Placing Masculinities: Reading Football Fan Activities in Kerala “You should not talk politics here” Veena Mani IIT Madras India These letters written in white paint on a small rectangular black board was the first thing which caught my eyes, when I entered the small tea shop in Nainamvalappu. It was Mustafa who took me there as he thought it was a fine place to discuss the activities of Nainamvalappu football fans association (NFFA). He was one of the executive members of the club and he was given the responsibility of showing me the place around. He had worked in the Persian Gulf, like many men in the region, until he came back a few years ago. I sat down cautiously and became aware that I was the only woman in that tea shop. Someone suggested me I should try Nainamvalappu pathiri1. I smiled at them and I said I sure will. I was about to ask Mustafa about the banners supporting European and Latin American teams when a middle aged man came up to us and started staring at us. Mustafa introduced him by saying he has come from Gulf especially for the World cup. I asked him whether there are many people who have come for the event and the man next to us said that there are almost seventy people who have come down. Mustafa smiled at me and explained that the most men in Nainamvalappu who work in the Gulf gets a one-month holiday every year. Most of them manage to come for two months together in two years' time and they adjust their holidays in accordance with World cup matches! Another man added that it makes sense that way because this would enable them to come back after next two years which will be right time for the Euro cup!
In my project, I seek to study football culture in Malabar in relation to the production of masculinities. I argue for the understanding of football clubs as intensely gendered and specifically masculine spaces, and seek to explore such gendering both in terms of players' as well as fans' engagement with the space that football occupies in lived, popular, and material imagination.
I am also interested in masculinities in this field for a more quotidian reason. The conditions which make the football space a masculine space are not completely different from the everyday conditions of most public spaces in Kerala. Introduction and access to a sport is shaped by one's social position because most times an access to sport is an access to a public space. The public spaces in Kerala are primarily considered to be spaces for men and there have been active women movements from certain quarters to legitimately participate in these spaces. (Devika 2006). 1
Pathiri is a rice bread, which is popular in Malabar.
However, the sevens' spaces of football and other football spaces, as evident from my pilot study, are an exclusive space for men. In the year 2014, I attended the federation cup matches in Manjeri and also the broadcasting of the world cup matches in Kozhikode. There were only negligible number of female spectators in the federation cup matches and there was absolutely none for the screening of world cup matches. The Nainamvalappu football fan Association (NFFA), which is a permanent football fan club in my primary site, is an exclusive male club. I am interested in the spaces of football as rich analytical frames in themselves. Football grounds are an important public space for young men and it is maintained through a seemingly systematic exclusion of women and other genders. The ways in which women and others perceive this exclusion and their involvement in this popular entertainment can inform us about the gender construction in the region. I will explore the ways in which these public spaces are constructed and whether these spaces allow coming together of various constituents which go into the making of masculinities and femininities.
Football fan club activity in this region is particularly interesting to my analysis because one of many factors which makes football a spectacle is the exhilarating engagement of the fans. The category of the football fan can be used to address the notions of commodification, identification and misidentification. Most of the fans participate in the organizing of matches, screening of international matches and they perform elaborately during the match. The exhibition of diverse posters, banners and flags, mockery of other fans, ostensible dancing and hooting create a carnivalesque atmosphere in the consumption of football. The involvement is also qualified through a certain identification and misidentification with the players. These activities make football a social and cultural force in bringing people together and I will attempt to study the function of such performances.
