Posted by: malechallengemedia | April 4, 2010

Tackle The Macho Myth – Keith Austin on Pip Cornall’s new book

I’m reproducing Kieth’s article on my blog before it vanishes offline

Tackle The Macho Myth – Book Review

Sydney Morning Herald

Saturday January 26, 2008

Keith Austin

A book targeting young men aims to raise the bar.

A DECADE or so ago in a local soccer match, a goalmouth scramble resulted in the ball possibly trickling over the line before it was quickly “cleared”. Despite vehement protestations from the opposition, the referee came down on our side – until one of our players owned up that the ball had, indeed, gone over for a goal.

At half-time, for his honesty, the player was roundly and profanely abused by his teammates for not keeping his mouth shut.

Today that event comes more and more to mind as I watch footballers cheating as a matter of course. We watch overpaid morons screaming bug-eyed and red-faced at the referee, we watch them making vicious, career-ending tackles and then protesting their innocence all the way to the dressing room, we watch them throwing themselves to the ground at the slightest touch in order to fool the referee into giving a penalty or getting someone sent off.

I can only marvel at the strength of character that enabled my fellow player to stand up for what was right, knowing full well what the reaction would be.

There were 11 of us on that field that day – but who was the real man?

Let’s be honest; it’s getting a tad ugly on and off the sports field with the likes of the Canterbury Bulldogs, Ben Cousins, Andrew Johns, serial text pest Shane Warne and the Western Force’s quokka shocker while “bonding” on Rottnest Island.

Notice anything? Here’s a clue: somehow, when the Australian women’s netball team defeated New Zealand in Waitakere in November to win the world championship, captain Liz Ellis somehow managed not to celebrate by taking the girls out for a drunken kiwi-kicking contest.

Yes, it’s the blokes at it again, indulging in what Pip Cornall, men’s advocate and author of a new 32-page booklet, Kicking A Goal For Masculinity, believes is a crisis in sport aided and abetted by the damaging Australian trifecta of machismo, misogyny and booze.

Cornall, an Australian whose working life so far has included stints as a PE teacher, ski lodge owner, whitewater rafting and outdoor adventure expert and mediator with the United States Department of Justice, says part of the reason for writing the book was the reaction he got from people overseas.

“What I would call outmoded or Neanderthal male programming has a very strong grip on men in many other countries, too, but I was surprised, in my 12 years living overseas, at what people thought of Australians,” he says. “They would come out with stuff about us being macho, about the misogyny. I’ve heard a lot of women in my life say, ‘I wouldn’t marry an Aussie man’, and that hurt because we’re a wonderful race and we’ve got so much to be proud of.

“But every culture, every individual, has an ugly side, a shadow side. I’d like to bring that out, put it on the table and look at it. Especially with regards to sport.”

“In the past,” Cornall writes in the introduction to his book, “our young people had numerous sporting heroes to look up to – men and women who were positive role models. In recent decades, however, an ugly side has emerged with sledging, performance drugs, violence, sexism, sexual assault, domestic violence and racism impacting many sports.”

Confusion about what makes a “real” man is at the heart of the problem, Cornall says. The language of sport, he believes, is “hard and filled with insults suggesting that a boy who is not tough enough, who does not live up to the masculine mystique, is really a girl or homosexual – the language heard by young boys underpins many male attitudes”.

This, and constant reinforcement that being a big drinker makes you a real man, he says, is part of the pressure diet fed to young boys and which in turn leads to young men who have unhealthy ideas of masculinity.

Cornall is a tall, fit, clear-eyed 61-year-old who is every inch the image of a man for whom sport and the outdoors has been a lifelong love and challenge. He could be compared to the famous Australian outdoorsman Paddy Pallin – and you suspect that deep in one of those trouser pockets there is a Swiss Army knife and a compass. In the book, Cornall writes: “I was a physical and outdoor education teacher and have made an exciting life in those fields. But as an Australian male and sportsman I had some bad habits. It took years of work to re-invent myself as a man with positive qualities, therefore I am keen to share what I’ve learned, and highlight the benefits of the changes I made.”

In person, he adds: “I wouldn’t be able to die with a good conscience unless I spoke about the things I’ve seen … as an elder, moving on in years, I know how hard it is for a man to live a good life, to be a man. I know the pull to the dysfunction, be it drugs, alcohol, gambling.”

One sportsman quoted in the book is 27-year-old Adelaide Crows player Kris Massie, who says a turning point in his early career with Carlton came when an older player told him he didn’t always have to drink with the boys. “I had become swept up in the pressures of the drink culture at the club … all part of the mateship ritual.

“My opinion is that the culture is now slowly changing and I love being part of it,” Massie says. “Within the club in the last few years we are witnessing a new breed of men who aren’t afraid to express how they really feel instead of being bullied into believing they must drink to be accepted. I found it incredible how much influence a macho football culture can have on young aspiring athletes and men.”

In common with Stephen Biddulph, the men’s movement stalwart before him, Cornall believes it’s time for a change. He has been in contact with the Australian Sports Commission in a bid to spread his message through workshops with local clubs.

Before he leaves the interview, he reads out a quote from American Alex Karras, a former gridiron player, wrestler, actor and writer: “It takes more courage to reveal insecurities than hide them, more strength to relate to people than to dominate them, more manhood to abide by thought-out principles rather than blind reflex. Toughness is in the soul and spirit, not in muscles and an immature mind.”

Kicking A Goal For Masculinity is available from or as an ebook


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