The gatekeeping of traditionally ‘masculine’ activities can often cause more harm than good.
Recently, I read an article titled ‘Not caring about football shouldn’t make you less of a man’. To summarise, the author was joking around with fellow men in the pub, discussing football. Suddenly, everything changed, as he was asked the ‘dreaded words’ – ‘who do you support?’
After feeling emasculated, the author decided to write this article in an effort to bite back at the so-called ‘grown men in brightly coloured shirts running around after a ball’, before asserting that he IS masculine because he goes to the gym: ‘For me, masculinity means going to the gym five times a week and learning how to fight by taking up kickboxing’. You can not make this up.
Herein lies my problem: you can not address the issue of masculinity in football by subsequently emasculating others.
I’d like to clarify that I too do not like football, at all, and there are plenty of reasons not to. Examples of racism, homophobia, misogyny, domestic violence, and hooliganism in 2021 only scratch the surface. That being said, not every football fan is automatically a racist, a homophobe, or a misogynist… and so on.
Unfortunately, the major football associations don’t seem to want to tackle many of these issues either. Shockingly, the FIFA world cup is still set to be in Qatar next year despite the fact that homosexuality is illegal there; Not to mention there has been over 6500 worker deaths linked to the preparation of the tournament.
The author doesn’t mention any of this to bolster their argument, instead they mock the ‘brightly coloured shirts’ and brag (twice) that they kickbox. Ironically, it reeks of the toxic masculinity that the author was angry about in the first place.
There’s also a tone of superiority, when in fact it was the author who was nervously seeking approval, needing ‘liquid courage’ to ‘join in’ with the football banter. An equivalent would be to approach Swiss bobsledders and expect them to suddenly speak to you, in English, about sewing; why should they? They don’t know you and you don’t share their interests.
As a gay man who went to an all-boys’ Grammar school, I dealt with numerous masculinity issues, and received my fair share of bullying. Luckily this isn’t one of those woe-is-me stories.
After the tricky pubescent years, the bullying subsided and everybody just grew up, myself included. Following this period, school became a great pleasure in my life. We largely respected our differences, and I learnt pretty early in my life not to just angrily attack people for their passions (like many gays I know). It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction for us, much like how we tend to react to organised religion. However, this is not a healthy or productive mindset.
My mother was anxious about sending me to an all boys school, as even in primary school it was clear I was going to be a cross-dressing friend of Dorothy’s. However, at a boys’ school, it’s guaranteed that there will be boys who also do not enjoy the traditionally ‘male’ activities.
I was lucky, and many of the ‘footy lads’ even became close friends of mine. They learnt from me that gay is ok, and in return they taught me a lot about confidence, how to look out for each other on a night out, and most of all – how to have a laugh.
Earlier this week, my Dad and my three older brothers came to visit me in London. Being staunch West Ham fans, they offered to buy me a ticket to the Upton Park game months prior. As an adult who is capable of making my own decisions, I decided not to join them. Not because I love them any less for liking football, but simply because it’s an expensive ticket for something I would not particularly enjoy. Instead, I met them before the game for drinks and a Chinese – perfect.
If your ‘friends’ make you feel bad about your ‘masculinity’ for disliking football, then they are not your friends. Similarly, respect is a two-way street. If you choose to surround yourself with people who are passionate about football (or any interest different from yours) why would you then deride them? If you feel that you can not respect them – or enjoy yourself in that moment – simply remove yourself from the situation.
As a kid, I wish I had the power to do that more often, but I promise you that it comes with time and experience.