Sunday, October 4, 1998
Football as male politics
THE World Cup soccer is over. A World War of sorts, doubling as an organised playtime, and unleashing a mass obsessional neurosis which blurred the popular vision. One thing that went unobserved was the blatant marginalisation of women in this spectacle. The nationalist frenzy clouded this most evident gap in the World Cup. Though Olympics also hold more than twice as many events for men as for women, the exclusionary politics of football is peculiar and demands a radical enquiry.
In its essential characteristics, football is a male practice. The gendered nature of football perpetuates the sexual division of labour and thus it can be situated as a prominent figure in the discourse of male hegemony. The loud absence of women and all that society associates with her, makes football exceed its function as a mere sport and assumes political dimensions.
Every sport is the process of embodiment of human person. The self of the sportsperson is the self as defined by the performance of the bodily excellence. Football shows an exceptional urge to excel through the body which is, necessarily, a male body. Football, due to its particular mechanism and lore, is a celebration of male body and, by the same act, goes to discredit the female body.
The parlance or jargon fostered by media and the aficionados shows the gendered nature of the game. The words smashed, bulldozed, hammered, fired, clash, chase, possession, shoot out, etc. used while reporting a football match, betray the male aggression resonating in the game. Football as a discursive configuration provides meaning to the sense of the self of the male by directing him to position himself against the female.
Speed and skill are two defining elements in the game which perpetuate the narratives of male aggression. Speed is the desire to appropriate the field and skill to manipulate people and objects in that field. These two elements make the game a space for acting out the impulses of domination.
The ball is the plaything that actuates the game. Ball is an anxiety-provoking object which is to be mastered. Two teams dont play against each other as much as they compete to conquer the ball. The game is more an interaction between a player and the ball than between two teams. Ball provokes anxiety because of its inflated rotundity which makes it elusive. It inheres an element of chance. It defies definition on account of being round, it does not start or end anywhere. It is actually playful.
The highly playful character of the ball provokes anxiety in a player who has lost his playspirit because of excessive regimentation and systematisation of the game. He is left with the speed, the skill and his psychic impulses. His so-called play is an attempt to have the ball yield to his masculine energy. The ball, with its various dimensions, evokes feelings in a player which are very much similar to the morbid fear of female sexuality in men.
Goal is the political achievement of football. Goal is the final surrender of the ball and the ultimate assertion of masculine will. The great moments in football are the valourisation of male domineering instincts. The cheering spectators, media hype, fan-following all contribute to and legitimise this symbolic representation of male conquest.
Rules, regulations, expertise and professionalism endow a kind of rationality on this bizarre game and help it pass as an innocently apolitical practice.
The origin of football also affirms the aggression that operates in the game. The game came in vogue when a victorious group of soldiers playfully kicked the skulls littering the war-field. Later, the game was sanitised by introducing a ball in it.
It flourished in Britain under the project of eugenics preparing boys to consolidate a nation that is going to conquer the whole world. Public schools played a great role in masculinising the boys by privileging football as the most important part of school education.
The football games in the schools were seen as preliminaries to the British conquests abroad. Football remained exclusively a male preserve. Its incorporation in the educational system led to the formation of boorish and sexist subcultures which thrived on the ideas of male sexual conquest. Football was considered to inculcate in boys leadership, courage, team spirit and stamina, the personality traits necessary for a good citizen. The alliance of football with the discourses of citizenship and the state made it instrumental in masculinising a whole nation.
Football is a cryptic contribution to the prevalent mechanisms of marginalisation of women. The enthusiastic presence of spectators both make it a ritual and grant legitimacy to it. It is the deep wish for society to retain its structures of female subjugation that constructs hysteria, hype and festivity around football.
Football as the carnivalesque underlines the western mans urge to propagate at least the symbols of male domination in the face of massive female resistance in the West during past few decades.
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