Rugby culture does not have to be a toxic dump of bigotry

Sigh.

Chiefs players also hired a stripper on the night one of them was caught chanting a homophobic slur toward teammates.

Franchise bosses have confirmed a stripper was engaged by players for their post-season get-together at a Waikato hot pool and said he was “Very disappointed” and conceded the two incidents weren’t a good look for the professional sports franchise.

I agree. It’s not a “good look”. But not for any of the reasons Chiefs CEO Andrew Flexman thinks.

Because the problem is not, in fact, “the Chiefs hired a stripper.” Hiring a stripper, taboo and saucy as it may seem, is a very common, dare one say “normal” part of Western culture.

The problem is that the Chiefs hired a stripper, then crossed her professional and personal boundaries – and yes, those boundaries are still valid, even more valid, for sex workers.

And there’s a wider problem, but it’s not “the Chiefs hired a stripper, which is embarrassing and unprofessional, the very same night Michael Allardice was a homophobic git to his teammates, which got bad headlines.”

The wider problem is that the Chiefs in particular, and our rugby culture in general, has been (once again) exposed as a hotbed of sexism, homophobia, and small-minded bigotry.

What we’re dealing with here is the concept of toxic masculinity. No, it doesn’t mean “all masculinity is toxic” or “all men are sexist pigs”; it’s a very specific set of assumptions and attitudes which are incredibly harmful to everyone in a society. A few completely random examples of these attitudes are:

  • Real Men are heterosexual.
  • Real Men are sexually aggressive.
  • The worst thing that could happen to a Real Man is for someone to think he’s weak. Or gay.
  • Therefore, a Real Man will treat women, especially sex workers, as objects rather than human beings.
  • And also deflect attention and undermine other men by implying they’re gay, especially if they engage in non-strictly-masculine behaviour.

selena gomez just saying

Now, people may say “oh, nobody at the Chiefs intended to reinforce awful narrow-minded notions about women, masculinity, sex work and sexuality” but those people need to re-read the excuse Andrew Flexman came up with to excuse his players’ obnoxious behaviour:

But Flexman strongly denied the allegations of improper behaviour, saying the franchise had independent witnesses who saw nothing untoward toward the woman.

“You have got to remember this is one person’s accusation and her standing in the community and culpability is not beyond reproach,” Flexman said.

“Her standing in the community is not beyond reproach.” On what basis does he make this judgement call? Well, obviously. She’s a stripper. Not a real human being who can be trusted to say whether or not her professional and personal boundaries were transgressed.

It’s the basic sexual double standard. Women who strip for money? Deviant, unworthy of protection or dignity. The men who pay money to watch a woman strip? Phwoar, yeah, red-blooded, pure testosterone, etc.

Men who use homophobic slurs and abuse sex workers? Especially when they’re rugby-playing men? Well, look, obviously it’s not a good look or anything but obviously nothing serious happened. They were just doing what Real Men do.

You can see this whole attitude reflected in the article. “Chiefs in hot water” – not “Chiefs players disgrace themselves”. Why? “Over stripper fracas”. Not “Over acting like pigs.” Not “By assaulting a sex worker.” This headline practically screams, “this is not a serious story.” Its subtext is simple: sure, yes, the PC Brigade are going to complain but there’s no big story here, it’s just a little PR boo-boo.

Still, maybe we should hold judgement until that well-known arbiter of sexism in sport, unrepentant convicted abuser Tony Veitch, gives us his two cents on the matter.

Like the headline says: our rugby culture does not have to be a toxic pool of radioactive misogyny and homophobia. It is entirely possible to enjoy sport, or play sport, as a competitive athletic endeavour of teamwork and skill and not act like a pack of vicious insecure bullies. Men don’t have to prove they’re Real Men through aggressively signalling “I AM A PERFECTLY NORMAL HETEROSEXUAL” by groping sex workers and shouting homophobic slurs.

There’s no such thing as one true model of A Real Man.

But if there were, it wouldn’t look like Andrew Flexman or his sad little rugby team.

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4 thoughts on “Rugby culture does not have to be a toxic dump of bigotry

  1. *sigh*

    Beginning to hate living in Hamilton, if it’s not the rampant sexism & homophobia, it’s the racism.
    Whole bloody city was founded on genocide in 1864.

  2. If Toni Veitch weighs in I will make a complaint to the Herald. It’s hard to believe he is still somehow publishable, never mind as an opinion writer.

  3. Media in NZ (and other countries) has a huge problem with victim blaming women for the crimes committed against them. I wish we could have as close to un-biased reporting as possible.

  4. I think you are more optimistic that me. Rugby represents a cultural fault line in New Zealand. Enabling toxic bigots is one of the main reasons it exists as a force in our society.

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