Malappuram is another prominent football hub in Kerala. Hence it was not completely a drastic decision when All India Football Federation fixed Malappuram to be one of the venues of Federation cup matches. The other venue was Kochi international stadium. Despite the fact that Malappuram would ensure packed galleries, Kochi stadium was chosen to host important matches like semi-finals and finals. The reason given by the officials was that the stadium in Malappuram does not have proper facilities to support media broadcasting. AIFF officials pointed out that the new stadium did not have suitable lightings and the stadium was comparably smaller in size. The striking thing I noticed inside the stadium is the completely packed galleries. The huge number of spectators, cheering, drumming and dancing, reflected the deep affiliation to football in these parts of Kerala. One of the boys sitting next to me said casually to his friend “Sunil Chetri would
decide to stay back. Settle here. Even the Indian national players like him would not have played in front of such brimming stadium.” There were constant references to the matches in Kochi and they evidently looked down upon the fewer turnouts of spectators in Kochi stadium. One image which went viral during Federation cup matches was the one which showed the packed galleries and green field with words saying “This is not Madrid, this is not Manchester, This is Manjeri”. Even though some matches had clear favourite teams, they kept encouraging both the teams. In one of the interviews with a man of late fifties, I was told that they like good games with both teams competing at their best. So they cheer for both the teams. He felt that people in Malappuram has a special love towards the losing team. This juxtaposition of Kochi and Manjeri stadiums is a powerful synecdoche of what people living in these regions tell themselves about the way they see themselves. Participation of football activities is an important constitutive element of identity for certain sections of young men in Malabar. The anxiety aroused by the fixing of venues display the level of affiliation they have with the game. Some of them continuously said that the financial gain through broadcast would be paralleled by the huge turnout in the Manjeri stadium. One of the spectator proudly said “This is Malappuram. There is always demand for good football matches here”. The February edition of Mathrubhoomi sports masika had its cover page of Christiano Ronaldo giving a salute while receiving Balon de Honour and a line saying “Salaam Malappuram”. The projection of unity and celebratory ethos in Manjeri galleries seemed to perform an identity; an identity formed out of identifying with a common entity. The prolific representation and appreciation of the new stadium by prominent players, coaches and managers in magazines and TV channels seemed to say something about the football culture which is at the heart of the identity of young men in Malappuram. I use this as my entry point in my ongoing doctoral research to explore the masculinities in the region. The functions of the masculine are enframed by the space occupied by the body, or the representation of the body in a particular space and time. Bodies are inflected and marked only when they interact with spaces around them. Spaces determine the standards of body, gender, and sexualities at a given point of time and they are always dictated by the intersections of social categories. The body of a sumo wrestler or that of a ballet dancer is normalized in its respective space of a dohyo or that of a stage. In the same way, spaces of fashion or law govern our body and its expressions. Each space valorizes, accentuates or ejects certain gendered behaviors and expects accepted notions of gendered performances. Grosz (1995) discusses how textual and empirical spaces- philosophical, psychoanalytical and architectural spaces privilege masculinities. Ruth
Holliday and John Hassard (2003) discuss the production of bodies and spaces through the interaction of both categories. They discuss how certain bodies are privileged in certain spaces as these spaces are constructed through the valorization of certain values, and purposes, but also through other exclusions. The rejection of healthy bodies from a hospital bed, a friendly warning to a pregnant woman against using public transport or the transgression one finds when a butch woman uses a men's toilet exemplify the constitutive relationship between space and bodies. Spo(r)ting the Gender Sport is one of those spaces, which is highly coded through masculine values. Most sports allow different forms of competition, aggression, courage, persistence, and violence which are commonly considered to be masculine values (Messner 1990, Eisler 1995). King (1997), Dunning (1999), Jones (2008), Goig (2008), Heath (2003) and Wellard (2002) explain how sports, especially football, provide a conducive space for the production of masculinities. Thus, many literatures explore how sport is a producer and product of certain politics of masculinities and nationalism. The relationship between sport, masculinity, and nationalism is important in understanding masculine subscripts in the validation of nation-states. The performances in the sporting field often become the testing of the masculine values of a nation itself. The values of masculinities and nationalisms overlap, intersect, and reproduce one another. Readings of sport as a fertile site to study the intersections of race, body, gender, nation and modernity (Bourdieu 1993, Carrington and McDonald 2001, Washington and Karen 2001, Connel 2005, Anderson 2008, Besnier and Brownell 2012, Kidd 2013) and sport as a site for resistance to oppressions in the name of these above mentioned categories (Dunning 1999, Coakley and Pike 2009) present sport as an important analytical tool to study masculinities and nationalism. Sport is a space for the making but also the rupturing of masculinities. It is a site for new codings of gender (Wellard 2009), and a ground where hegemonic masculinities are constantly enforced and contested. (Messner 1995) Sports exemplify the pervasive masculine ethos in society (Kreager 2007, Kidd 2013). The fixing and disciplining of abject genders are carried through the strict regime of gender verification tests, and also through the advertising industry which constantly demands a gendered performance out of the athletes. (Ferguson-Smith and Ferris 1991, Ljungqvist and Simpson 1992, Duncan and Messner 1998) Nevertheless, many see a possible subversion of dominant gender ideologies within the domain of sport through employing sensible strategies to include female and queer subjects. With the increased interaction of diverse gender behaviors, there is a prospect of changing the existing masculine culture of sports. (Theberge 1985, Kane and
