Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Hegemonic Masculinity, Friendship, and Group Formation in an Athletic Subculture

Academic journal article The Journal of Men's Studies

Hegemonic Masculinity, Friendship, and Group Formation in an Athletic Subculture

Article excerpt

Male friendships were once believed to be strong, deep, and lasting, while female relationships were characterized as steeped in gossip, pettiness, and shallowness (Gilder, 1973; Tiger, 1969). However, such views of friendships became the target of criticism by feminist researchers (Messner, 1992a). Researchers found that many male friendships were, at times, built upon a foundation of destructive competition, homophobia, and emotional impoverishment (Balswick, 1976; Farrell, 1975; Fasteau, 1974; Messner, 1992a; Morin & Garfinkel, 1978).

By the mid-1980s, emotional boundaries, especially when contrasted to female relationships, characterized male friendships. According to Gilligan (1982) and Rubin (1983), men developed more "positional" identities, fearing intimacy, whereas women developed "relational" identities, fearing separation. Stated another way, the difference between male and female relationships was that women enjoy "deep, meaningful, and lasting friendships, while men have a number of shallow, superficial, and unsatisfactory acquaintances" (quoted in Messner, 1992a). In Rubin's (1985) words, male friendships are characterized by "bonding without intimacy," while female friendships emphasize more talk and sharing of intimate feelings. Male friendships are predicated more on external activities through which men can share the same emotional experience without having to reveal any details about their personal lives.

Sport provides a cultural avenue for men to share mutual experiences with other males that are often based on hegemonic masculinity. Male relationships in sport are complicated by what Reisman (1953) termed "antagonistic cooperation," which refers to a contradiction between what is portrayed to the public and what actually happens within the structure of the team. For example, while teams try to promote a "family" image and an unflinching esprit de corps, the day-to-day web of relationships among teammates is riddled with competition, often pitting one teammate against another. As Lasch (1979) observed, the "cult of teamwork conceals the struggle for survival" (p. 209). There is an intricate flux between friendly cooperation and antagonistic competition among teammates for playing time, awards, accolades, and playing positions on the team. Consequently, male friendships in sport often unfold within a set of external experiences that allow men to experience mutual emotional responses from triumph to defeat, without encouraging an open exchange of intimate feelings and emotions via verbal communication.

A few researchers believe that it is misleading to compare male and female relationships based on a model of women's relationships (Swain, 1989) because it "belies the depth of affection that so many of these men express[ed] for each other" (Messner, 1992a, p. 223). Yet, when the examination of male friendships reveals such a detrimental effect on the quality and intimacy of the male relationship, it is difficult not to contrast and compare. The effect of the examination of male friendships in sport is one that has provided and continues to provide an understanding of the role that hegemonic masculine values play in the perpetuation of female subordination and gender inequality.

This article will discuss how a group of adult male baseball players negotiated the end of their athletic careers. Through a variety of qualitative research methods, this ethnographic work explored the impact of the social arena of sport on the construction of hegemonic masculinity among adult, nonprofessional athletes. The article begins with an analysis of how these male athletes organized themselves into distinct groups along hegemonic lines. The article then ties group development to the sex segregation of male athletes and provides an analysis of the male bonding effect sport has on the men who participate. Next, the article details how these male athletes shared their athletic lives with each other. …

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