Man up (2)

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‘…[a] cynical set of institutional fetishes that rewards unhealthy behavior.’

Is how Grantland staff writer Brian Phillips describes the hyper-masculine culture of  ‘hazing’ – common to competitive sport and the military – that he so eloquently critiques in the above piece. Now, I’ll admit right off the bat that I know dick about Football in general or the NFL in particular. But the kinds of behaviour described, if not the specifics, then in general feel familiar: the toeing of a party line; the adherence to hierarchy; the pain and injustice swallowed by silence; the propensity for dealing with issues ‘in house’ in order to obfuscate wider political ramifications…

(Similar if not identical patterns of behaviour can be observed in other institutions: Phillips mentions the military; one might also bring up the family; schools and universities; corporations… In arenas such as high-level competitive sport and the military, even basically liberal-minded observers can be tempted to swallow the necessity of byzantine codes of ‘discipline’; justify inhumane means in the name of its universally-desirable ends.)

The word ‘gender’ doesn’t crop up until the penultimate paragraph, but that’s exactly what Phillips is interrogating from the start; and whilst it’s very much (hyper)-masculinity under the spotlight, the slippery slope from locker room shenanigans to naked hostility and violence  – ‘hazing creep’, so-called – parallels a process and a template more widely-applicable to systems of hierarchy in general. Whilst reading Phillips‘ piece, a quote from radical environmentalist Lierre Keith sprang to mind:

‘I have spent three decades fighting male violence … I believe that a social system of male domination starts with human beings who are biologically male or female and creates two social classes of people: men and women. Socialization to either group can be a brutal process.

Men are made by socialization to masculinity. Being a man requires a psychology based on emotional numbness and a dichotomy of self and other. This is also the psychology required by soldiers, which is why I don’t think you can be a peace activist without being a feminist.

Female socialization is a process of psychologically constraining and breaking girls—otherwise known as “grooming”—to create a class of compliant victims. Femininity is a set of behaviors that are, in essence, ritualized submission. (my emphases)

The point of extending the quote to describe socialization to femininity serves both as contrast and comparison. Keith alludes to other types of ‘classist’ behaviour in her letter (which you can read in full here) and whilst not precisely equating them, points up commonalities:

‘…my position on race and class[:] … [t]he categories are not natural: they only exist because hierarchical systems of power create them (see, for instance, Audrey Smedley’s book Race in North America). I want a world of justice and equality, where the material conditions that currently create race, class, and gender have been forever overcome…’

It’s part of the class (gender) contract that men ought not only be prepared to wield but also field the ultimate sanction; the administration of violence – don’t dish it out if you can’t take it, as it were – and those that are unable or unwilling are tarred with the same brush and demeaned with slurs which, at least symbolically relegate them to a lower class. It’s not insignificant that Incognito invokes racist and sexist language when he excoriates and humiliates Martin via Twitter. The function of ‘hazing’ within a closed group in some respects resembles the ‘grooming’ that that groups performs on subordinate ones.

Phillips‘ polemic links to Matt Ufford‘s SB Nation piece, which whilst perhaps betraying a certain naïvité – the military’s policies work then? Radical analysts of Keith‘s stripe might well argue that responding to class violence with institutional policy simply replaces noise for silence as a means of obscuring the problem – yielded the following somewhat perceptive comment (from jbacon55)

‘First, anything that is both compulsory and non-beneficial for the present purpose … violates notions of human freedom and dignity we all hold dear.

Second, what may seem trivial to many could be deeply damaging to another. To many, singing in front of the team is fun and builds memories. To others, especially those with something like social anxiety disorder, that can be the stuff of nightmares. Singing karaoke neither makes you a good football player nor is it a test of some requisite skill.

Third, in authority-subordinate relationships permission can be a fiction. The forces of peer pressure among the subordinates combined with the implied or explicit influence of the authorities render it impossible to truly get someone’s permission to do something with any certainty.

Fourth, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, this kind of behavior creates that authority/subordinate relationship among teammates. Surely veterans should be in a place of authority when it comes to football matters, but otherwise it’s best for the team if it’s members are exactly that: teammates. Bonds are formed by shared hardship and mutual respect. Even “light” hazing violates that and can even render it impossible.’  (my emphases)

Reading his/her first and forth comments together one can infer a truth that (male) institutions are perennially loath to admit, to wit; the ‘present purpose’ is to create authority/subordinate relationship(s) [by means of] violating notions of human freedom and dignity. So long as such relationships (in which, as addressed in point three permission can be a fiction) exist, said purpose is forever the present purpose. The substance of jbacon55‘s comment echoes Keith‘s somewhat, even if she/he stops short of denouncing hierarchy as unnatural.

‘Hazing’, incidentally, is a moderately-popular sub-genre in (mostly American) mainstream pornography; notable if only that it highlights the sexual component – by some measure more observable in men – in hierarchical subordination. In popular parlance, pornification, but historically – and to reiterate Phillips – fetish(ising) by any other name: an all too frequently inhuman means to an all too frequently inhuman end.

[An] emotional numbness and a dichotomy of self and other.

Man up.

Woman down.

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