Snyder 1989, Anderson 2008) This is however to be considered in light of the ways in which the production of disciplined bodies and desired masculinity necessarily allows for the suppression, molding and exclusion of other bodies and genders through institutional violence. This masculine subject, who is created by violence, engenders violence upon others who do not conform to the norm. Butler (2011) discusses how the abject, which is formed at the outside of the discursive limits of the subject, is brought back to the subject position through violence. Violence is viewed as a constitute element of sport and often performances of extreme violence are justified through the spectatorial value of sport. (Dunning 1999, King 1999, 2000 and Gieseler 2014) Masculinities are produced through performances of violence, and by excluding other genders, and sport as a spectacle reinforces this legitimacy of violence and exclusion. (Messner 1990) Playing the Gender As sport is primarily a space for the display of bodies, the prominent gaze is one which compares, contrasts, hierarchizes and evaluates. Extending Butler's arguments on performativity, gender, and identity to sports studies, the continual performances of a particular form of masculinity in hegemonic sporting practices is what creates and sustains the masculinity that constitutes sporting arenas. However, there is always a possibility of subverting it (like her concept of drag) within the space of sport. (Butler 1990) When the sporting field and the sporting body interact within the prescribed rules, certain values are projected onto the players. Any sports person who transgresses the given set of behavior codes is held apart not only because she/he violates the rules of the game but, also because most times, codes of gender and performances of nationalism are thrown into crisis. Instances like Zidane headbutting Materrazi led to the questions of the mixed nationality of Zidane (Jiwani 2008, Dauncey and Morrey 2008), and racial remarks on Jason Lee's dreadlocks (Carrington 1998) flared up tensions in England regarding the question of migrants. The transgression of normative gender constructs in the performances of Navratilova (Duncan and Messner1998, Allen 1997) and race inflected representations of Venus Williams (Vincent 2004) point to the intersecting categories which go into the narration about sport personalities. A close reading of football fan behavior exemplifies the ways in which masculinities are performed and legitimized in sport. The figure of the football hooligan decodes the packed meanings floating in stadiums and streets. In an ethnographic study of Scottish football fans in Sweden, Giulianotti(1995) discusses how the behavior of Scottish football fans should be understood within
cultural, historical, and social contexts. The various behaviors – hooligan ways and the anti/non hooligan ways- are class and age specific and they present different modalities of masculine behavior. Football fan behavior brings out a new form of masculinities which actively aids the reproduction of dominant masculine ways called inductor masculinities (Goig 2008), as a performance to participate in the process of identification with a community. (Bourdieu 1993, Dunning 1999, King 2000, Mager 2005) Fans, when displaying transgressive performances remake notions of exclusive masculinity and ethnic nationalism. (King 1997, 2000) These studies explain the role of spectators as active participants in perpetuating the masculinities embedded in sport. Masculinising Malabar A reading into the complex commingling of representation and identities will reveal how they are produced simultaneously and how they participate in the workings of power. Stuart Hall (1980) examines the process of encoding and decoding which produces representations and identities, and how representations are produced, distributed, consumed and reproduced vis-a-vis the “deep semantic codes of culture”. (Hall 1980:168) Understanding the relationship between masculinities, sport, and culture is central to my project which aims to study the phenomenon of sevens football and the frenzy around the sport in Malabar. Malabar‟s football affiliation cannot be understood without reading everyday life in the region. Many people living in these regions see the Persian Gulf as a passport to prosperity. Malabar, which has a long history of trade relations with Persian Gulf regions, was in constant contact with the Arab world. The Osellas (2000) study Malabar as a space, which is in interaction with modernity and globalization. They discuss the money and labor flow after mass migrations to the Persian Gulf and how these migrations helped to intensify exclusive social spaces for men. These intimate masculine bonds, within and away from the homeland reformulated kinship and friendship in Malabar. (Osella and Osella 2000) In another study, they discuss masculine spaces from the 1970s to 1990s, where they explain how sexual activities involving a young male and an adult man were seen not within the framework of homosexuality but within a male bonding structure of homosociality. (Osella and Osella 2012) Discussing male rites of passage, the Osellas (1998) explain how flirting with young girls and sharing those romantic and sexual experiences with male friends strengthened friendship among men in Malabar. Football fans associations are primarily a close-knit masculine space and my project will look at how football practices reproduce masculinities in Malabar. The sophisticated ways in which culture and masculinities play out in everyday life can be studied given special attention to the production
of masculinities through football practices in Malabar.
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