If recent events have taught us anything, it is this: We’re long overdue for a national discussion about toxic masculinity. In the wake of yet another deadly school shooting, it is impossible to ignore the one characteristic most mass shooters have in common: They are mostly male.
In fact, overwhelmingly so. Mass shooters who are women are "so rare that it just hasn't been studied," according to James Garbarino, a psychologist at Loyola University Chicago. So what gives men the idea that the appropriate response to their problems is violence?
Sadly, the issue goes way beyond the gun control debate and into the very nature of our culture. As a society, we have not only condoned, but even celebrated, toxic masculinity to the point where we consider egregious acts of violence sometimes justifiable. And perhaps the pinnacle of this cultural celebration of all things testosterone is televised sports, particularly in the NFL.
Who in America can forget the OJ Simpson case, for example? Sadly, Nicole Brown Simpson is far from the only victim of violence from a celebrated football star. Over the past two years alone, 15 NFL players have been arrested for domestic violence. Forty-four players have been accused. Yet, millions of citizens continue to idolize these players, like Ben Roethlisberger, despite repeated allegations of sexual assault against them.
All these facts bring us to the question: Can a person both love the NFL and consider themselves to be a feminist? I may upset some of my fellow feminists in saying this, but I believe it’s a no.
A Celebration of Violence and Power
All sports contain the element of competition, and that is not what is in question here. Yes, women, as well as men, enjoy the spirit of healthy competition.
No, what we should question is why we idolize a sport where the primary objective is to destroy the opposing team physically, to the point where 99 percent of professional football players sustain permanent brain injuries. How is this something our culture worships?
By persisting in elevating players of a sport where all but everyone who plays walks away with a permanent injury, we are, in effect, saying life is inherently destructive. It asserts that only those who are physically strong and able-bodied are worthy of respect, of “making it.”
This viewpoint is at odds with the very premise of feminism, which asserts all human beings are equal and worthy of the same amount of respect. It's also, quite frankly, at odds with anyone with common sense enough to know that being injured is no fun and can lead to serious lifelong repercussions.
Women create life. Women sustain life. Women proclaim everyone is stronger when working together, not at odds with one another. These concepts are completely anathema to the underlying premise of a sport where only the biggest, strongest and fastest earn applause, and where causing permanent physical harm to another is considered a prime objective.
Not to mention, the NFL itself implicitly condones treating women as lesser. While the league compensates even the lowest-string athletes at the rate of millions of dollars per year, NFL cheerleaders — who face a physical schedule that is just as daunting — barely earn enough to survive. To top it off, NFL cheerleaders must perform in intolerable weather conditions, clad only in garb that can be described as skimpy at best.
How Football Encourages Sexism
There's also the issue of exclusion of women from the sport itself. While women have made significant inroads in other sports, such as the rise of the WNBA, no professional equivalent exists for women who wish to play professional football. Is this because women are inherently less suited for the combative nature of football itself, or is it yet another way of telling women they are inherently inferior?
Feminism declares all people are worthy of respect. Feminism asserts that women and men equally benefit from healthy competition. Feminism emphasizes everyone, regardless of gender, can benefit from physical labor, and that men and women alike should earn equal compensation for their efforts. Feminism encourages all people, regardless of gender, size, strength or abilities, to follow their dreams.
In contrast, football tells us only the strongest and fastest are worthy of respect. Football asserts only men benefit from physical competition, and women are inadequate to compete in certain areas. Football overtly proclaims size, girth and gender should determine one's destiny, compensation and overall value. It also encourages violence off the field, as is the case with the increased rates of domestic violence among players.
Considering all these facts, can one be an NFL fan and still be a feminist?
My opinion? Only if one takes no issue whatsoever with hypocrisy.