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The construction of masculinity among male collegiate volleyball players.

Since the middle of the century, sport has played a large role in the social construction of masculinity. Sport has helped to perpetuate the privileged status of men in Western societies by equating male attributes like strength, aggression, and competitiveness with hegemonic masculinity. In addition, sport serves to devalue other forms of physical competence as well as sports that do not contain high levels of physical prowess. Hence, sport has served as a major player in the construction of masculinity and, therefore, in the perpetuation of the ideology of male supremacy and female subordination (Connell, 1983, Dunning, 1986, Messner & Sabo, 1994). As a social institution, however, sport had gone unexamined until the rise of the feminist movement. Preceding the feminist movement and without: contention, sport served to objectify woman with little or no connection made between sport and theories of gender relations (Whitson, 1990). Soon after the movement gained popularity, feminists began a critique of male sport, examining its influences on women and the "contributions" of sport to the social reproduction of male hegemony in contemporary society (Whitson, 1990, p. 20).

Two points help to explain the importance behind the study of gender and sport. First, sport is not affected simply by gender but is a social institution marked by many cultural dimensions. Messner and Sabo (1990) explain: "Viewing sport as a gendered cultural space does mean that gender, as a dynamic, relational process, is taken as a fundamental theoretical category in understanding the historical and contemporary importance and meaning of sport" (p. 17). Second, the structures of gender relations are "historically constructed structures of power" (p. 27) that have been traditionally used to empower men and subordinate women (Whitson, 1990). Accordingly, gender relations found within sport need to be analyzed to help uncover how these structures of power develop and operate. The construction of masculinity in sport cannot be minimized because of its importance in maintaining hegemonic masculinity (Connell, Ashenden, Kessler, & Dowsett, 1982).

This study is a qualitative analysis that addresses the relational issues found within the "genderized" arena of sport. The study observes a male collegiate volleyball team from a large northeastern research university. The four areas the study explores are masculine identity and gender relations, the perception that volleyball is a secondary sport, player responses to inferiority, and sexual aggression.


When examining gender relations and the construction of masculinity, it is a good idea to examine what institutional factors affect the development of these areas. Connell (et al., 1982) outlines two areas that have influenced how male-female relationships are structured. First, one must understand the cumulative effect of male-female interactions. Men and women interact and affect each other in many different ways. The domains of social interaction and cultural exchange are diverse and can range from social gatherings, work environment, and educational seminars to arenas of sport. The effect of each interaction on the overall development of the individual is cumulative and will tend to be consistent with the domineering social structures of our society. Therefore, with respect to gender relations and the construction of masculinity in sport, a cumulative effect will most likely replicate hegemonic masculinity and a patriarchal social structure. Second, this social construction is a dynamic structure that can be modified by both political activism and intellectual scholarship. Such modification can be demonstrated by the recent "history of change and tension in male-female relations" (Whitson, 1990, p. 20).

Given the importance of gender relations and the social arenas that play a role in their development, it is essential to examine areas that perpetuate male superiority and female subordination. For years sport has served as a "fertile bed" for the construction of masculinity and the transformation of boys into men (see Mangan, 1981). Connell (1983) argues that "learning to use the body in forceful and space-occupying ways and learning to associate such behavior with being man" have helped to construct the "expectations" of young men in relationships with individuals of either gender (Quoted in Whitson, 1990, p. 21). Dunning (1986) explains that sport, as a male culture that supports the social practices of male bonding and proving one's masculinity, provides for continual reproduction of patriarchal values (Melnick, 1992, Messner, 1990, Messner & Sabo, 1994). There is a tradition on behalf of the institution of sport to socially reproduce the "benefits" as well as the "expectations" of the privileged male culture (Connell et al., 1982).


There is a strong propensity for sport to place physical ability on the same level as moral strength (Whitson, 1990). This tendency contributes to sport's promotion of hegemonic masculinity and its devaluing of non-traditional masculinities and femininity. Therefore, sport values not just that which is male but that which is macho, physically aggressive, and combative. Concurrently, sport subordinates non-hegemonic masculinity, such as intellectual competitions, games of finesse, and games with little contact between opponents as well as all that is feminine (Young, 1979). Craib (1987) explains that sport organizes masculinity "not as a positive construct but rather as that which is not feminine, or, more bluntly, not effeminate" (p. 721).

Connell (1983) articulates the importance of understanding that "body sense is crucial [in] the development of male identity" and stipulates that to be male is to be able to "project a physical presence that speaks of latent power" (Quoted from Whitson, 1990, p. 23). Furthermore, sport teaches males to transfer the physical presence they learned on the competitive field to domains outside the arena of sport. Merleau-Ponty (1962) contends that everyone's self-identity is deeply grounded in our "experiences of embodiment." This embodiment is "integral to the reproduction of gender relations that boys are encouraged to experience their bodies, and therefore themselves, in forceful, space-occupying, even dominating ways" (Whitson, 1990). Therefore, the masculinizing and feminizing practices associated with the body are the foundation of the social construction of masculinity and femininity (Whitson, 1990). As a result of this connection, sport is essential in the social reproduction of gender relations.


