Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Understanding the complexities of inclusive masculinity through the Footy Show

Ryan Scoats and Adam White discuss their recent article in SRO

A growing acceptance of homosexuality in society is not just good for sexual minorities, but it also has a knock-on effect for the ways that all men behave. In the past, a suspicion of homosexuality has often been based on effeminate behaviours, like men wearing pink or holding hands. Any boy not attempting to embody, or at least endorsing traditional notions of masculinity, would therefore be singled out as feminine, and thus, a fag. However, when men no longer fear being thought of as homosexual—because being homosexual is no longer considered a bad thing—this broadens the range of behaviours available to them. When men are able to choose their behaviours more freely, not fearing stigmatization, being associated with that which were once considered 'symbols of femininity' no longer has the same meaning. This is something we are seeing within Western cultures of masculinities, particularly amongst younger generations of men. For contemporary masculinity, having an interest in fashion, crying during a film, or spooning with another man no longer carry with them a homosexualising stigma.

This change in attitudes towards masculinity can be understood through Eric Anderson’s inclusive masculinity theory. Anderson says that as men's fear of being though gay declines, a wider array of male behaviours are socially acceptable. Inclusive masculinity theory has been used by many to explain the improved attitudes towards gay men in sport, increasing physical tactility between guys and the social development of both metrosexuality and bromances.

Yet, some have mistaken these optimistic findings as suggestive of a gender utopia. Unfortunately, not all areas of society change at the same rate. Some areas of society do, and will continue to exhibit higher levels of homophobia as well as be more prone to gender policing. Those who continue to subscribe to orthodox/traditional notions of masculinity are unlikely to embrace new, softer forms of masculinity. With this in mind, our recent research in Sociological Research Online looks at these contrasting cultures of masculinity through the lens of the media; specifically Australia's weekly rugby league show: 'The NRL Footy Show'.

The Footy Show airs every Thursday typically after 8.30pm Australian Eastern Time. It has run for 23 consecutive seasons since 1994 and usually involves 3 to 4 consistent co-hosts whom are regularly supplemented with ancillary hosts who are namely current rugby league players and/or other athletes. The show consists of various scripted segments related to rugby league as well as interactions with current players.

Using a content analysis to examine three separate episodes of the show, we found there to be inconsistent messages put forward around masculinity. Whereas the scripted portions of the show presented orthodox notions of masculinity, including casual misogyny, the valorisation of violence, and condemnation of femininity, this stood in contrast to the guests on the show: current players. Instead, these guests demonstrated more ‘feminised’ behaviours such as vulnerability, being in touch with their emotions, or flamboyancy. We interpret this this disparity in ‘message’ as a generational divide between the ‘old’ proponent’s orthodox masculinity and the ‘young’s’ inclusive masculinity. The show seems intended to appeal to those socialised in an era where extreme homophobia was compulsory to achieve masculinity. This culture of relative orthodoxy, however, stands in contrast to the younger athletes appearing on the show who were cultivated in an era more acceptable of homosexuals and feminine practices.


It would, however, be simplistic to simply view this as a clash of cultures—the old versus the new—and the show attempts to navigate this disparity through the use of humour. We suggest that the makers of the show recognise that the audience no longer universally values orthodox masculinity, nor is it exalted by the players they feature on the show. It is for this reason that the show aims to shape a version of appropriate masculinity through humour. The tongue-in-cheek style of the show suggests that all involved know that misogynistic and homophobic statements are now socially unacceptable. However, this humour allows for plausible deniability in their position. Thus, this strategy enables the show to straddle the intergenerational divide: reinforcing traditional masculinity to those with more orthodox appetites, whilst at the same time couching their activities/language in humour that allows for the younger generation to interpret them as innocuous banter. 

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