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Social views of masculinity related to sport

By Bryan E. Denham

This is an excerpt from Sociology of Sport and Social Theory, edited by Earl Smith.

Writing about gender representations in the context of Major League Baseball, Trujillo (1991) cited pitcher Nolan Ryan as a consummate representation of hegemonic masculinity, noting that Ryan approached each outing in a stoic, workmanlike manner. Relying on his own training regimen, Ryan stayed in excellent physical condition during his career and held himself to the highest standards. In this vein, Hatty (2000) has suggested that independence and self-reliance largely define the modern self: "Dependence, from a Western perspective, is an indicator of developmental immaturity or emotional deficiency. It is also closely associated with femininity and the normalized status of womanhood" (11). Writing about gender construction in the context of bodybuilding, Klein (1993) noted similarly that "the view of men as pressure-treated, as strong, dominant, independent, and unemotional, tacitly assumes that women are weak, subservient, dependent, and emotional" (238).

In competitive sport, male athletes who appear to lack aggressiveness and "intestinal fortitude" may find themselves labeled a "pansy" or a "queer" by their coaches and teammates. A man, after all, is inherently aggressive yet cool under pressure, leads others by example, and is strictly heterosexual. Hatty (2000) has noted that sport offers a vehicle for reproducing dominant conceptions of masculinity by alleviating fears of feminization among middle-class men, and for their part the mass media foster this process by providing visual cues to audience members-the kinds of cues that Messner, Dunbar, and Hunt (2000) cited as part of the "televised sports manhood formula."

"Homophobia is crucial to the definition of masculinity," Leach (1994) suggested, "as it rules out men as potential objects of emotional or sexual attachment. Consequently, homophobia operates to reinforce oppressive heterosexual themes, such as male competition for legitimate sex objects (women)" (37). In recent decades, as women have become more independent, heterosexual men have become increasingly focused on physical appearance (Hoberman 2005). Hatty (2000), in fact, has described how male body ideals-broad shoulders, muscular chest and arms, and a narrow waist-lead to an achievement-oriented approach to masculinity. It takes work to build such a body, and the men who do so often view muscular development as a way to define themselves and prove their worth (Kimmel 1996). As Luciano (2001) argued, with a steady increase of women in the workplace during the latter half of the 20th century, heterosexual men realized they could no longer rely on the "breadwinner ethic" to attract a spouse. Consequently, large numbers of men built large, muscular bodies and became somewhat hypermasculine around women. In short, what men lost in the workplace, they looked to regain through their musculature.

Capraro (2000) shed light on the problems that can arise when daily life becomes too much of a performance. Citing work by scholars such as Pleck (1981) and O’Neil (1990), Capraro discussed "gender role strain," which refers to tension between the actual self and the gendered, idealized self. In attempting to meet the expectations of others, Capraro explained, many men perform a role steeped in hegemonic masculinity, but in performing that role they invariably experience a certain amount of strain or conflict. With strain and conflict may come feelings of inadequacy and depression, which in turn may precipitate self-destructive behavior and self-medication in the form of substance use. As Capraro pointed out, "manly" activities, such as drinking copious amounts of alcohol, actually offer a short-term sense of power to men who otherwise lack it.

For purposes of the current chapter, then, it is essential to note that idealized forms of masculinity do not necessarily lead to satisfaction in life (Connell 1995; Connell and Messerschmidt 2005); indeed, in many cases, the pursuit of the perfect body or persona may detract from happiness and satisfaction. As Messner (1987) explained in the context of sport, the majority of men will never succeed to the extent that they believe they need to, and thus a socially constructed definition of success, especially one grounded in athletic excellence and physical perfection, can generate feelings of failure and lower self-image. Similarly, Connell (1995) stated, "The constitution of masculinity through bodily performance means that gender is vulnerable when the performance cannot be sustained-for instance, as a result of physical disability" (54).


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The above excerpt is from:

Sociology of Sport and Social Theory

Sociology of Sport and Social Theory

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Sociology of Sport and Social Theory

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