In a time when male dominance is being contested in many social domains, many men are searching for an avenue to support their faltering ideology of hegemonic masculinity. Dunning (1986) explains that male hegemony is enhanced when masculine characteristics like fighting skills and physical prowess are honored in society and when all-male social institutions such as sport are maintained. Inversely, the status of the privileged male is eroded when society is ameliorated and when social institutions, which have been primarily all-male, become integrated with both genders. Whitson (1990), in agreement with Dunning, further articulates that it is easy to see why some men who fear the integration of the sexes speak strongly about sport as being "a male thing" because it is the all-male institution, and therefore hegemonic masculinity, which they seek to maintain.

Sport serves as an institution in which boys are with boys and men are with men and interactions can take place that would not normally occur in other integrated areas of society. Inglis (1977) suggests that what occurs with such interactions is the "sharing of men's emotional responses and judgments and the initiation of the boy into a male language and into male traditions" (Quoted from Whitson, 1990, p. 25). These traditions serve to masculinize societal values in a manner that promotes male bonding and hegemonic masculinity and subordinates that which is non-hegemonic or feminine (Oriad, 1984). Therefore, with the integration of the female gender and femininity into sport, these interactions and masculinizing practices would be hindered and sport would no longer serve to perpetuate the privileged male (Fine, 1987).

Since the movement to study sport began, many different accounts of masculinizing practices have appeared in the literature: from Bouton's (1971) "shooting beaver" (looking up the skirts of women who are sitting in the stands); to the scandal at Southern Methodist University, which revealed that boosters paid sorority members $400 to have sex with high school age recruits ("Sex-for-Athletes," 1987); to the comment made by Bobby Knight, one of the most recognized coaches ever to participate in NCAA basketball, "If rape is inevitable, relax and enjoy it" (Melnick, 1992, p. 34). Such practices suggest that sport, as a hegemonic masculine activity, serves as a preserve of male superiority in which traditional masculinity is celebrated and other kinds of masculinity and femininity are abhorred and discouraged (Whitson, 1990).


The data presented here were gathered as part of a qualitative study of a collegiate men's volleyball team. This nationally ranked team, named the Hippos, comes from a large research institution in the northeast. It consists of thirteen players, one head coach, two assistant coaches, and two female managers. The players on the team are extremely homogenous; height is the only distinguishing characteristic. The average Hippo stands about six feet, one inch tall, has short hair, is thin, and is white. When each player is a rookie, he is given a nickname. These nicknames very often stand the test of time so well that it is not unusual to hear that the players themselves do not know every one of their teammates' real names. For the purpose of this study, I have changed the nicknames of the players to similar "pseudo nicknames" Although I never played volleyball with any of the players, I am a former collegiate volleyball player with similar physical characteristics. This similarity benefited the collection of data.

I began the study on September 25, 1994, and completed it on April 17, 1995. I observed the team from its first gathering in September to its last match at the national tournament. The research strategies I used to collect the data during this study were participant observation, in-depth interviews, and a coaching technique used by Adler and Adler (1991). Upon completion of the participant observation phase in late November, I met with each player and conducted forty-five minute in-depth interviews. The interviews were semi-structured but flexible enough to allow the player to digress if he chose. I also interviewed one of the female managers of the team. This interview was completely unstructured and was conducted to collect any data she might have with respect to gender relations and the construction of masculinity. The final research strategy involved my becoming the assistant coach of the volleyball team. This position was taken after every interview was completed and with no prior knowledge of the players that I would be their assistant coach. The timing ensured that the players would not be biased by my coaching rank. This type of observation was similar to Adler and Adler's (1991), when Peter Adler became part of a top-ranked basketball team coaching staff to gather data that would otherwise go uncollected. By taking this position with the team, I was able to observe conversations, behaviors, and activities that would otherwise have been inaccessible.



The players in this study narrated the belief that sport served them in their transformation from boyhood to manhood. Mangan (1981) and Whitson (1990) acknowledge that sport is often viewed by parents, coaches, and other adults as a "vehicle" that facilitates the "initiation" of a young boy into the male world. In addition, Lehne (1989) states: "... homophobia enforces the rigid sex roles of both gay and straight men. The threat of being labeled feminine, a faggot, or a sissy may be used by coaches, fathers, peers, or psychiatrists to pressure men to conform to traditional gender expectations in a variety of social situations" (p. 108). The majority of players expressed their belief that volleyball was a "women's" sport. The fear of being labeled a woman, or non-masculine, would explain why these players took so long to become involved in the sport of volleyball.

