Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement. She teaches in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS and through Ariadne Institute offers Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.
The other day when Paula McGee asked on this blog how Penn State students could rally in support of Sandusky, I was also reading a student paper quoting Rianne Eisler’s opinion that peace and environmental justice cannot be achieved in dominator cultures. Xochitl Alvizo commented that we should not be surprised by the reactions of the students as we live in a “rape” culture. I would add that we must examine the culture of male domination through force that is “football,” one of the “sacred cows” of American patriarchy, just as we need to examine the culture of hierarchical male domination of the Vatican in the context of child-rape by priests.
Sorry to offend our national “culture,” but football is a celebration and ritual re-enactment of power as male domination through physical force and of competition based on physical force. In our homes and schools people who don’t even play (almost all girls/women and many boys/men) or like football (a smaller group because socialization works) learn that the “victory” of “our” team is somehow an integral part of personal and collective identity. Remember “pep” rallies? Remember sock hops? Remember that if you didn’t enjoy and participate in the collective mania that was being created, you were a nerd, a loser, a social failure? My mother was devastated when I told her I had sold all my football tickets during my freshman year of college, because it confirmed her fears that I was not dating. Currently football has invaded Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s holidays. When I suggested that we talk with each other or play card games on holidays instead of watching football, it was yet another mark of my not “fitting in” with my family, and my mother told me never to mention the subject again. The fact that my mother and I did not enjoy football did not matter as the family catered to the desires of its male members.
Let us not forget that easy access to sex with women is one of the “perks” of being a sports star in our culture. Football is a culture of “male” domination through force. Women cannot play football, but women can have “contact” with the sport by having what we might as well call “ritual sex” with its stars. When alcohol and drugs or force are involved, we are told to look the other way because after all, “she must have wanted it.” Dare I suggest that football culture re-enacts male sexual domination through physical force, including rape? And that it validates the idea that powerful men are allowed to use and discard women at their whims?
Let us not forget the money involved in sports. Football actually has nothing to do with education, unless we want to talk about education into the culture of power as domination which may be the most important thing to “learn” in our culture, and it is the greatest money-maker at Penn State and many other colleges.
Add to this that the victims in this case were poor children, many of them not white, and it is easy to see who will be heard: we have a culture of domination coming up against children at the bottom of class and race hierarchies. It is sad testimony that the culture of domination that is football did not “care” about the violent sexual domination of children.
Taking all of this into consideration, there is very little doubt in my mind that the rape of children occurred, that it was known, and that those who knew looked the other way, as cultures of domination generally do when those at the top of its hierarchies commit acts of domination, including those that require the use of force. All the students who rallied in support of a rapist were doing was “following the leader.”
We do need to talk about football as a ritual culture of male domination through force and violence, but I am afraid it is highly unlikely that our culture will take a good hard look at what is being re-enacted in football mania and reject football. It is far more likely that those who try to open this dialogue will be told to shut up.