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Football, fighting and feminism: some traps for men today

By Peter West - posted Friday, 4 July 2014


The latest Todd Carney incident is too awful to describe in any decent online journal. Let's just say that here we have yet another incident of Rugby League footballers behaving badly- and the results are all over the newspapers and TV and Facebook. Football is just one of the "Fs" that trap men today and take them into perilous waters.

So let's start with the first of them - Football. Time and again, footballers seem to be held up as some kind of beacon for men. When I talk about boys' problems in school, quite commonly parents or teachers will say "Bring in a footballer". When we celebrate Fathers' Day, footballers are trotted out with their mums and their kids as some kind of models to be admired. The awful phrase 'role model' is used far too often – as if anyone would want their son to grow up like one of these guys. Really? We might want kids to learn something from Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, Nick Kyrgios, or Pat Rafter. We've had so many athletes caught out behaving badly that I hesitate to mention Usain Bolt or Lance Armstrong…. (no, I think not)….. And as for Mike Tyson or Tiger Woods, enough said already.

Some of the stars of soccer ("football" to most of the world) have their act together a bit better than the bad boys of Rugby League. David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo seem to be smart fellows. But we might do better to hold up other achievers: scientists, astro-physicists, poets, authors. Some of the movie stars like Matt Damon seem to have some credibility. Kylie Minogue would be a better role model for kids of either sex than most footballers, and yes, I have noticed that she's a woman.

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The problem for men today is where to stand and who to support. We've said enough about footballers. Fighting is another F trap for men. It's still true that boys will fight physically, in playgrounds and yards, while girls mostly sit and communicate; and learn how to complain that their male friends don't. Governments are clearly concerned about Middle Eastern males – even of 17 or so - going off to fight in Iraq or Iran. And returning to Brisbane or Melbourne, primed-up with venomous hatred of the West and aflame with fanatical Muslim intentions.

We expect men – because they are men- to fight in wars whenever they begin. Except in Israel, where apparently, women fight as well. But one must add that there are articles online suggesting that they are less than equal when it comes to the risk of sudden death. That's a man's privilege, apparently.

Masculinity, violence, death and war have been too often joined together. And pity help any guy who wants to resist. There are horror stories of men who refused to fight in the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Apparently, the rest had to choose to kill or be killed. And even (I've heard) to rape or be raped.

There are many of us who abhor violence and feel physically sick when we watch a movie like Twelve Years a Slave. What choices do we have? How easily can we stand aside and not take part in violence on the street or on the battlefield?

Meanwhile, the third F shows men another minefield: that of Feminism. Men are written about daily. Someone will write a silly article about speedos, or boardshorts, or some other piece of apparel. Some journalist starts with David Beckham, finds one or two men a bit like him and invents a word that allegedly describes where men are going. Pages and pages of the magazines, journals and papers are devoted to feminist views of the world. Women novelists, women composers, all about women. How women can be healthier ( many or most health sections and TV segments on health are run by women, apparently). How women are held back (by men). And what's wrong with men, again.

I've heard journalists raving fearlessly on this subject, one making bizarre generalizations based on one or two men she saw in Double Bay (a wealthy suburb known fondly as "Double Pay"). Women comment on, analyse and criticize men every day without much fear of contradiction. And as soon as you see someone doing something dumb on TV, it's a man. We now have ads in NSW showing men littering, with a woman frowning at them. It's no way to impress a woman, it seems. Yawn… The sexism in such ads is so common it doesn't get noticed.

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But pity help any man who wants to criticize women. He must be gay, misogynist, weird, or sexually depraved. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to make any compliment to a woman in many circles without checking yourself a couple of times first. Does this sound sexist? Can I tell this woman she looks nice in that dress? Can I somehow invite her to have a meal with me, without raising expectations and seeing frowns? No wonder that many men sound so guarded, avoiding anything controversial in public discourse and happy to talk mainly about sport or cars.

We can rely on the media to make the silliest comments about gender (and what we really mean is sex: "gender" is a grammatical term). The most outrageous statements are made about men, and listened to solemnly. The ABC is one of the worst offenders. Nobody ever seems to ask the angriest feminists "on what sample are these comments based?" Or "What experiences have you had which made you sound like this?" Or "are there any other opinions among women which are different from yours?" Too often, thoughtful men talking carefully about their experiences are "balanced" by allowing us to hear from some woman soured by her experience and angry at men in general. Feminism reigns unchallenged in most university departments of sociology, education and history. And to be fair, there are certainly men who are willing to condemn in a silly way "women drivers", "women writers", and so on.

There are millions of ordinary decent people who love, or like and enjoy having men and women in their lives. I'm glad to be one of them. But we always seem to hear from the extremists. Well might Yeats say

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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