Each of these men narrated the belief that the more physically challenging the sport, the more respectable the athlete was for choosing that sport. For instance, when Magic was a boy, he chose to play the sport of football over volleyball. Magic described how he used to "bust" on, or make fun of, his teacher because he played volleyball, calling it a "women's sport." Likewise, other players identified a level of "machoness" to sport, describing volleyball as a "female sport" or "girl's sport." Sergeant described how other athletes viewed the sport of volleyball. Sergeant said, "I have been around football and basketball players who talk down volleyball. You know, say it's a pussy sport." Throughout the study, players narrated that volleyball was not perceived as a "masculine" sport but as a "feminine" sport.

Many of the players did not like believing that the sport they played is considered a women's sport. When they justify why it is not, they remain consistent with the ideology that volleyball is as aggressive and masculine as the traditional "masculine" sports of football and basketball. They consider labeling volleyball a "women's sport" an insult and justify why volleyball, as they play it, is as aggressive and demanding as the masculine sports.

This type of labeling was the first appearance of masculinity that devalued femininity and promoted hegemonic masculinity. Just as the players were always eager to defend what they did as masculine, they consistently considered poor performance or lack of commitment as feminine. The next section examines how the players labeled and positioned each other's activities and behaviors in a manner that maintained their masculine environment.


Through field observations and the interview with Pam, the female manager, a hegemonic environment was observed. The most common way the players upheld the ideology of male dominance was to place women on a subservient level by making sexual comments among the players and directing them toward the managers (who were both female). Many times the verbal aggression portrayed women as sexual objects and men as the aggressors. At one practice Tiny wore a shirt that said "Rub a Little Beaver on Your Lips." It was not long before the other players and even the female managers were commenting on its sexual overtones. When one of the players complimented him on it, Tiny replied, "Yeah, isn't it great!" While this was not the most outward way the players subordinated women, it surely set the tone for their hegemonic environment.

The coach of the team, Tom, is an individual who is very proactive in the promotion of women's sports. He firmly believes in respect for women and frequently said, "I will not be associated with a team that does not respect women." Throughout the season, Tom spent a lot of energy "teaching" the Hippos how they should be respectful to women. With his presence, Tom helped to suppress a lot of what traditionally goes on in the construction of masculinity in male athletes. Equally important, though, is that Tom also served as a catalyst towards the denigration of women.

As a coach, Tom taught the players how to perform fundamental volleyball techniques. In many of his demonstrations, Tom used sexual analogies so that the players would better understand what he was trying to communicate to them.

Field Notes: In many of the skills demonstrations, Tom

used sexual terminology to explain what the players should

do. When explaining how a player should transition off the

net, Tom said "hard-on, hard-off. Most of you guys should

get the hard-on part right." Similarly, when he explains

how to hit the volleyball he uses the term "fucking the air."

This is said because the players are supposed to push their

hips out and then back to get a powerful hit. After teaching

the team how to hit, Tom had another drill that taught the

players to think when they hit the ball. The drill was executed

by having one player go up and hit the ball while the

other player would ask the hitting player a question. The

player hitting would have to answer the question before he

hit the ball. Tom demonstrated this drill by asking "What is

your favorite thing to do?" and answered "get a blow job."

Finally, when teaching the players how to dive on the floor,

Tom, as well as the players, would often simulate having

sex when they dove on the floor. Similarly, when Tom

showed the players how to dive correctly, he utilized a sexual

act. Tom had Tiny sit on the floor and spread his legs

apart. Then he told Stilts, who was working on his diving

skills, "stay low and act as if you are about to dive between

a women's legs." Stilts then dove on the floor and ended up

between Tiny's legs. Tiny encouraged Stilts by appearing

sexually excited. While this was happening, most of the

other players laughed as well as made sexual comments

about "eating pussy."

The event that most significantly demonstrates the devaluing of nonhegemonic masculinity and femininity occurred over winter break. The players were given a few weeks off to relax but were expected back for practice two weeks before the spring semester. Only two of the players, Burns and Charlie, did not show up for practice. Burns had called the coach and explained to him that he had caught a serious cold and was ill. He said that he went to the doctor's office and was told that he had an enlarged spleen and should take it easy. Charlie, on the other hand, told the coach that he missed the first two weeks of spring practice because his mother wanted him to stay home for the entire break. The team did not accept either excuse very well. The following is a description of what transpired:

Field Notes: After the team heard about Burns' and Charlie's

excuses for not making practice they became angry.

This was a feeling shared by the majority of the players

because many of them were sick and also wished they

could be home with their families. As a result of the

absence of the two players, the team labeled them. The

team said that both Burns and Charlie had "pussies" and

that they should be "rejected," so to speak, when they

returned. This became a driving force of the team during

those two weeks. If a player looked as it! he was screwing

up, they compared him to the two "pussies" who were not

there. If Burns' or Charlie's names ever came up, they were

quickly disregarded as if they were not entitled to an opinion

because they were "pussies" or "little girls." When the

time grew closer, there seemed to be an excitement in the

air as to how the two would be rejected. The term "puss-endectomy"

was developed to describe what would have to

be done to Burns and Charlie when they returned to practice.

