Rugby and patriarchy

My e-friend merc has commented that “some Mothers view rugby as part of The Patriarchy (so soccer for their sons).”

It’s not something I have ever really thought about, I suppose because I don’t care about rugby, and I don’t have sons, so it’s not something I have had to confront. On the other hand, having no information has never stopped me from having an opinion about something…

When I do stop to think about it, I am astonished to realise how much I know about rugby. I know the names of current and past All Blacks, I have visual memories of particular incidents, I have an opinion about the merits of the Super 14 and the TriNations (very roughly, too much rugby – no wonder audiences are dropping). On the other hand, I couldn’t be bothered watching the test last Saturday night (All Blacks vs South Africa, I think); my husband and his brother watched, but I sat in the next room, doing some knitting, and playing an excellent Spacies remake. And I have never been to a rugby game, ever. Rugby, schmugby.

So I don’t care about rugby, but I know a fair amount about it. And in itself that tells me something about the place of rugby in New Zealand society. Sometimes it seems as though the whole place revolves around it. Despite the success of women’s rugby teams, it is a profoundly male game. An acquaintance of mine, a thoroughly decent chap, married, two children, thoughtful, unintimidating without being a wimp, said that he loved going to the rugby, that the sheer physical crash was exhilarating, and that ultimately, it was all about testosterone.

It would be interesting to know if other men think that’s the case too.

But all that tells us is that rugby is part of the NZ psyche, and rugby is male. That doesn’t make it part of ‘The Patriarchy’. To be part of the patriarchy, rugby would have to reinforce power structures that favour men.

I think that it’s at least defensible to claim that rugby reinforces power structures that favour men. The two most recent examples of this would be Sitiveni Sivivatu getting off on domestic violence charges, and Sean Fitzpatrick popping up as a character witness for a friend who is up on kidnapping charges.

Sivivatu was discharged because he is an All Black. Arguably, the fact that he is an All Black makes naming him a severe punishment; because he is known to the nation, he has been shamed in front of the whole nation. But typically, people who are charged with crimes of violence are named, and shamed, to the community they know, and the community which has supported them. Sivivatu’s community is simply a lot larger than most. It’s hard to understand why he should not have been convicted. Being an All Black should not matter.

I don’t have any legal training. So I’m not really in a position to argue the pros and cons of naming or not naming, convicting or discharging, Sivivatu.

But using Fitzpatrick as a character witness speaks volumes about the place of rugby in New Zealand. We, or the judge and/or jury, are supposed to believe that Fitzy’s mate really is a jolly good chap who couldn’t possibly commit such a crime, because Fitzy says so, and Fitzy is an All Black. And not just any All Black. He was one of our most successful All Black captains ever.

This tells us that the defence lawyer expects that the jury will believe Fitzpatrick. Leaving aside Fitzpatrick’s reputation for having a bit of mongrel about him – do you really trust someone who is a ‘bit of a mongrel’ – this tells us that All Blacks have standing in our community. The reason that they have standing, is simply because they are good at a game. And they can use that standing to escape charges of violence against their partners, or to get the good old chaps off.

That suggests to me that rugby, in New Zealand, does have a role in supporting the patriarchy.

But, it’s the veneration of rugby that is problematical, not rugby itself. Frankly, I would be delighted if kids are out there playing any sport whatsoever, as long as they are enjoying themselves. It is, after all, a game. (If they are going to put time and effort in to being the best at something, could it at least be education? And when are we going to start celebrating our scientists and researchers, our brilliant minds, our innovative business people, instead of men who are good at chasing balls?)

Just to finish off, do you think that an All Black will ever donate the ‘Player of the Match’ prize to Women’s Refuge?

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4 responses to “Rugby and patriarchy

  1. This is good blogging. I like the way you put forward your opinion. Blogging is about opinions, strong one’s preferably.
    My theory is that when we have our first gay All Black (the Ozzie’s had a gay AFL star and he was totally supported) we have come of age.
    Testosterone, maybe, Amygdala definitely, Oestrogen quite possibly…if you’ve ever been in the (usually shared) showers after a game of rugby, you’re not thinking testosterone…at least I wasn’t, but that may have been just me.
    On the field, it’s a thrill, a thinking thrill for most.

  2. Well I’ve only played two games of rugby and was soooo dreadful that I’ve never been game for another try and now I’m too old. But we are are soaked in it here and one can’t help but know about it and have opinions about it. The Game is something that is always around one and the stories of preferential treatment given to good players were legion
    Somewhat unsurprising about “Foreskins Lament” dealing with all of this and being so quintessentially NZ.
    That’s very interesting about Fitzpatrick and would be problematical about what weight one would give his words given that reputation he had. I guess he would say that it was only on the field.

  3. It wasn’t only on the field.

  4. If it was only on the field, then there would be no commercial sense in getting All Blacks to appear in ads.