Category Archives: Sport

Does university rugby culture reinforce hegemonic masculinity?

by Olivia Heathfield

“All the freshers have to down pints… eat cat food, and lots of other random things” (Dempster, 2009:490).

Hegemonic masculinity is a concept that was developed by Connell (1987). This type of masculinity is considered to be the most dominant and idealised form of masculinity. It is commonly displayed by young, white, male adults who behave in ways that are considered ‘normative’. Connell (1995) explained that hegemonic masculinity was displayed in sporting activities at universities and I consider that rugby boys at Exeter University are definitely seen as the ideal by many other students at this university.

Rugby Varsity

Exeter University is one of the top universities for rugby. Each year, two big varsity matches are held where students can watch and support Exeter’s 1st rugby team. The rest of the Rugby Society congregate together in the stands… and there are a lot of them. To say they are hard to miss is an understatement. Firstly, they are all dressed in the same brown chinos, blue shirt and green tie, highlighting their collective sporting success (Dempster, 2009). Secondly, you can hear them drunkenly chanting from a mile away. They start drinking hours before the match and their rehearsed chants contain lyrics which are insulting and derogatory. For example, when Exeter played against Cardiff Met, the Exeter rugby boys chanted “Your mum cleans Lafrowda”. This chant implies that students at Cardiff Met are from less privileged backgrounds because they attend a non-Russell group university. Thus, Exeter rugby boys are attempting to show off academically as well as through sport. Obnoxiously insulting the other university clearly displays elements of hegemonic masculinity – they are ultimately trying to prove that they are the best. Moreover, at several varsity matches I witnessed physical fights between the rugby boys from Exeter and the rugby boys from the opposing university. Again, this is a way that rugby boys assert their dominance over others in order to prove that they are at the top of the masculinity hierarchy.

TP Wednesdays

Many of the rugby boys fit the idealised masculine body image – big, tall, muscly, strong (Light and Kirk, 2010). Therefore, it is not surprising that the rugby boys draw a lot of attention to themselves during a Wednesday TP (Timepiece) night out. Just like at varsity, they wear the same brown chinos, blue shirt and green tie and so, along with their tall and muscular physique, they are very easy to spot in the club. They are able to “brand themselves”, making them stand out from the “common herd” (Dempster, 2009:491). Moreover, they have a reputation for engaging in multiple sexual relations. According to Dempster (2009), rugby boys at universities view women as sexual objects, and I agree that the rugby culture at Exeter university encourages this. This is an element of hegemonic masculinity as this group holds dominance over women (Connell and Messerschmidt, 2005). So, on a Wednesday night in TP, it almost seems like a competition as to who can ‘pull’ the most girls. They do this to show off their sexual prowess and ultimately, prove that they are the most idealised, masculine man. This is reinforced further by the fact that many girls view this type of man as the most attractive (Light and Kirk, 2000). If girls want you, then you are doing something right… I guess.

Rugby Socials

Heavy drinking at university is considered to be a behaviour that displays elements of hegemonic masculinity (Dempster, 2009). Exeter rugby boys commonly engage in heavy drinking, especially during their Wednesday sports socials. They show off their masculinity by proving that they can drink multiple pints or by drinking a pint as quickly as they can. At socials, they are constantly forced to drink. I was very surprised when my friend who is in the Exeter Rugby Society told me that he drank 22 pints within the space of 2 hours! Also, freshers (first years), as part of their initiation, are forced to engage in acts that highlight their ability to withstand pain and embarrassment. These acts include getting naked and drinking or eating things like cat food (Dempster, 2009). Quite frankly, you do not even want to know what one boy drank this year in order to earn the role of the mascot at varsity.

Not all rugby boys?

It is easy to stereotype all boys who play rugby at Exeter university as rowdy, obnoxious, intimidating and disrespectful to girls. Individually, most of these boys appear to be nice and normal. Yet, when they come together, they perhaps feel that they have to prove their masculinity in the face of other boys who are also trying to be the most idealised form of masculinity. Gender acts as a key feature of one’s identity, and Warin and Dempster (2007:891) argue that through gender, “laddishness” is adopted “as a form of social currency in the early stages of their new lives at university”. Therefore, it can be argued that hegemonic masculinity is adopted by rugby boys at Exeter University because their rugby culture reinforces this type of masculinity.