Because Charlie was a rookie and Burns was not,

Charlie seemed to get the brunt of the anger. At one point

before their return; an assistant coach, Teddy "B," yelled

out loud, "Burns is ready for his `puss-endectomy' but

Charlie said he's going to keep his!"

After the two players returned, they went through a

couple of weeks of subordinate treatment. Burns lost his

starting position for the beginning of the season, but gained

it back after only a few matches. Charlie, on the other

hand, never quite gained the respect back from the players.

He completely lost what little time he saw during the

matches and never lost the label "pussy." When someone

on the team screwed up, it was not uncommon to hear, "Oh

shit! Now you sound like Charlie!"

Finally, like the two players who were absent, Pam

was also absent. When she returned before the two players

did, Tom pulled her aside and said, "I want to talk to you

before you hear what is going on. The players are really

upset that Burns and Charlie are not at practice and have

been saying that the two of them need `puss-endectomies.'

I know that it's offensive, but this time I think that it's all

right because of the situation. So please don't be offended."

An interesting point about the previous situation is that although Charlie was a rookie, that was not the only reason why he was subordinated by the rest of his teammates. Careful field observations clarified that the players classified certain behaviors as "non-masculine." Examples of this behavior would be lack of effort, compulsive complaining, whining, fear of a hard hit ball, and lower talent levels. As defined by this environment, Charlie was classified by many of the players as "non-masculine" or a "pussy." This classification was outwardly spoken about and rarely contradicted by any of the other players. He, more than any of the other players, was devalued by the use of subordinating labeling. The most clear example is that Charlie was not a very good defensive player, could not dive very well, and very often appeared afraid of the volleyball when it was hit. Many of the players yelled at him and "encouraged" him when he was playing defense by saying "don't be a pussy, play the ball!" (or behind his back, "he's such a pussy"). I remember speaking with Tom about Charlie's play when Tom commented, "Charlie will never be a good player as long as he is such a pussy!" As for the way Tom handled the situation with Pam, it was quite typical of the way he handled the team. While Tom very often demanded that his players respect women, he had a tendency to vocalize in a way that contradicted this expectation.


Many displays of assimilation into this team's "masculine" culture were observed during the study. Players encouraged other players to have "one-night stands," looked down on players who allowed their "women" to control them, and pressured players to drink alcoholic beverages, get drunk, and vomit. Team members had different ways to transform players' behaviors into what they considered appropriate behavior for men. Before explaining the following event, it is advantageous to describe the player referred to as Bashful. Bashful was the most reserved player on the team. He was quiet and rarely spoke unless he was addressed. When he did speak in front of the team, he tended to fumble over words and did not clearly articulate what he was trying to say. Bashful was a rookie and, in my opinion, was the team's "pet project." One example of the "pet project" was the team's effort to teach Bashful how to swim. The team agreed that they would continue to have 6:00 a.m. pool practices until Bashful swam a full length of the pool. Word got out that the team had done this, and Bashful had a full page dedicated to him in the school paper when he finally swam his first length.

The team also felt that it was their responsibility to get Bashful to drink for the first time, which they did, and to get him to become vulgar if he wanted to, which they were also successful at accomplishing. The following event occurred in the locker room after a close match that the team had just won. Because the team plays a club sport, the men rarely have a locker room to congregate in. Therefore, it was one of the few times the team was alone in an area where there were no women.

Field Notes: After the match, the team went ahead to the

locker room while the coaching staff finished up in the

gym. When Tom finished talking to a reporter from the

school paper, the three of us headed to the locker room.

When we entered the locker room, the players were all sitting

down on the benches in a square (the locker room was

set up in a 15 foot by 15 foot area). The only player not sitting

was Bashful, who was being encouraged by the rest of

the team to do something. The guys were being very supportive,

smiling, and giving encouragement. Bashful was

looking down at the floor smiling and appearing to "psyche"

himself up to do something. Then, out of nowhere,

Bashful began to yell and everyone became silent. What

followed was a series of vulgar, sexually demeaning

phrases, which Bashful proudly screamed. He said things

like "fucking bitch," "eat pussy," "lick twat," "suck my

balls," "do her doggy style," "stick my finger in her ass."

The whole event lasted only about fifteen seconds, at

which point, Magic, who happened to be the proud initiator

of this practice, yelled out, "Oh come on Bashful! That

wasn't long enough!" Bashful laughed and looked down

while the rest of the team encouraged him to do it again.

