Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Debutantes, Brats, and Mayhem: Women's Rugby and the Creation of an Oppositional Culture in the South

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Debutantes, Brats, and Mayhem: Women's Rugby and the Creation of an Oppositional Culture in the South

Article excerpt

Every year, James River Women (Richmond, VA) play the Norfolk Storm in a post-game motley (meaning the teams split up and blend together) called the "Debutante Debacle." This year's teams, the "G-String Divas" fought a pitched battle against the "Diamond Dogs." In this game, each participating player sports a thrift-store prom or brides-maid dress, and teams earn points for ripping off opponents' bows, lace, and other dress accessories. Ultimately, players try to rip each other's dresses off as they ruck, maul, tackle, and scrum down. This yearly meeting always proves to be extremely amusing for both sides involved, and the festive atmosphere promotes good will between the teams. It also graphically illustrates how rugby women view and defy stereotypes of the southern woman.

Asked what people think of female rugby players, Wisconsin Select Side Player and former James River Women QRW) member Shannon Bustillos said: "We are stereotyped as beer-swilling ruffians and hooligans who like to fight and play dirty and get bloody." She drew a stark contrast between rugby women and a pervasive southern stereotype of a "lady": "Can you see Scarlett [O'Hara] chugging a Budweiser and wiping sweat off her brow and being bruised up?" The aggressive nature of rugby is well-known even to those who are not familiar with the particulars of the sport and is at odds with stereotypes of the "southern belle" that exist both within and outside of the region. In reaction to the norm of "feminine," rugby players construct their own meanings about a woman's place and role in society. This essay explores how women rugby players actively create an important oppositional culture in the South by acting against regional norms of womanhood. It also examines what "rugger women" think are the female rugby stereotypes society creates, how they react to stereotypes, and how women are affected by playing rugby. Focusing on the motives, choices, and beliefs of rugby players, this study finds that women rugby players in the South upend traditional southern norms of womanhood by choosing a challenging and athletic sport that relies on fast, aggressive play. These women comprise an important and growing oppositional culture in southern society that redefines what it means to be a southern woman.i

MYTHS OF THE SOUTHERN WOMAN AND THE POSSIBILITIES OF WOMEN'S SPORTS

Many scholars analyze "southern womanhood" in historical and current terms. From popular writer Florence King to historian Catherine Clinton, scholars of southern women define the "southern belle" as a unique regional phenomenon, often rooted more in an ideology than in reality. Scholars define the stereotypical "southern lady" as passive, genial, genteel, and always white and elite." While many historians find resistance to this ideal, the stereotype seems to be fixed in the southern, and indeed the national, imagination.1" While one can argue whether or not the "southern lady" ever existed, visitors flock to antebellum homes to see the ideal played out by costumed interpreters, and readers put Scarlett, the "sequel" to Cone With the Wind, on the best-seller list for several months in 1991 (Clinton 1991). In 1999, Ronda Rich wrote the advice book What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should). Chapter titles included: "Charm that Disarms, Pretty Is as Pretty Does," and "Always Look Your Best Even When You Feel Your Worst." Rich redefined the southern woman in the late twentieth century as a strong woman who "conforms when necessary." She claimed that while southern women are proud and can be independent, "... Southern women have the ability to survive in a man's world while wrapped in a pouf of flowery femininity and gracious, thoughtful manners" (12).

But what happens when a growing group of women rugby players emerges in the region of the "southern lady" and challenges these norms? Many historians and sociologists note the ways in which women experience sport and the negative impact of men's rugby on women, but few scholars have actually explored the ideas and beliefs of women rugby players. …

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