Friday, June 17, 2011

Gendered Rioting

The extent of the rioting in Vancouver following their loss to Boston in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals on June 15 surprised everybody. Perhaps a little rioting was expected, especially for those of us used to living in Montreal, but what ended up happening in Vancouver was enough to make international headlines.

The best comment about the riot I've seen so far comes from Harsha Walia via The Nation. Reflecting on why a riot would occur over a hockey game but not over political or social justice issues, she says:

“There is a sense that people rioted over a ‘stupid apolitical hockey game.’ While I too wish people were motivated by social justice issues, the hockey game is not apolitical by any means. The riots were a fundamentalist defense of a type of nationalism, most evident in the beatings of Bruins fans in Vancouver last night. NHL hockey is not simply a game, it is representative of obedience to consumerism and is part of the state’s attempt to forge a false identity—despite vast differences and inequalities across race, class and gender, through the spectacle of sport.”

Her point about NHL hockey serving to reinforce the status quo is particularly interesting and could be extrapolated beyond "obedience to consumerism" and applied to other areas as well, namely obedience to gender norms and expectations. It comes as no surprise that the vast majority of rioters were young men. This piece from the Vancouver Sun examines the role that gender norms played in creating the riot and argues that it's the social expectation and valorization of masculine aggression that accounts for the prevalence of young men rather than women participating in the riots. 

Of course, a major factor in any riot is the phenomenon where individuals feel anonymous in a large crowd and lose their inhibitions, believing they'll never be personally identified and associated with behaviours that are unusual or out of character for them normally. Clearly the rioters didn't notice that their every move was being photographed, videotaped, and tagged on Facebook! In any case, when the men in the crowd lost their inhibitions, they carried out acts of masculine aggression such as burning cars, smashing windows and throwing punches. But what did the women do?

The above YouTube video shows two women standing on top of police cars that would soon be completely destroyed. The first one is greeted with loud chants of "Take It Off" until a man jumps up on the car beside her. When the man appears, the crowd quickly stops chanting. The second woman, in the background, decides to give the crowd what it wants and shows her breasts to the mob. This is only one example of women in the riot, but it struck me that while the men rioted in ways that reinforced the social expectations of men as aggressors, at least one woman rioted by reinforcing the social expectation of women as objects for sexual display. Perhaps the rioters of both genders are less concerned with letting loose and engaging in their true desires than they are in seeking acceptance and approval from the crowd around them. 

Luckily, the woman in the video does not appear to have been subjected to any "unleashed male aggression" herself. However, the photo at the top of this post, depicting a man carrying a bloodied and disembodied mannequin leg, is more disturbing. Obviously a mannequin is not a real woman, but certainly serves to represent women, and the idea that these facsimiles of women's bodies were stripped, torn apart, fought over and kept as trophies frankly makes me feel a little ill. Let's remember that encouraging and reinforcing expectations of male aggression does not only contribute to hockey riots, but also to violence against women and rape culture. 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting comments on gendered rioting! Each time I watched an NHL playoff game this year, the group of people surrounding me was made up of more women than men. Many women like hockey; lots of us play the game, know the rules, and follow which players have the most points. But in the public presentation of the NHL playoffs, it is only men who referee, coach, play, and commentate on the events of game. During TV broadcasts and at the games, women have no public voice in the action and analysis of the playoffs. This shows us that men are encouraged to participate in the NHL playoff world, while women are only allowed to watch.