Bashful accommodated his teammates by doing the yelling

again. The second time was longer with similar obscenities

usually directed at domineering sexual behavior toward

women. What was so apparent in this situation was the

strong support that Bashful received from his teammates

and the anger in Bashful's face as he said what he did.

When it was all over, the team cheered, slapped his hand,

and congratulated him. Bashful seemed rather proud of his

accomplishment. He also spoke more after that yelling

episode than he ever did previously. As for Tom, the head

coach, he just turned to me and smiled while Teddy "B"

smiled and shook his head.

Curry (1990), Kidd (1987), and Weir (1990) all explain that the pressure imposed on an athlete by his peers can cause a male to behave in a manner that is not consistent with the way he would otherwise behave. As mentioned in the previous field notes, Magic was the creator of the obscenity-yelling tradition. It began on a road trip in the van, when neither of the female managers could travel. Magic yelled out mimicking an old man's voice: "Hey there's no women in the van!" (his emphasis) and then proceeded to yell "I'd like to lick your cunt, stick my dick down your throat, stick my finger in your ass, do you doggy style, lick twat, suck my cock, come in your face, you stupid bitch." In response to this behavior the rest of the players laughed and even offered suggestions on new things Magic could say, which he did. The only person in the van who stated any sort of objection was Tom, who called Magic a "pig." Of all the players, only Magic and Bashful "performed" this specific verbal attack against women.


Guernsey (1993) explains that a large group of male athletes entering higher education have become insensitized to the role of women in sports and society. Koss and Gaines (1993) found that among 530 college students, including 140 varsity athletes, the athletes had higher levels of sexual aggression toward women than the non-athletes. Throughout this study, several Hippo players demonstrated signs of sexual aggression towards women. Pam, the female manager, had a difficult time with two players, Magic and Homer. Although she felt that these players were unusually aggressive towards her, Pam described some things that the rest of the team did that made her feel inferior.

In the beginning of the season, for instance, no one on the team called Pam by her real name. Pam stated that if she had "put [her] name on [her] chest or ass, maybe they would remember it." Pam explained that this problem was not limited to the volleyball team but that did not make it any easier on her when the players "spoke to [her] chest and not [her] face."

Pam also complained that she was treated as if she was there to be the Hippos' servant. She did not like being treated as if her only purpose at the practices and games was to fill the water bottles and retrieve the balls. At one practice Homer made a comment that Pam felt subordinated her role with the team.

It was Homer's attempt at being nice. And it really didn't

offend me but I just thought it was really funny. Because

from what I have heard he has a problem with expressing

himself. And he came up to me and he, ah, thanked me for

being there, which was sincere, he came on his own. But

then he should have just stopped there. Because then he

said "if you weren't here we would have to shag [pick up]

our own balls," or something to that effect. But that's why I

was there?

Pam felt her role with the team was similar to that of an assistant coach, but as the season progressed similar subordinating behaviors towards her continued to occur. During an away tournament, Magic treated Pam in the same manner as Homer with the exception that he was hostile to her. When I asked her what upset her at the tournament, Pam explained:

I was filling up the water bottles. And I couldn't believe it.

Which Tom, Amy [the other manager], and I have had a

conversation because one other time he [Magic] went over

to Amy's face and shook a water bottle in her face and said

"fill this up." And from that point on they were all supposed

to be responsible for their own water bottles. They

were supposed to put their numbers on them. So then at the

tournament he did the same thing to me. He kicked the

cases of water bottles over to me and said "Fill these up."

And I said, "They're your responsibility," and he just

screamed at me! "Fill the fucking water bottles up! Just

fucking fill them up!" And I couldn't believe it. I was like

"Oh my God." So that set me off.

After this episode with Magic, Pam was visibly upset and extremely aggravated. Upon seeing her, Tom took the team aside and yelled that if they could not respect the women managers there was no place on the team for them. Although this did not eradicate what happened, Pam said that she was fine and continued to fulfill her responsibilities as manager.

Besides being treated in a subordinating manner, Pam was also subjected to sexual harassment by both Magic and Homer. Pam described her experiences on a road trip when Homer continually directed sexual innuendoes towards her.

Pam: Ah, well we were in the van and I was sitting in the

seat and there was no head rest, it was one of those stumpy

seats. And I was making a joke about it that there was no

head rest. And Homer said, "I'll give you a head rest. All

you have to do is" and he made a gesture that all I had to

do was to put my face in his lap, basically. And he was

like, "it even comes with a chin rest." And that was the first

one. And then on that trip for the rest of the night he kept

on saying things. Because I was dressed up, I came from

the Christmas party, so ah, he said something about, ah,

having a girl on his arm. Or something like that. And then

when we got to Jolly "G"s house, I was tired and we had to

do the rookies' stuff so we were all sitting on the couch and

I put a pillow on Tiny's shoulder, and I leaned on his shoulder.

