibid, p.836).

Demetriou (2001) has described how hegemonic masculinities are continually negotiated, translated and reconfigured, illustrating how the ascendant gender is able to ‘appropriate’ what appears pragmatically useful and constructive for the project of domination at a particular historical moment’ (p.345). In contrast, what appear to beuseless or harmful elements’ are subordinated’ or ‘eliminated’ (ibid). This process of dialectical pragmatism’ secures the reproduction of dominant gender relations by making them appear flexible and reasonable. Thus in the above example, Sky Sports can be seen as ‘eliminating the two sexist presenters in order to demonstrate sports reasonableness and credibility. Rather than undermining the dominant gender order, this strategy preserves its legitimacy and ensures its

survivalxi.



Taking these insights into account, there is a danger that football initiatives to ‘engage menare concerned with re-working’ gender so men are able to perform gender within the boundaries of a revised and more acceptable masculinity. In other words, so they are able to retain a male sense of themselves but still feel able to ‘fit in’ or feel more comfortable within modern social relations. Here, locally hegemonic versions of masculinity can be used to promote self respect in the face of discredit’ (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005, p. 842). For example, it might mean cutting off the sharper edges’ or worst excesses’ of masculinity and allowing individual men limited expressions of emotionality. This clearly may have some important benefits for individual men (and indirectly, for women too). However, it is important to note that more flexible, hybrid and softer’ masculinities are not necessarily or inherently emancipatory. Arguably, they can actually mask enduring inequalities by making them harder to identify and challenge. Whilst this flexibility makes prevailing gender relations appear less oppressive and more egalitarian (ibid: p.355) it is actually pernicious because it casts the illusion that patriarchy has disappeared’ (Hennessy, in Demetriou, 2001, p.353):
It is its constant hybridization, its constant appropriation of diverse elements from various masculinities that makes the hegemonic bloc capable of reconfiguring itself and adapting to the specificities of new historical conjunctures...the masculinity that occupies the hegemonic position at a given historical moment is a hybrid bloc that incorporates diverse and apparently oppositional elements (Demetriou, 2001, pp 348-

349).



If, then, modern sport has evolved to respond to social changes that undermine the traditional base of male power and authority (Burton Nelson, 1994; Messner, 2007), football initiatives can be viewed as bolstering, not undermining, male privilege. If football is still seen as a preserve of male privilege, then, echoing Audre Lordes famous words, the masters tools will never dismantle the master’s house (Lorde, 1984). Indeed, football initiatives are not designed to dismantle the master’s house but perhaps to house more men within its walls. By using the language and modified practices of the powerful, even men who do not fit prevailing ideals of masculinity, can still find some solace in being part of a broader male culture that includes them.
This kind of cautionary analysis is necessary in order to staygrounded in - rather than distracted from or antithetical to feminist theory (McKay, el al; 2000; Caudwell, 2011b). However, pro-feminist sports theorists have also warned against an overly pessimistic analysis which writes the narrative in advance and follows the script of inevitable defeat’ (Rowe, 1998, p.248). In this context, it is important to note that hegemony in gender relations can be contested and can break down’ (Connell, 2002, p.89).
This was the element of optimism in an otherwise bleak theory [of hegemonic masculinity]. It was perhaps possible that a more humane, less oppressive, means of being a man might become hegemonic, as part of a process leading towards an abolition of gender hierarchies (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005, p.833),
Therefore, in the next section we move beyond critique to consider how football initiatives might actually contribute to this process to undermine (or at least not reinforce), dominant gender relations. In this way, we endorse the idea of criticality which moves beyond criticism and critique to ‘an emphasis on how situations are lived out in the present...of the possibilities of actualising some of its potential rather than just revealing its faults’ (Rogoff,

2003, p.3).



In the following section we outline the paradoxical place of football within wider social relations and tentatively explore how football-based interventions could operate as a potential

paradoxical space (Rose, 1993; Spandler, 2009) which subverts and resists dominant social relations.



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