Don Sabo, through a detailed examination of his experience as a sports person, specifically a footballer, has effectively underscored the patriarchal values attached to sports. He begins with a recollection of why he wanted to be a footballer as a child - the formative stage of life in which most future athletes learn to conform to patriarchal notions. The various reasons that Don lists for aspiring to be a footballer all lie in the realm of social acceptance at the cost of brutalizing his own body. For materialistic wishes like winning friends, being like the older boys, drawing attention to himself from the opposite sex, he was willing to endure excruciating pain while believing that pain was necessary to achieve his goals. It was an inevitable part of the game; his body was a sacrifice to achieve all that he wished to achieve.
Along with the normalization of enduring pain and inflicting it upon one’s opponents, Don also highlights the reality of climbing through the hierarchy of student-level sports - the inescapable bullying. He details his experiences as a newcomer in the game being picked on by the older, more experienced players; being pricked by thorns until his skin tore and bled, and various other forms of power-affiliated abuse. Throughout this process of climbing through the ranks in a sport, he explains, one is repeatedly socialized into believing that the pain and injury is a part of the game; that the opponent’s blood and broken bones were something to be proud of. He started believing that it was important to punish the other man even if it involved ignoring the pain he was inflicting upon himself. However, when Don ended his career as a jock at the age of 30, all the pain that he had undergone for decades took its toll on his body - he lived with constant back pain for seven years that required a surgical procedure called spinal infusion to heal. However, he describes his physical pain as not a tangible product of his brain. To him, physical pain is an illusion. Real pain, every individual’s pain, is a product of an external force - the people and the events occurring around them. This pain is that which is caused by the deep-seated patriarchal values in society and sports.
The concept of ‘manliness’ is invariably introduced when discussing the reality of enduring pain - ‘to survive pain is manly’. Don believes that when football coaches preach their ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy, they’re implying that pain is favourable and pleasure is unnecessary, and the athletes ingrain this belief due to its infamous repetition. A belief like this is extremely patriarchal in nature for it stifles men’s awareness of their own body’s needs and limits their emotional quotient. Boys are taught to channel their inner emotions of anxiety and stress (from striving so hard towards winning and success) into rage directed at those who oppose them. Rage in a sports setting often translates into male domination in every social scenario of life. Don classifies male hegemony into two aspects of patriarchy - that which in which women are the victims, and that of inter-male dominance. The motivation behind men becoming male supremacists is the ecstasy and masculine excellence that was instilled in them as boys. Male supremacy further enforces patriarchal values and belittles its victims.
Through a dialectic approach, Don has presented his readers with a grassroots explanation of one of the first social evils that plague our society. If you’re Indian, you will have vivid recollections of your school’s P.E. coach voicing out blatant sexism like ‘Ladki ki tarah kyu khel raha hai? (Why are you playing like a girl?)’, or the painfully insensitive ‘Mard ko dard nahi hota (Males don’t feel pain).’ These very patriarchal values that Don has emphasized within football are in fact present in every aspect of an Indian youth’s formative years. The majority of these students (and athletes and almost every other child) receive little to no education that is devoid of factors of traditional socialization. Furthermore, in a research sponsored by UNESCO that investigated gender bias in textbooks, it was found that State boards and NCERT textbooks both portray women in subservient roles, while men are illustrated as the strong, proud breadwinners for their families (Blumberg, 2008).
The Indian education system is quite evidently the same as it was decades ago. Even as the country progresses in every sphere possible, and the adults are somewhat sensitized to the values we’ve been incorporating into ourselves, the youth of this country start by learning fundamental social concepts in their educational atmosphere. To effectively diminish the influence of patriarchal notions in our society, we need to start by introducing a revolutionary change in the education imparted to the future of this nation.
Blumberg, R. L. (2008). Gender bias in textbooks: a hidden obstacle on the road to gender equality in education. Paper commissioned for the EFA Global Monitoring Report.
Image Credit: Esquire
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