I mean I wasn't laying on him or anything! (her

emphasis) I was just sitting up and putting my head on the

pillow. And Homer said, "Oh, I thought you were saving

that for me." Oh, and I remember what he said at Taco

Bell, because Jolly "G" told me I was going to be sleeping

in his sister's bed and Homer kept on making statements

about him sleeping with me.

SH: How did what Magic and Homer did on this trip affect


Pam: My reaction at the end of the tournament was that I

had had enough. From Homer, from Magic, I had enough.

And it was just like that's it. Especially Homer from all those

things he said before because I didn't respond. Because I

wanted to stay calm, I didn't want to cause a scene. And I

didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he

was bothering me. And he was bothering me.

Although Pam had a difficult time with Homer and Magic being sexually aggressive and verbally demeaning towards her, when I asked her how the other guys treated her, she explained:

Well, if I take them [Homer and Magic] out, it's fine. I

mean there are some other people on the team who talk

about women or something, but that doesn't bother me

until it's directed at me.

Finally, I asked Pam if she ever felt physically threatened or uncomfortable as a result of any of the players' behaviors. Pam replied:

Homer has made me physically uncomfortable when he

was saying those things and I was sitting right next to him.

It made me physically uncomfortable. I wanted to punch

him and make him go away (laughing a little bit).

Pam had to deal with an assortment of issues while being a part of this male culture, an environment she voluntarily joined. While most players were not as extreme as Homer and Magic, Pam was subjected to all of the subordinating and sexually demeaning comments that occurred during the team's activities. When I asked her if how she was treated affected her feelings towards men, she replied:

Well, I'm indifferent. I can get beyond it, and I can disregard

them, and I can not like them. And that's fine. I can

get over it, deal with them, and know that that's the way

they are. But it's discouraging. It's discouraging, I don't

know. It's disappointing that I have to act like that. I can't

just be the manager of the team and help the guys out and

do what I have to do. I have to take an extra step and cope

with their attitudes.

While interviewing Pam I began to wonder why she would put up with such behavior when she really did not have to be there. Her simple reply was "commitment." Pam felt that because she had made a commitment to the team in the beginning of the season, she was obligated to see it through to the end.


Many times the players, either in small groups or as a team, went out to the local bars looking for women to "hook up" with. While most of the players were overheard describing this as their goal, a few of the players, especially the rookies Cruise and Fabio, devoted a lot of time and energy to meeting women. On one occasion during the year, the two of them along with Charlie had an incident at a popular hangout, The Pitcher's Mound.

Field Notes: One night, while at The Pitcher's Mound,

Cruise, Fabio, and Charlie were out trying to meet women.

The three of them had alcohol to drink, but it is not clear

whether or not they were intoxicated. During the night, the

three of them became physically aggressive towards at

least one woman (who was intoxicated) and were said to

have groped her, grabbing her breasts, her buttocks, and

her genitals (although they never confirmed or denied grabbing

her vagina, it was said that they did). When the three

were confronted with the incident, Cruise had a big smile

on his face and replied, "She didn't care or she would have

stopped me." Similarly, Charlie did not see how "grabbing

her ass while she was so drunk that she did not even realize

[his perception] that she was being touched" could be

wrong. The woman did not file any charges against the


A number of researchers, for instance, Bredemeier, Sheilds, Weiss, and Cooper (1986), Eskenazi (1990), Neimark (1991), and Weiberg (1991), have examined the issue of athletes committing sexual assault. While there is compelling evidence that nothing inherent in men leads them to assault women, Sabo (1990) explains that "it is the way sports are organized to influence developing masculine identities and male peer groups that leads many male athletes to [sexual assault or] rape" (p. 34).

In another incident, Cruise described his previous night out. The conversation, occurring in the van during a road trip, discussed how Cruise liked to "hook up" with women.

Field Notes: We were driving to a tournament when Cruise

was recounting what had happened to him the night before.

He had explained that he met a women out at a bar and

proceeded from the bar back to her place. He said that he

hooked up" with her but did not have sex with her. What he

thought was so humorous was that, while he was in bed

with this woman, he leaned over the top bunk and vomited

on her roommate in the bottom bunk. All the while he was

telling the story, it was broken up on several occasions by

his laughter.

Cruise was also implicated by his teammates in an incident when he urinated on an intoxicated women, showing total disregard for her as a human being. Toufexis (1990) explains that this type of activity makes the victim, often a woman, an incidental part of the aggressive behavior.

In many instances, the players did not perceive women that they were intimate with as people; rather, they saw them as sexual objects to be used for a night. They argued that the women were willing participants and they would never take advantage of anyone. While I would tend to agree that, while sober, they probably would not take advantage of a woman, the question remains, "What happens to their moral reasoning when, as so often is the case, they mix alcohol and sex?"

