By Prof. Timothy Curry
A profeminist perspective was employed to study male bonding in the locker rooms of two “big time” college sport teams. Locker room talk fragments were collected over the course of several months by a participant observer, a senior varsity athlete, and by a nonparticipant observer, a sport sociologist. Additional data were collected by means of field observations, intensive interviews, and life stories and were combined to interpret locker room interaction. The analysis indicated that fraternal bonding was strongly affected by competition. While competition provided an activity bond to other men that was rewarding and status enhancing, it also generated anxiety and other strong emotions that the athletes sought to control or channel. Moreover peer group dynamics encouraged antisocial talk and behavior, much of which was directed at the athletes themselves. To avoid being targeted for jibes and put-downs, the men engaged in conversations that affirmed a traditional masculinity. As a result their locker room talk generally treated women as objects, encourage sexist attitudes toward women and, in its extreme, promoted rape culture.
By Prof. Michael Messner
By the mid-Twentieth Century in the U.S., a dominant ideology of natural, categorical differences between women and men was an organic part of the unequal distribution of women and men into domestic and public realms, especially in middle class families. Sport was a key site for the naturalization of this ideology, which I call “hard essentialism.” Since the 1970s, an explosion of female athletic participation mirrored the movement of women into the professions, leading scholars to examine sport as a terrain of contested gender relations. This paper extends that discussion by positing a four-part periodization of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic gender ideologies, stretching from the mid-Twentieth Century to the present. Touching down empirically on contemporary professional class youth sport coaches’ views of children and gender, I identify an ascendant gender ideology I call “soft essentialism.” I argue that youth sports has become a key site for the construction of soft essentialist narratives that appropriate the liberal feminist language of “choice for girls, but not for boys, thus serving to recreate and naturalize class-based gender asymmetries and inequalities. I end by outlining emergent strategies that spring from the contradictions of soft essentialism.