How toxic masculinity plays on men’s emotions when watching sports
My friend came up to me the other day and started talking to me about her boyfriend’s sports-watching habits. She said that he becomes so violent when his team loses, that he has to take a 30-minute break before being able to have a conversation with her where he will not be verbally aggressive or loud.
How do I respond?
The short answer would be: send him to therapy. The long one is what I’m trying to unpack in this article.
This got me thinking about the culture of sports and how it ties into men and their emotions.
I love the idea of a community coming together to show support for a sports team, which is an important part of our culture and identity as a population.
In a digital age where we tend to not know our neighbour, literally and figuratively, sports can be a way for people to find communities, as they’re linked with territorial identification. Go Habs go, am I right?
But, was I the only one growing up scared of walking in front of a screen hypnotizing a group of men, or worse, to stereotypically ask them if they wanted another beer or more chicken wings in the fear of getting yelled at?
In a study on football hooliganism, six features are identified in the culture of sports and violence: “excitement and pleasurable emotional arousal, hard masculinity, territorial identifications, individual and collective management of reputation, a sense of solidarity and belonging, and representations of sovereignty and autonomy.”
As a sports fan myself, I understand the feeling of your favourite team winning. But I still cringe at the over-the-top reactions from men watching sports — whether it’s getting up from the couch to scream at the screen or making comments out loud on certain athletes’ performances as if they could hear them. Sometimes they even hug, but only because they’ve been made to believe that this is an acceptable time to show physical affection to another man.
If you’re having a hard time picturing what I’m describing, I’ll refer you to this Pepsi and Lay’s 2003 commercial where four men are watching a football game, taking touching each other in the slightest way too much to heart; but after a touchdown, they break into an orgy of hugs, butt slaps and grabs on the couch.
I won’t get into too much of a rant on homoeroticism and men’s sports, but in what other circumstances have you seen heterosexual men grab each other’s butts than in a football league?
In an even surprising yet probable instance, they also cry.
This cleverly goes against the way patriarchy brainwashes boys from a young age to think that their emotions are not valid or, at least, shouldn’t be shown in public.
Even male athletes crying or showing emotions that are deemed too “feminine” is accepted by society as the context of sports somehow gives it a stamp of masculine approval.
I’m not just saying that from personal experience.
In their study, Heather J. MacArthur from the department of psychology at Hamilton College presented participants with different scenarios of men and women crying in different contexts that were stereotypically masculine, such as firefighting and weightlifting, or stereotypically feminine like nursing and figure skating.
The results showed that men who cried during sports or professions that were deemed masculine were perceived as more emotionally appropriate and emotionally strong than the ones who cried in more stereotypically feminine settings.
Now I’m all for men showing their emotions. It’s just sad that they need an entire sports league in order to do so.
It somehow makes sense why men would cry watching sports because it’s something they are taught to care about.
After all, according to Michael Messner et.al.’s Televised Sports Manhood Formula, “boys are taught that paying the price, be it one’s bodily health or one’s money, gives one access to the privileges that have been historically linked to hegemonic masculinity — money, power, glory, and women.”
In their study, Messner also identified a link between violence and sports as he states that the stereotype of aggressive players getting the prize, and nice guys finishing last is impacting young boys’ views.
This is what concerns me the most about men watching sports.
Although Professor Daniel Wann attributes sports fan aggression mainly to alcohol consumption, he also points out that a personal identification to the team is an extension of the fan himself.
With that narrative, a sports fan watching their favourite team lose can be seen as a personal failure, or even worse, a personal attack from the winning team.
That is where the violence comes in.
Although I don’t personally feel the need to identify with a team so much that it would define who I am, I understand if that’s what someone else is into (though I might cringe a little).
It’s just frustrating as a woman to always be told that our emotions are uncontrollable, when men will flip a table or be verbally aggressive out of the blue because some other men in uniforms’ bodies did not perform well enough.
So now, what do I tell my friend? That her boyfriend is just another victim of patriarchy and that his handling of his emotions is just a result of that? No, that’s much too academic and pointless to be honest.
However, it’s the real answer that I found in my research. Even though it’s no small task, we need to address the general attitudes on gender dynamics and sports before ever getting to the case of my friend’s boyfriend.