After a tournament, the players have time to relax and do as they please. While many choose to stay at the hotel, others go out looking for women to have sex with. After the Michigan tournament, three of the players left the hotel to go to a party. At the party, Homer met a women and had sex with her. He did not return to the hotel until the next day when he proceeded to tell his teammates about what happened. Frequently, after a player had met a woman and been intimate with her, he told the team what happened, with some players being more explicit than others. These conversations usually occurred in the van or during practice while the team warmed up. Five of the thirteen players, Homer, Stilts, Fabio, Cruise, and Magic, were the most sexually explicit, but this ritual of describing what occurred with a woman escaped few on the team. For example, when Burns lost his virginity, he told the team. This was a big occasion for the guys because Bums was always being made fun of because he was in college and never got "laid." When the team found out, it appeared to be a bigger deal to his teammates than it was to Bums.

The season was completed on April 17, 1995, at the national tournament. Although the players usually concentrated on their play, many could not forget about the traditional "partying" at the national tournament. The team finished 17th on Friday and immediately proceeded to the hotel to begin partying. At the hotel, five and one-half cases of beer were waiting for the players. The rules were simple: drink, have fun, be respectful, and do not leave the hotel. The team met another team from their home town and the two teams began to drink together. When one of the other team's players mentioned a party, Fabio and Cruise left the hotel to try and "hook up." Clearly, they were not embarrassed to share with the team that they wanted to find women they could be sexually intimate with. The following data describe what happened that night.

Field Notes: Both Fabio and Cruise met women that night.

It is not clear as to how intimate Cruise was but Fabio

explained what had happened with him. Fabio met a

woman and went to a hotel room where he and she

engaged in sexual activity. While the two of them were

having intercourse, a player from the other team entered

the room, at which point he joined the two in their sexual

activity. When Fabio explained the story, he described it as

if he had accomplished a great thing. When I asked him if

he was at all preoccupied with the second male (John Doe),

he replied "John Doe didn't fuck her! (his emphasis) Only I

fucked her." The story captured the attention of most of the

players and was considered one of the more "eventful"

things that happened at the tournament.

Like most other incidents when a player met a woman and engaged in sexual activity, Fabio had no reservations about explaining exactly what happened that night. Similarly, the common response of the other players was that of excitement, encouragement, and envy. It was as if he had conquered something that most of the other guys on the team had not. This event brought a lot of attention to Fabio, something he clearly enjoyed. Later that night, Fabio attributed the way he was treated by the veterans to his success with women. Fabio explained, "The reason why we [Fabio and Cruise] get treated poorly by the other guys is not because we are rookies, but because they are jealous of us."

The players' views of women as intimate partners were consistently sexual. Even the players who had girlfriends often spoke about their relationships in terms of the lack of sexual activity within the relationship because they were too busy with volleyball. As for the single players, they often took a "hunting" mentality. They were the hunters, and the women were their trophies. Cruise explained it clearly when he said: "I always try to hook up with a girl on the first date. If she lets me, then I know that I wouldn't want her for a girlfriend because I would wonder how many other guys she was with."


Few studies researching how male athletes produce their masculinity focus on athletes who are involved in "non-masculine" sports. In much of the literature reviewed, the male athlete was portrayed on a gradient, with the most sexually aggressive, subordinating athletes participating in the contact or combative sports and the less aggressive ones participating in sports like volleyball and tennis. This study contends that male athletes in any sport construct their masculinity in a hegemonic manner.

By examining how male volleyball players construct their masculinity in a sport that they perceive as being classified secondary and feminine, this study demonstrates that these players behaved in a subordinating manner towards women and tended to support the ideology of hegemonic masculinity and male superiority.

The fear of being labeled "non-manly" could explain the practice of "compensatory masculinity" (Note 1). Sports sociologist Don Sabo defines compensatory masculinity as any behavior that "compensates" for a lack of "perceived masculine self-worth" by exaggerating some stereotypical aspect of masculinity. This type of behavior was observed on many occasions from a variety of players--from Charlie's taking a hard-hit ball in the face and laughing as if it did not hurt, to Magic's bragging about all his one-night stands, to Bashful's telling Magic to "shut the fuck up," and even Tom's claiming that as a freshman he could have been intimate with many women. These are all forms of compensatory masculinity that serve either to promote or maintain a player's level of hegemonic masculinity while at the same time devaluing non-hegemonic masculinity.


When this study was initiated, the assumption was that most of the players would subordinate women. Yet, after closer examination, the data indicated a different typology, consisting of three levels of player participation: the doers, the non-doers, and the rebels (Note 2). The doers represent the minority that most aggressively symbolized hegemonic masculinity. Players like Magic, Homer, Fabio, and Cruise in almost every case actively participated in the subordination of women and the devaluing of non-hegemonic masculinity. During the verbal attack by Bashful in the locker room, through sexually demeaning comments made during practice or in the van, by sexually harassing Pam, by groping an intoxicated women at The Pitcher's Mound, and by many more incidents that promoted male superiority, these players showed little respect for women and their right to equality.

