After reading Bruce Kidd’s article Sports and Masculinity, which I discussed in my previous blog, I wanted to conduct my own research with my readership. The results of my poll were interesting, and I received feedback that I didn’t expect. What follows are the results to each question of the poll I conducted last week on perceived masculinity within sport. 100 men answered my questions, giving a small but not altogether unsubstantial pool of correspondents (my sources tell me that 30 people is enough to substantiate a real statistical survey, so go us!). I assume that the majority of them come from the skiing world, which will give us insight into how Nordic skiing itself perceives and perpetuates the idea of masculinity within the framework of American society.
Question: When did you begin participating in sport?
56% Before kindergarten
41% Elementary/Middle school
1% High School
1% I don’t play sports
I started with this question to gather what proportion of responses came from men who have at one point in their lives participated in sport. 99%. Great. Moving on.
Question: A competitor fouls you/cuts you off/cheats. How do you react?
37% Shrug it off. That’s sport.
22% Let the organizers deal with it.
14% Profanity. All kinds of profanity.
4% Approach him after the event.
Of the “other responses” I got a couple of all-of-the-aboves, as well as a couple of never-happened-to-mes. The majority of answers were surprisingly passive. 37% of people taking the poll said that they would shrug off a competitor cheating or fouling them. Perhaps that says more about our perception of sport than it does our athletes. Such an answer entails that sport is inherently susceptible to cheating, that said cheating should be expected, almost accepted.
In his article, Kidd depicts the perception of sport to be warlike. He writes how men understand competition to be battle-like, which explains why so many men (59%) would not approach a cheater directly. Apparently, all’s fair in love and war. And sport.
Question: Do you follow a football/baseball/basketball team?
33% One or two of the three.
18% I don’t watch sports.
14% Yes. All three. All the time.
13% I watch, but I don’t follow.
13% If there are nachos involved, probably.
Of the ‘other’ responses, most of them asserted that they do watch/follow sports, but not any of the three that I designated. With this question, I wanted to get a feel for how important watching sports is to the American social climate. The nachos answer, in particular, fished for social implications. I mean, what’s more social than nachos? The answer indicated that if a social situation calls for sports, then the person will likely indulge in athletics for the sake of that social situation.
I was surprised by the number of people who do not watch sports, 18%. Granted, that leaves 82% of men who do watch sport, which is an overwhelming majority. From my experience, if nothing else, men can bond over their sports teams. If two of them cheer for the same one, their far more likely to become friends. If not, at least they’ll have something to talk about (endlessly, regardless of the season). Kidd chalks such social trends up to men looking to reinforce the gender divide. He writes, “They rehearse and strengthen this positional masculinity in activities that accentuate male-female differences.”I’m not sold on that analysis, that men use sport as a social excluder towards women, but perhaps such a use is a passive result of a social climate rather than an active blight against women.
Question: When preparing for a competition, what word best describes your competitors?
In this question, I was trying to gather to what extent male athletes view their competitors in negative terms. Pete Vordenberg just posted an incredible article about how our competitors should be people we work with not against. In theory, that was the idea of the Modern Olympic movement, to come together. However, a warlike motif has been impressed upon the world of athletics, painting competitions as battles, rather than cooperations. Kidd argues that such depictions of sport encourage athletes to “treat each other as enemies to be intimidated and brutalized,” a system that effectively annihilates emotional literacy amongst men.
The majority of the men who answered my poll responded that their competitors are ‘challenges,’ which is a much lighter term than enemy (12%), but still a far reach from partner (8%). One ‘other’ response stated that his competitors are his friends, which leans towards the argument Bruce Kidd makes that athletics should evolve into a system of artwork in which “athletes are part antagonist, part partner.”
Question: Why are athletics valuable?
42% The values they teach (responsibility, motivation, hard work)
11% They’re fun to watch and play
10% They create community
3% Preparation for life skills
Kidd argues that while Pierre de Coubertin designed the Modern Olympic movement under the veil of community and global progress, his real reasons were to better prepare men for their roles at work and home. He writes that Coubertin and his contemporaries “consciously regarded sports as educational, preparing boys and young men for careers in business, government, colonial administration and the military by instilling physical and mental toughness, obedience to authority and loyalty to the ‘team.'”
I posed this question in order to see if men still regarded athletics as a preparatory necessity. I intentionally left out an “All of the above” answer to trick people into choosing one field, however, the majority of my “other” responders used that as their answer. Only three percent of respondents directly associated athletics with life skills, but 42% liked the appeal to sport through value statement (responsibility, motivation, hard work). Overall, however, I think that Coubertin’s associations of sport to work are beginning to fade, but not nearly enough to be disregarded for the purposes of this course.
Question: What’s the best part about winning?
40% Knowing I belong in that competition
36% Being the best, duh.
4% The chicks (or dudes, your preference)
0% Standing highest on the podium
This question was another results of my own curiosities about the social importance of athletics and masculinity in American culture. The responses played out just as I’d hoped (love when that happens). 40% of my respondents said that the best part about winning was a feeling of belonging. Of the 18% of ‘other’ responses, a great deal of them had to do with validation, self esteem and satisfaction with hard work paying off. This question, above all, speaks to how America has built a culture of winning that takes precedence over the value of competing. Men in particular, must validate their emotional attachment to athletics by being the best, otherwise they’re seen as weak or wasting their time.
I’ve already shown you this video, but I think Jerry says it best:
Question 6: You’re lifting in a gym and a person you’re attracted to walks in, does you workout change?
40% A little
11% Yes, I try to do whatever makes me look jacked.
0% Yes, I leave.
Question: Now, a strong man walks in. Does your workout change?
24% A little
4% Yes, I try do more of whatever makes me look jacked.
1% Yes, I leave.
I designed these final questions in order to compare how men react to women in an athletic arena against how they react to other men. While my intentions may have been painfully transparent, the questions yielded interesting results. In a culture where we sexualize nearly everything, 51% of respondents would adjust their workout in some way when in the presence of someone to whom they are attracted.
When the situation changed a bit (instead of an ambiguous attractive person a ‘strong man’ enters the scene) the majority of men said that their workout would not change (66%). However, 33% of respondents would change their workout in some way, proving that the reminder of the American masculine ideal would affect their approach to sport.
This survey was just the start of my study of the effects of masculinity in American sports culture, and while that is not the only trend I want to investigate this semester, it certainly is an important one to understanding how we build our society around sport. Thank you to all of the men who responded to my survey, and I invite anyone who didn’t get the chance to join in the conversation by posting responses below!
Disclaimer: I write these particular entries as part of my academic study in American sports culture. Such a study requires me to be both analytical and critical. If you disagree with what I write, please, 1) finish reading, 2) decide why you disagree, and 3) post a comment! Start a conversation! I want to learn from you and hope that you learn from me. Also, I tried not to make the writing over-academic…but, you know, college. Let me know if you have any questions, if I can, I’ll give you my most expert non-expert answer.
Kidd, Bruce. Sports and Masculinity. Sport and Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics. Vol.16. No.4. Accessed 25 Feb. 2014.