Day nine – what it is to be a man

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Two films today and they complemented each other – The Ground We Won, a beautiful New Zealand documentary about a rural rugby team and Sworn Virgin, an exploration of a bizarre custom in rural Albania for women who want to do more than be wives. Two explorations of gender roles in rural communities where to be a part of the social fabric, you must conform to limitations set by long tradition.This has made me think a lot about what it means to be a man. In rural NZ, there is definitely an expectation that you become part of a community and that you follow the prescribed rituals. I watched 17 year old Pom weeping on the bus after being gently humiliated and having to drink beer after beer. There were funnels and tubes to dispense the beer, beer games where teams would race each other to finish drinking first. It was shocking in the context of media coverage of sport and a culture of drug-taking and alcohol-fuelled violence. What I could see in Reporoa, though, is how this enables them to come together as a team on match day, how it is no longer about the individual but the collective. As a metaphor for community, this is powerful stuff.

In Albania, the message of course is how these limitations and restrictions created by and for men affect the lives of women. The traditions seem based on such an archaic view of what women are capable of that it is hard to believe ideas like this still exist. Hard to believe that a loving community could choose death for a woman over her choice to have an opinion. We can see how impossible it is if you differ from the norm and there are places where there is no room for this.

There was a short film before The Ground We Won, a documentary about a gay Aboriginal man who was cast adrift by family and culture, only finding his clan when he joined a gay rugby team. It was an interesting counterpoint to the main film as I wondered what place there was for difference in Reporoa if you were a man. How do you become part of the community if you are gay, or have a disability, or don’t like rugby, or are a woman and want to play? How often do we ignore those on the margins when we celebrate our collective identities?

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