Hegemonic masculinity is a term that describes a dominant model of masculinity. It represents domination over other people, especially through physical displays. It is exemplified by groups that receive special cultural power such as in sport. During a recent match, the Australian rugby team, the Junior Kangaroos, disrespected the New Zealand Team, the Junior Kiwis by advancing towards them with linked arms as the Kiwis performed the haka. This is a dance performed by Maori men as an expression of cultural identity. The New Zealand Rugby League president Howie Tamati explained that the haka is “not a situation where you’re looking to fight,” which is how the Aussie team treated it. The International Rugby Board rules state that the opposing team must stand at least 10 metres from the halfway line while the haka is performed.
This video is worth watching as an example of hegemonic masculinity and its connection to broader patterns of nationalism and cultural violence. On the one hand, all these players are representative of hegemonic masculinity for their respective cultures. Being athletes, these young men make a decent living, and are revered, based on their bodily prowess.
On the other hand, the Australian team, who is familiar with the haka, indulged in aggression and cultural insensitivity. Watch the two men at the centre of this video to see an exchange of restrained aggression on the Aussie side. Strangely, both teams have players of Maori descent (as well as Pacific Islander and other backgrounds), so it is difficult to fathom why the decision to advance was made other than to antagonise cultural pride.
History of the Haka
The haka’s cultural history may be seen to be mainstream given it is used in sporting and cultural events, but the history of its adoption is not so neat. While Maori players exemplify hegemonic masculinity through their athleticism, their race and cultural history complicate things. As such, the haka itself is not a straightforward example of hegemonic masculinity.
Maori people were subject to colonial violence and their culture was decimated by the Pākehā (White) culture. This involved death, rape, forced conversion to Christianity, and other extreme interventions to get rid of Maori culture.
The Pākehā conceived Maori people as “savages,” including their physical practices – their bodies, their customs, and their activities, such as sport. Over the course of New Zealand’s settler history, sport and enlisting Maori men into the military became the only “acceptable” incorporation of Maori people and led to more exploitation. Even then, using Maori men in sport was a way to control and profiteer from their cultural labour.
New Zealand eventually made reparations over this cultural violence and their legislation today is in many ways more generous than Australia’s laws regarding our Indigenous cultures. One of the outcomes is that the haka has been embraced as a sporting symbol. It is, however, not an example of hegemonic masculinity as White culture is still the dominant culture, and Maori people are still subject to extreme racism and socio-economic disadvantages. In New Zealand, White masculinity is dominant, and the associated customs such as sport are hegemonic, not the haka per se.
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Hegemonic masculinity by Raewyn Connell
Hegemonic masculinity in Australian sport