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September 19, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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To Feminists Who Resent Rugby

I don’t like rugby and prefer to pretend the World Cup (RWC) isn’t happening.

Fortunately I live in a part of Wellington where that’s easily done; my neighbours seem to have a similar lack of enthusiasm (I’m pretty sure the sport of choice here’s either tree-hugging or yoga) so it’s like nothing’s changed since the competition began.

My aversion to the Cup is rooted in my identification as a feminist. My friends seem to think this makes me—and feminists in general – grinches who want to put a downer on everyone else’s good time to prove a political point. However when I was cajoled in to going down Courtenay Place amidst the festivities I was made to think: what is it that makes me so angry about this? Feminism holds nothing against dancing, cheering, partying or displaying some level of pride for your country. It became apparent that my frustration with rugby began before the Cup, and probably won’t end after the final.

The RWC certainly shows the extremely high value New Zealanders place on the game. Along with intense excitement we’re also witnessing a horrible amplification of some of the ugliest aspects of rugby culture. Groups like Women’s Refuge and Rape Crisis have had to increase their resources significantly over the duration of the Cup because statistics show that violence against women and family violence skyrocket after sporting losses. Just last week there was a gay bashing on K Road by a group of fans after a match. Many people feel unsafe.

The Cup’s dominance in the media and the increase in such tragic statistics make it easy to misdirect our anger at the tournament itself. It’s easy to mistakenly think that the event’s caused these problems. The reality is that by doing this we’re failing to acknowledge the real scope or cause of the them. We need to be angry that family violence goes up after the All Blacks lose, but we can’t forget that regardless of whether the Cup is on or the All Blacks are playing, people from small rugby clubs around the country will be violent to their families each weekend if their local team loses. We need to be angry about homophobic violence on K Road, but we can’t think that it only began when the RWC did, or forget that each day young boys go to school scared of the bullying they will face because they don’t fit in to the idealisation of masculinity exemplified by the 1st XV. There are many very seriously problematic attitudes about women, men, and violence tied up in rugby culture. The fanfare around the RWC highlights how powerful rugby’s influence is in perpetuating these ideas, but it doesn’t cause them. Rallying against it isn’t going to change them.

In fact, rejecting the World Cup or rugby in general doesn’t get us any closer to making our country a safer place. If anything such an approach represents missed opportunities to tackle problems as a community. Our country’s obsession with rugby highlights just how influential the sport is. It permeates schools and communities, as well as the hearts and minds of many (especially young) New Zealanders. On one hand this presents a problem: the harmful attitudes I’ve described can spread through many channels. But on the other hand, the power of rugby organisations and sporting figures within communities offers potential for positive social change. We can see people beginning to realise this with the advent of campaigns like ‘Blow the Whistle’ which attempts to tackle family violence by using sporting figures as role models and targeting energy and resources at rugby clubs.
I sincerely hope that other feminists who, like I, have been feeling grumpy about the RWC recognise that the tournament’s not the problem: the broader, omnipotent culture is. I hope we realise that a harmful culture doesn’t mean we must reject all aspects of the sport. We can work with its groups; maybe instead of hiding and pretending rugby events aren’t happening, we should try and make the connections needed to start some action. After all, isn’t a principle that the feminist movement and rugby organisations have in common the notion that we can achieve everything better working as a team?

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Comments (2)

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  1. Hi Nicola;
    I host a show on Radio One in Dunedin and I’m thinking of putting together a show of feminist critiques of professional sport in general, but rugby in New Zealand specifically. Would you mind sharing some of your sources with me?

  2. Nicola Wood says:

    Hi there,

    I’m really sorry but I don’t get notification of comments on here so didn’t see your message until now. I’m assuming it’s too late now, in which case I hope your show went well, but if there’s still some way I can help feel free to email me:

    Apologies for the delay!


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