How often have you heard these phrases? Man up. Be a man. You play like a girl. In hockey, Cindy Crosby and the Sedin Sisters are thrown about. These are commonplace phrases, I’m guilty of using them, but they are sexist. Maybe you don’t use them to intentionally hurt, but if you stood on somebody’s foot by accident and it hurt them, would you apologise? They motivate one group by putting down another and rendering them inferior. When you insult another player by telling them they play like a girl – what you are saying is that girls are inferior, your sporting ability is inferior because it is girl-like. This can deter girls from sports, especially typically male ones like rugby or hockey. Serena Williams’ body receives scrutiny for looking masculine – hello, she’s a 21 time grand slam champion athlete with a serve of 128mph, her body is going to be muscley, but that doesn’t mean it’s masculine! Samantha Stosur has also endured comments based on her non-feminine physique “she played like a man, and it’s really hard to play against a man” – whatever that means. Athletic women who do not meet the criteria for being feminine, i.e. dainty and pretty, are assumed to be homosexual and thus are met with homophobic attacks. Without getting too sidetracked into the diabolical treatment of female athletes, this video does a great job at illustrating the double standards for men versus women in sport by the media. The famous campaign of This Girl Can is empowering girls to enjoy exercise.
You’re not here to be a girl about it – Morgan Reilly.
Although ‘be a man’ gives us one of the best songs in Disney history, what this phrase is really saying is that to be good you must fit with these masculine ideals – what you currently are is not good enough. Being a man means you must be strong and stoic. Don’t be a pussy. Because of this doggedness to appear invincible, too often male athletes play on through injuries or take extreme risks. There is a pressure upon footballers to continue to play through an injury which can lead to pain, more severe injuries or chronic ones. Suck it up and carry on. Injuries are awful. They can be anxiety inducing and career ending. Generally, the more masculine a man perceives himself to be, the less likely he is to seek treatment. Injured athletes experience depression at a rate six times higher than that of non-injured players. There are some benefits associated with injuries such as free time to spend with families and to use as an opportunity for development, which ought to be illustrated to athletes. Undergoing rehabilitation can actually strengthen the injured area to a level higher than pre-injury. Why on earth do they play on?
Rugby players are real men compared to footballers; they don’t roll on the ground when they’re injured, they get to their feet, bloody and battered, and carry on. They receive praise for being tough and continuing through pain. Bert Trautmann played the FA Cup final with a broken neck. Jordan Rapana continued playing with a fractured skill that required 60 staples. Paul Wood ruptured his testicle during a game of rugby and eventually had to have it removed. When you encourage and praise men for being Real Men™ it discourages them from leaving the game with an injury which can have serious consequences. Think about concussions – they are a serious brain injury, but people shake them off as being a headache, the odd dizzy spell. We need to dismantle the idea that men are not allowed to be weak. There is more to the issue of playing through an injury, such as desire to help the team and a passion to play, but one has to question whether this mindset of being tough and carrying on is dangerous.