I was driving in Berkeley last night, which is a terrible mistake following a Bears (the university football team) game, because traffic is simply gridlocked with too many pedestrians (a common Berkeley malady) but lots more cars. The weather was cool but the young women, almost without exception, wore short, short pants and otherwise skimpy outfits.
I noticed one walking down the street alone. She was wearing a gold (okay, yellow) tube top with the blue “Cal” lettering. She was awkwardly—as if grace were possible in such a situation—pulling it up, as such tops are wont to slip down. She didn’t look like she was having a good time.
In this new politically correct era, we’re not supposed to focus on women’s appearances. But I was pondering an imposed sexuality at the intersection with football.
Football is at the center of a young masculinity that demands conformity and stigmatizes those who are not interested as “fags.” At least in the high school variant of this masculinity—and we have absolutely no reason to believe it is different at the university level—boys (and therefore, young men) must objectify and abuse girls (and therefore, young women), again on pain of being labeled a “fag.”
And of course, we’re supposed to ignore the skimpy cheerleading outfits. “Cheer,” in the politically correct way of speaking, is athleticism, not exhibitionism. Never mind that no score is kept, at least for cheer itself, no winners are declared, and no championships are earned. Never mind that these athletes (and yes, I’ll absolutely grant that cheer requires physical conditioning that deserves an ‘athletic’ label) are archetypically young, sexually attractive women who are, again archetypically, sexually available to football players.
All this constructs football as a means of socially reproducing a brutal, heteronormative, and yet compliant masculinity appropriate for soldiers for the empire.
And I’m wondering about that obviously uncomfortable young woman in the tube top. She, too, all too obviously, is performing her role: She is to be sexy, to inspire football players (if not to bed them) to higher performance, to victory.
I am remembering that in fascist societies, women are often reduced to baby factories. They exist to counter a subaltern threat, producing babies of the desired race and ethnicity. Social conservatives, as we know them today, can attribute some of their success to an imperative to ensure white hegemony and accordingly, to resist women’s efforts to limit their own reproduction. As childbearing is, and was even more so then, a potentially life-threatening condition, women’s lives were expendable in service to white male dominance.
Today, of course, many athletes are of color. But the toxic masculinity remains. And women must be sexy even at the expense of comfort, even in that cool weather, the risk of illness. It seems to me that women’s lives are still expendable. Even in supposedly ‘liberal’ Berkeley.
- C. J. Pascoe, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (Berkeley: University of California, 2007).↩
- David Benfell, “Following football to tyranny,” Not Housebroken, September 3, 2009, https://disunitedstates.org/2009/09/03/following-football-to-tyranny/↩
- David Benfell, “A simple definition of fascism,” February 14, 2017, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2017/02/14/simple-definition-fascism↩
- David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).↩