Locker room talks, microaggressions, a repression of emotion—you’ve probably encountered these behaviors in different settings—which likely include sports
On June 29, 2019, about 70,000 people gathered in Marikina Sports Complex for this year’s Pride March. It was a rainy day but it did almost nothing to dampen the moods and muffle the voices of the crowds radiant with love and dissent.
Love was the agenda that didn’t need special mention. Dissent needed volume and speeches and protest signs: “God loves LGBTQ people. The Episcopal Church welcomes LGBTQ people,” said a sign held up by a priest. “Ang Pride, ang Pride ay protesta!” chorused the crowd. Solidarity speeches were loud and indignant in their calls to end discrimination and oppression, giving the march a sense of urgency beneath the celebratory sheen of the demonstration.
People took an apparent, gentle pleasure in all this, in the fact that there was a celebration being held in protest against hate and intolerance, especially during a time ruled by an administration that has proven itself unkind to everyone but the rich. It was an alignment of sentiments, a display of diversity or, really, one of the rare moments we get to witness a fuller representation of a living population.
When it was finally time to march, an afternoon lull settled in, which lasted for hours so that the march itself happened in quick, interrupted bouts. It’s been 25 years since the first Pride March in the country (also the first in Asia), which gives us, more than anything, much to act upon but also a lot to think about.
How far have we come since June 26, 1994, when ProGay Philippines and the Metropolitan Community Church took to the streets, expressing discontent towards oppressive social constructs? Can we truly call ourselves a gay-friendly nation when more than half of our population opposes same-sex marriage and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community remains to be rampant? Though these mass movements are hardly absolute representations of a country’s collective stance, to what extent can the scope of the 2019 Metro Manila Pride March speak to our progress?
Days before the march in Marikina, LGBTQ+ advocates had talked about the roots of LGBTQ+ discrimination, touching on helpful explanations that could partly account for the gap between the country’s ‘gay-friendly nation’ label and what actually happens in households; in progressive online discourses and the harsh rhetoric that lives on in both the streets and institutions. The short but far from simple and all-encompassing answer is misogyny.
”The misogyny that affects women is the same thing that oppresses the LGBTQ+ community because, why are gay men ostracized or discriminated against? Because you’re feminine, or you know, you’re very loud, you wear makeup, therefore, you’re not somebody to be accepted,” said Nikki Castillo of Metro Manila Pride to Rappler.
On toxic masculinity in sports
The general inversion of gender norms, and the feminization of men in particular is normally met with a kind of behavior that reinforces, among many things, toxic masculinity. The Pride March is already a powerful platform in itself but when viewed more closely within the context of gender politics, it proves to be even more powerful in that not only does it provide a site for diverse forms of expression, it actually celebrates and encourages this diversity, which thus becomes an act of rebellion—a protest.
There aren’t a lot of instances that allow for this, and the dominance of men in most industries only cultivates a strict commitment to extremely narrow gender norms, often in the form of toxic masculinity. Locker room talks, microagressions, a repression of emotions in fear of being viewed as weak, and an aggressive insistence of a man’s physical dominance—you’ve probably encountered these behaviors in different settings, which likely include sports.
In “Sociology of Sport and Social Theory,” Earl Smith talks about sports as a vehicle for reinforcing dominant ideas of masculinity through pacifying fears of feminization. It’s not a new idea: Sports can allow for the reinforcement of traditional conceptions of masculinity, namely physical strength and stoicism. Obviously, the problem doesn’t lie in sports per se or in being strong or stoic, but in the fact that for the longest time, asserting physical prowess in sports has served other ends besides winning. For example, underlying the notion of a “great athlete” is the idea that one is actively fighting feminization. Conversely, running or hitting “like a girl” is attached to incompetence.
You might be thinking that this is a clunky association to point out given the deeply nuanced and ever-evolving scope of masculinity resulting from decades of social and economic upheaval. It’s also perhaps a bit outdated, especially since the past years have seen some of the more serious reexaminations of such a toxic culture.
(Also, it should be noted that the very term ‘toxic masculinity’ isn’t as simple as it seems. It is by no means a catch-all explanation for sexist behaviors, and using it as such would be to disregard the many other factors and unique real-life conditions that shape a person’s behavior. There’s real danger to conflating specific cases and in laying the blame on culture alone.)
However, it can’t be denied that these harmful conceptions continue to exist in some form, may it be in the way that MMA fighters or NFL players taunt each other in their matches, in the infamous Gilas-Boomers FIBA brawl, or in whatever it actually is men talk about in locker rooms. As long as these toxic conceptions of manliness continue to exist, and the idea of “boys will be boys” continue to be used as justification for harmful behavior, there’s no reason to stop being critical of this facet of the sports industry (and of all industries, really).
Pride March and why diversity matters
There’s also no reason to pretend that things have become significantly better despite the prevalence of progressive takes on gender and sexuality in social media because, for one, more traditional sports news platforms—the more powerful ones, arguably—continue to be steeped in sexism. The point is that though things have changed—though people like Stephen Curry and Dwyane Wade have come forward to call out toxic masculinity and homophobia—we’ve barely scratched the surface. There’s still so much to be done.
And again, the problem by no means lies in sports itself, or even in masculinity. It’s when the parameters for what makes a great athlete become so narrow, so constrictive, that even the most well-meaning athletes are suffocated and as a result resort to aggression in an effort to, paradoxically, both conform to and escape from these prescriptions. Fixed, absolute prescriptions on how a person should be have never really done good to anyone—this is a corny platitude, but do we take the time to actually think about and enact it? Do we take the time to seriously consider the harm that has come from clinging onto ideals, whether it be in the way we mistake aggression for strength or in the way we subconsciously subscribe to a single notion of fitness?
We probably don’t. And I’d like to think that we’re not to blame as all this is a symptom of a complex, multi-faceted problem, of cultural hegemony at play. But that also doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t do anything about the problem. It wasn’t until recently that I understood the power of diversity and representation. For the longest time I’ve taken them to be buzzwords, but lately they’ve come to mean more than that: When I saw people at the Pride March—girls kissing, boys kissing, hug moms (moms giving away free hugs), bodies of all sizes, tall, bearded men dancing-sobbing to Lady Gaga—like most people there, I was beside myself.
To be represented, to be seen—I suppose that can only really happen in a diverse crowd, in fuller representations of a living population. Seeing yourself represented is not as lofty as it sounds: It reminds us that there are infinite ways of being, and by extension, teaches us to be more tolerant and accepting.