The rebels serve to counter the actions of the doers. On this team there were fewer rebels than doers, so the rebels' ability to uphold a safe environment for femininity and non-hegemonic masculinity was inconsistent. Examples of rebels were the coaches Tom and Teddy "B," who on many occasions lectured the players on how to treat women with the "respect that they deserve." The inconsistency of the rebels lies in their tendency also to subordinate women and non-traditional masculinity, for instance labeling Charlie and Burns "pussies" and claiming that they need "puss-endectomies." Consequently, there was a tendency for subordinating behavior to breach the efforts of the rebels.

Concluding the typology are the non-doers. This group of players made up the majority and supported whichever group was speaking or acting. When Magic made sexually demeaning comments about women in the van, the non-doers would encourage him through laughter and imitation. Likewise, when the team was lectured on respecting women, the non-doers would agree with Tom or Teddy "B" and actively support gender equality. The non-doers were the "silent majority" who would rather "go with the flow" than create friction between themselves and the doers or rebels.


This study has taken an in-depth look at a very specific culture, a collegiate male volleyball team. Through studying this team, one can make some general conclusions with respect to the construction of masculinity and gender relations. First, it is significant to recognize the importance of the early stages of a boy's athletic career. The players involved in the study narrate active involvement in "masculine" sports like football and basketball until they entered high school, suggesting that, while these players will continue to construct their masculinity, a good deal of masculinity construction had taken place while participating in "masculine" sport. The effects of boyhood development in "masculine" sport and the transition into a traditionally labeled non-masculine sport need to be analyzed further. Furthermore, this study lacks a comparative analysis with male athletes who continued to participate in sports like football and basketball and who had little or no contact with non-masculine sports like volleyball and tennis. This type of comparison needs to be undertaken to see the environmental effects, if any, on males who play a sport they perceive to be viewed as subordinate or non-masculine.

Second, this team was marked with a typology of doers, non-doers, and rebels. The roles of each have been clearly articulated by the Hippos' culture and its individual members. Perhaps a closer look at the individual roles and why each person acts as he does will reveal some external or internal influences that may be used to educate those involved in sport about the issues of masculinity construction and gender relations.

Finally, this study reveals that hegemonic masculinity still prevails in both masculine and non-masculine arenas of sport. For this reason alone, one can make a very strong argument for continued analysis of gender relations and masculinity construction in sport. Also, individuals involved at all hierarchical levels of sport need to be educated about issues concerning gender equality.


A year and a half after this study was initiated, I met with the team to report the results. The first and most apparent concern of the players was that they heard that the study labeled them as sexist. Some of the players were upset with me and revealed, as they voiced their objections, that they felt I had betrayed them. The players most concerned about how I represented the team were those who subordinated women the most, Magic, Fabio, and Stilts. Most of the players sat quietly and listened to the presentation.

The players responded to the presentation of the study in two different ways. First, players like Magic, Fabio, and Stilts debated many of the results. At many of the points of disagreement, these players communicated that it was ! who was mistaken and who interpreted the behaviors incorrectly. Predominantly, these players felt that I had read too deeply into their behavior and felt that while some of their behaviors may have been distasteful they were not intended to subordinate women and did not have that result. Second, most of the players agreed with the results and were somewhat surprised with what had happened over the year. Some players even questioned if the way they had behaved was inappropriate and asked what would be appropriate. These players consisted primarily of the non-doers and even Homer, a player I have categorized as a doer.

The results of the presentation are twofold. First, there is a definite indication for hope in the way most of the players responded to the results and even how they sought advice on appropriate behavior. This outcome leads me to say that educational programs can and should target the collegiate athlete. Second, while there are those who are willing to examine their behavior, there are also those who feel that hegemonic behavior is "non-threatening." This type of player apparently needs earlier intervention to modify his behavior. This outcome provides strong evidence for educational programs geared at the young athlete. For most athletes, it is never too late for change; for some, early educational efforts will be a necessity.


(1.) Don Sabo coined and defined the term "compensatory masculinity."

(2.) Don Sabo assisted me in the development of this typology.


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The author would like to thank both Drs. Lois Weis and Don Sabo for their assistance in the development of this paper. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Steven J. Harvey, 95 Maplemere West, Williamsville, NY 14221. Electronic mail may be sent via Internet to V121JVJK@UBVMS.CC.BUFFALO.EDU.

Steven J. Harvey is a doctoral student in the Sociology of Education program at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Harvey's doctoral dissertation examines how post-collegiate-age males continue to construct their identities in baseball.
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Author:Harvey, Steven J.
Publication:The Journal of Men's Studies
Date:Nov 1, 1996
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