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Hockey vs. homophobia

Concordia’s first PhD in Social and Cultural Analysis, Cheryl MacDonald, looks at attitudes both on and off the ice
April 27, 2016
By J. Latimer

What happens when you ask 95 Canadian male hockey players, aged between 15 and 18, about gender, masculinity and sex?

“Their attitudes were different, across the board, and it was surprising to see how easily the players compartmentalize their lives — behaving considerably differently on ice, at home or at school,” says Cheryl MacDonald, who researched them for her PhD, “Yo! You Can’t Say That!”: Understandings of Gender and Sexuality and
 Attitudes Towards Homosexuality Among Male Major Midget AAA Ice Hockey Players in Canada.

This June, MacDonald will be the first person to graduate from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology’s PhD program in Social and Cultural Analysis

Implemented in 2011, the PhD program is unique in Canada, bringing together theoretical and methodological strengths from both sociology and anthropology.

“The program is an exciting step toward interdisciplinarity, and it has made me a better scholar,” says MacDonald, who just accepted a two-year postdoctoral position at the University of Alberta. The postdoc is co-funded by You Can Play, a foundation devoted to making life better for LGBT athletes, organizers and coaches.

The dissertation: “Yo! You Can’t Say That!”

MacDonald’s dissertation finds that the two most widely applied theories of men and masculinity (i.e., hegemonic masculinity theory and inclusive masculinity theory) not only have significant limitations but also sometimes obscure the experiences of the young athletes in her sample.

Cheryl MacDonald Cheryl MacDonald

“Cheryl's work diverges from the two existing theoretical approaches because it shows that — although male youth ice-hockey players at competitive levels use anti-gay language and sometimes find humour in the derision of femininity — they are more concerned with having teammates who are good people than having teammates who fit some kind of stereotypically masculine framework of identity,” says Marc Lafrance, her advisor, associate professor in the department and a specialist in the field of men and masculinity in contemporary society.

Homosexuality in the NHL

MacDonald’s study also ponders why there are no openly gay players in the NHL.

“Her research indicates that the fact that anti-gay and anti-woman behaviour is still acceptable in an ice-hockey context, despite being unacceptable elsewhere, could contribute to the lack of openly gay players in the NHL,” says Lafrance.

After speaking with players at length about their social and family lives, and examining their Twitter accounts, MacDonald found that male hockey players at competitive levels become proficient at compartmentalizing the different contexts of their lives.

“For example, they understand that a fist fight is okay on the ice, but not off,” she says. “That extends to the understanding that jokes about homosexuality are seen as acceptable in some situations but not others.”

“The players have been conditioned to see these jokes as harmless when used in team contexts, but they are well aware that these jokes are unacceptable at school or among family members,” says MacDonald, who’s originally from Moncton, New Brunswick.

A unique PhD: Social and Cultural Analysis

Christine Jourdan, professor of sociology and anthropology, was instrumental in ushering the bi-disciplinary PhD program into existence.

“Our innovative program requires that doctoral thesis committees be composed of both anthropologists and sociologists,” says Jourdan. “Additionally, students take courses in both disciplines and engage with literature in both fields.”

The outcome?

“I realized that sociology and anthropology often arrive at similar conclusions but do so using different approaches,” says MacDonald. “For me, the new anthropology literature on gender gives me a better, broader sense of what gender means.”

Learn more about
Concordia's Department of Sociology and Anthropology and its PhD program in Social and Cultural Analysis.



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