Blame Patriarchy: Notes on Steubenville and "Jock Culture"


Rape isn't external to patriarchy - it is, in fact, its internal symbolic engine. Sex as violence; sex as dehumanization; sex as the rendering of the other into a thing. This is why the call to teach men "not to rape" is so ineffectual. It is no call to action. It isn't adequate to the imperative: Rape - because it's better than being raped. Rape, because that is, in fact, what makes you not a woman. Rape, dare I add, is something that men also do to each other.

In a feminist space, I imagine not a slap but a difficult, messy conversation - not between men, or between men and women - but between people negotiating gender and power. A conversation about what that joke was about. About what rhetorical work that young man imagined it would do in the service of his own power and authority - about what anxiety regarding his relationship to his teammates that joke was expressing.

In the story Zirin tells, there is no discussion. An action is committed on behalf of that woman. She doesn't figure in the story; the story isn't about her. It's a story about patriarchal authority (good and bad).

I wouldn't draw a line from Zirin's anecdote to the Steubenville thing were it not for the fact Zirin told the story in a story about Steubenville. Zirin is smart enough about sexism and sports to know that the world he's writing about (sports) it structured by sexism. Are we, collectively, feminist enough to know what it means to imagine a sports culture structured by something else?

The sociality of the sexual violence committed in the Steubenville case reminds us that these things are not about women: they are about men's relationship to each other, in which women - as objects of jokes and objects of violence - are used as props in a competition for power. This power, this authority is built on shame and fear. Teach men not to rape. What does that even mean if we don't make that lesson about how men relate to each other?

As I was thinking about this "jock culture" problem, I found myself talking to a woman who was asked to write about @SKCboobs - a Twitter account that solicits women MLS fans to broadcast pictures of their tits. (I have no idea if the account holder is a man or a woman.) That writer is a woman, asked by the guys she works with to write a story about this thing (because she has tits?).

She called and asked me what I thought of it.

Moralizing about what women do with their tits is not my idea of feminist sports writing. The media outlets that will cover Steubenville, or SKC Boobs give nothing to daily coverage of women's sports. That's what I think.

The media's idea of a women's sports story is a story about rape. Or a story about sexism. Or it is just a picture of tits presented as a story. The sports media's idea of a women's sports story does not express an ongoing commitment to the story of women's sports, it in fact expresses an ongoing commitment to NOT covering women's sports.

The whole conversation about "jock culture" and "rape culture" presumes a deeply segregated world in which one can separate men out from women and give them unique sets of instructions. 

Don't rape. Don't get raped.

Mainstream sports - football programs, sports networks, media outlets, regulatory bodies like the NCAA, the IOC and FIFA - turn patriarchy's root - the drawing of a line between man and woman, a line that marks the human and the not human - into the ritual and rite that we call "jock culture." That doesn't make jock culture the problem. It makes jock culture a tool.

How else to understand the "jocks" who pissed on a woman, and laughed about it? Who secured their bonds in relation to each other by joking "you don't sleep through a wang in the butthole" or "Finally saw a dead body." [Tweets captured as screenshots by blogger Alexandria Goddard.]

That behavior is not specific to sports. Would that it were so. Because then we could just get rid of football, and call it a day. 


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