Connell, R. 1995. Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity.

Connell, R. 1987. Gender and power. Sydney, Australia: Allen and Unwin.

Connell, R.W. and Messerschmidt, J.W., 2005. Hegemonic masculinity: Rethinking the concept. Gender & society19(6), pp.829-859.

Dempster, S., 2009. Having the balls, having it all? Sport and constructions of undergraduate laddishness. Gender and education21(5), pp.481-500.

Light, R. and Kirk, D., 2000. High school rugby, the body and the reproduction of hegemonic masculinity. Sport, education and society5(2), pp.163-176.

Warin, J. and Dempster, S., 2007. The salience of gender during the transition to higher education: male students’ accounts of performed and authentic identities. British Educational Research Journal33(6), pp.887-903.

Must We Ban Grid Girls?

Blog post by Aiden Graham

Without over generalisation- we can consider the response to the changes in terms of two camps.Across the sports industry, women are employed in roles intended to glamourize major events. Cycling has its Podium Girls, Boxing its Ring Girls, and Formula One (F1) it’s Grid girls. That was- until recently, when prior to the 2018 racing season- F1’s new owners, Liberty Media announced that they are calling time on the Grid Girl. A decision which has proven highly controversial.

On the one hand, we have a camp comprised of figures from within F1, a number of fans and members of the general public who have praised the decision as ending a demeaning, objectifying and outdated practice which has no place in the age of gender equality.

On the other, we have a camp comprised of the majority of fans and the grid girls themselves who have responded with a mixture of frustration, outrage and regret. This camp views the decision to remove grid girls as cow-towing to a P.C. minority, and ignoring the  Grid Girls themselves who found ‘pride’ and ‘joy’ in their work, revelling in the luxury and status that came from being part of the multi-million-dollar world of F1.

With a BBC poll finding 60% of F1 fan’s opposing the ban on Grid girls, and a number of petitions levelled against the changes- it is the latter position which seems most popular.

If there is a good reason to keep Grid Girls- it won’t be found in the role they play in hosting an F1 event.

Good morning Britain debate

Grid Girls contribute ostensibly little towards an F1 Grand Prix. Their main responsibilities include promoting race sponsors, holding umbrellas, and displaying signs to help drivers find their cars. Many of these tasks appear surplus to requirements: do drivers really need help finding their car amongst the 21 other distinctive vehicles on the grid? Regardless- there is no good reason as to why these tasks specifically require a high heeled, bikini-clad, female workforce.

If not for their function- then it must be form which explains the presence of Grid Girls. The only fathomable reason why they are present- is to excite and entice fans with their feminine good-looks. They stand as silently, smiling, sex-symbols in a testosterone fuelled, world of big money and fast cars.  This is something we can do without. Employing women simply to parade around a race track- to be ogled at amounts to little more than a needless eroticisation, a crass form of entertainment which cheapens the integrity of the sporting competition.

Rather than simply dismissing the end of Grid Girls as a P.C, ‘snowflake’ conspiracy, we should look at these changes in line with their intention to promote a more admirable image of women in sports.

There are enough images of women in the world of sport handing over medals rather than receiving them. There must be a harmful effect on women and girls who see events which accept their presence, but not their participation; which praise their figures over their fight, and welcome their style, not their skill.  When we combine this with the findings of Messner and Duncan- who have highlighted the second-rate image of female athletes, who continue to receive less air time, lower wages, and less media enthusiasm– getting rid of Grid Girls becomes all the more necessary to pave the way toward a more equitable image of women in a sporting context- even if only as a gesture to that end.

