The Blackhawks, Masculinity Studies and Socialism

By Judith Kegan Gardiner

As I walked to my Chicago neighborhood grocery store in late June, the streets were filled with people wearing red and black clothing. Crowds in a holiday mood spilled out of bars and partied in the streets.  Many people wore shirts depicting a stereotyped Native American man wearing face paint and feathers, that is, the insignia of the Chicago Blackhawks, which had just won the Stanley Cup trophy of the National Hockey League. Over a million fans reportedly gathered to celebrate the victory.

As someone who has helped organize smaller rallies for peace, strike support and my campus union, I marveled at such enthusiasm for these large, well-coordinated, well-paid, mostly white male ice skaters.

Left analyses of events like this often dwell on sports as big business and sometimes discuss the functions of professional sports in capitalist America as ways of selling tickets, advertising and branded merchandise while distracting people from economic inequality. Here I want to extend this discussion through the dimension of gender theory and particularly that of masculinity studies. 

That professional sports, in particular hockey, are a male preserve is a fact so obvious that it rarely gets analyzed. In this respect hockey resembles warfare, prison populations and the upper reaches of major corporations, all areas of modern life that take for granted the near exclusion of women and the naturalization of norms and ideals connected with masculinity. 

The feminist movement of the past forty years has highlighted the importance of gender in the differing allocation of resources and opportunities to men and to women, and it has continued to fight to advance women’s condition. But men are shaped by gender, too, and they do not participate equally in the benefits of male privilege. 

Although masculinity scholars investigate men’s treatment of women, a major strength of masculinity studies is its analyses of relationships among men, particularly the overlapping hierarchies based on race, sexuality and social class that distribute power and prestige unequally. The concept of hegemonic masculinity, popularized by Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell, describes a norm that is also an ideal by which many, if not most, men are judged – and judge themselves – as inadequate. Key strengths of masculinity studies are its analyses of relationships among men and of internalized pressures in male psychology, like homophobia, as men anxiously police themselves and their peers to avoid fears of appearing gay or effeminate. 

While some men have responded negatively to feminist gains in the past decades, many men have become less sexist or have been brought up with more egalitarian ideals.. Explicitly pro-feminist men’s groups are small, but feminist ideas now influence many men’s views and behavior, for example, in more active male parenting and the recognition of the harms of sexual harassment. One strength of pro-feminist men’s groups is leading anti-violence efforts for other men. Such pro-feminist men’s groups should be distinguished from their conservative peers, like the Christian Promise Keepers or the poet Robert Bly, who encouraged men to “regain” their “deep masculinity,” assert leadership over their wives and bond with other men while beating drums in the woods. 

Thus it is clear that pro-feminist men strive to advance egalitarian gender relations, which is also a socialist goal. But a pro-feminist masculinities perspective can aid socialist analysis in other ways as well. 

The group enthusiasm I saw being whipped up for the Blackhawks hockey players illustrates one way that contemporary U.S. society encourages some group identifications while upholding the ideology that individual men are justly rewarded for their individual merit and therefore that the existing social system is just, rather than grossly unequal in its class, race and gender privileges. These unusually gifted athletes reinforce the myth that any individual with talent can achieve financial and social success. 

However, talented women athletes earn very much less than the men. There are no professional women hockey players in the United States at all, and even professional women golfers and basketball players earn a fraction of men’s salaries and attract much less public interest. And athletics is hardly an isolated case. Recently the salaries of young American women have moved closer to parity with men’s salaries, although middle-aged women and women of color still earn much less than white men, and they face higher hurdles for promotion. 

Besides such economic disparities, we might look from a masculinity studies perspective at the cultural work that sports like hockey accomplish in this society. Hockey enhances traditional stereotypes of masculinity as well as capitalist values like the virtues of competition. The sport reinforces the image of the ideal American man as big, tough, heterosexual and white. He plays through injury and ignores pain. He has team spirit and is willing to fight for his teammates, even though he may be bought or traded by the team’s owners. Fans are encouraged to identify with the local team, though its members may be purchased internationally, and to feel happy when the home team wins and proud of being Chicagoans and Americans. 

All this varies, of course, from the values that socialist feminists wish to encourage, ones of individual fulfillment achieved in supportive, just communities. We believe that the vast majority of people, the “99%,” men and women of all racial groups and sexual orientations, have common interests in the common good, in matters like clean water, plentiful food, freedom from commercial manipulation, accessible healthcare, safe workplaces with fair compensation and a genuinely democratic government, plus leisure time for family and friends. 

Contemporary pro-feminist men’s movements contribute to these goals with their endorsement of active fathering and campaigns against the interlocking oppressions of racism, homophobia and sexism. A society that focuses attention on fake Indian hockey players won’t prevent these positive goals from being attained, of course, but it may obscure their importance and their achievability. 

Leftists used to condemn what they called “false consciousness” and wonder why most Americans failed to see that the game is rigged in favor of corporations and the ruling class. Thanks to a widening gap between rich and poor and to movements like Occupy Wall Street, unjust disparities in contemporary society are now clearer to many people than previously, although popular resistance is still inhibited by the belief that nothing can change and by the distractions of popular culture. 

Professional sports entertain and enliven many people's lives. However, I conclude that the analytic perspective of masculinity studies can help us understand some less positive effects of these spectacles. In particular, masculinity studies can help analyze how and why some professional sports like hockey work in contemporary American society to reinforce some masculine privileges and to reinforce as well the perception that our deeply inegalitarian society is just. 

More information on pro-feminist masculinity theories can be found on the websites of American sociologist Michael Kimmel and of anti-imperialist Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell at http://www.raewynconnell.net/

gardiner.jpgJudith Kegan Gardiner is a member of Chicago DSA and active in the faculty union at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Professor Emerita of English and of Gender and Women’s Studies, she is a founder of UIC's Gender and Women's Studies Program, a member of the Editorial Collective of the journal Feminist Studies, and on  the editorial board of Men and Masculinities. 

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.

Grassroots Fundraising: Paying for the Revolution (9pm Eastern)

June 23, 2017
· 46 rsvps

Are you new to socialist organizing? Or after many years do you still struggle, raising money from members when you need it but without a steady flow of income or budget to plan ahead? Are you afraid to tackle fundraising because it seems so daunting or you are uncomfortable asking people for money?

In this webinar, you will learn why fundraising is organizing, and how to do it – face to face, through fundraising events, and other ideas.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

Training Details:

  1. Workshops are free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have preferably headphones or else speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org.
  5. If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  6. Participation requires that you register at least 21 hours in advance -- by midnight Thursday for Friday's webinar.

NOTE: This training is scheduled for 9:00pm Eastern Time (8pm Central, 7pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific, 5 pm Alaska, 3 pm Hawaii).

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 8 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.