 ‘There must be a harmful effect on women and girls who see events which accept their presence, but not their participation…’


I do have reservations- and deep sympathy for the Grid Girls who have lost employment. These concerns relate to a complex debate- that requires finding the balance between the rights of individual women to make their own choices, and the rights of other women to cultivate an ideal of womanhood that they can project with pride for both themselves and their daughters. As much as grid girls enjoyed their role, we have to acknowledge that many women (and men) felt it undermined the fight for gender equality. Considering this, I feel it is far better to support the changes for their potential benefits to women all over the world; than to condemn them for the loss suffered by the few women employed as Grid Girls.

Must we ban grid girls? on the whole, this feels like a step in the right direction. Whilst I don’t believe the Grid Girls were the biggest barriers to equality of the sexes, they served no real purpose. My only concern is for the Grid Girls- these women should not be victim to what has been presented as their own emancipation. I hope Liberty Media support them in their search for new careers and that fans quickly realise the most important aspect of F1- the Grand Prix- will not be affected in the slightest.

Let’s get back to the racing…





It’s Time for Them to Open Their Eyes: The Problem of Sporting Governing Bodies and Their Ignorance Towards Sexual Harassment

Blog post by Katie Layley

The sad truth is that sexual harassment is happening all over the world in many different circumstances. The knowledge of it is growing within society as more people are telling their story. Many sexual harassment cases that have happened in nightclubs, within the acting world and in offices can be seen in the media and research papers. However, until recent years there has been little media coverage and research into sexual harassment in the sport world. Due to the increase in coverage about sexual harassment in sport, ordinary people in everyday life are acknowledging that it can happen in sport and recognise that something needs to be done about it. The cases that have been covered in the media over the past few years have focused on elite sport cases. However, research suggests that sexual harassment happens in every sport, at all ages, levels of sport, and any gender. It is important that we start to recognise that sexual harassment can happen to anyone, both amateur and professional sportspeople.

Sexual harassment comes in many forms. It can include sexually oriented comments or innuendos, taunting about the body, intimidating sexual remarks, unwanted physical contact and the domination of one person over another during meetings and training sessions. Sexual abuse is a form of sexual harassment that tends to include physical contact and violation, including groping, indecent exposure, rape, forced sexual activity, sexual assault, and physical or sexual violence.


As stated previously, sexual harassment can affect the lives of people who take part in sport regardless of their sporting attributes. The cases that get the most media coverage are ones involving elite sportspeople, or cases where hundreds of people have been affected. These high profile cases help to ensure that the perpetrators receive the correct punishment. The shocking reality is that the smaller cases are often ignored or not taken seriously by the sports organisations and therefore not passed onto the authorities. This means the victims never get justice for the horrendous experiences that they have been through at the hands of someone they should have been able to trust.

In many instances in sport the perpetrator is often someone in a position of authority. Does the power imbalance between them facilitate the abusive actions of an individual? It is likely that they use their authority to convince the athletes that what is happening is right, especially where the athletes are much younger. An example of this is Haleema Rafiq, a former cricketer at Multan Cricket Club, who accused the chairman of the club of demanding sexual favours but was not believed by those who she reported it to. This case unfortunately ended with Haleema committing suicide, showing just how much of an effect the constant harassment from a powerful figure, and the ignorance of authorities, can have over someone who has experienced it. In some cases the sport governing bodies state they have no knowledge of incidents that have happened, and do not even know about cases that have been taken to court over sexual harassment. For example, Lucy Ward, a former Leeds United footballer, won a case against her former employers for sexual harassment, but the FA claimed they had not heard about the case. This demonstrates how governing bodies do not always understand or correctly address issues relating to sexual harassment in their sports.


A large case in recent years is that of Larry Nassar, the former US gymnastic team doctor. In the past two years over 100 females have reported cases of sexual harassment and abuse from him that have happened over the past two decades. Many of these women were too scared to tell anyone as they thought they might not be believed. USA Gymnastics acted as soon as it became a high profile case and Nassar has since been charged with other cases as well as linked to allegations from the gymnasts.


Governing bodies must acknowledge that sexual harassment does happen. The IOC has created guidelines so sports can see what counts as sexual harassment and how to protect against it, but more needs to be done. It should not be acceptable for victims to suffer in silence, and for this silence to be the safest option for them. Governing bodies must work with their staff and participants to ensure a safe environment for them to work together in.