I had originally written a forward to this, but an folklorist/ethnographer had taken me to task for appearing to seem narrow-minded. So... I'm willing to let this article represent itself. You can decide its value to society. - Wes



Temporarily Becoming a Sylph to Survive and Personally Grow

By Steven P. Schacht, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, October 1997


Male sport settings and the actors involved in them often are quite misogynist in orientation. For feminist researchers who hope to undertake fieldwork, problems in entering and staying in such contexts may appear so exorbitant that they may preclude their participation in these types of settings. Drawing upon his experiences of undertaking feminist fieldwork in the overtly misogynist setting of the rugby pitch (playing field), the author explores some of the isues and problems associated with research in incompatible settings, offers some specific strategies for dealing with them, and notes the promise of this type of data collection. Ultimately, if one wants to maintain any semblance of a centered perspective and sanity, she or he must temporarily become a sylph--a being without a soul--to undertake fieldwork in these types of research environments.

In a semi-inebriated state, I surveyed the loud and rakish crowd of men and women. For the past two hours, nearly everyone at this "rugby party" had been consuming enormous quantities of draft beer. Many of the men had also been singing several different rugby songs in an increasingly feverish tone. All of this activity had been taking place in the very cramped quarters of the so-called rugby house. Suddenly, without notice, the whole atmosphere seemed to change. Many of the men started a deafening chant, "Alouette! Alouette! Alouette!" All of the rugby players (male) surrounded a woman who had previously and naively agreed (this was her first rugby party) to be their "rugby queen" so that players could serenade her with a "nice" song. The remaining women and men present formed a loose circle around the players. Without even asking the rugby queen, one of the larger players hoisted her effortlessly up onto his shoulders. Everyone--players, spectators, and even the rugby queen herself--were now all cheering and chanting "Alouette." Finally, one of the club leaders screamed, "Shut up. Shut up. It's Alouette time!" Within seconds, everyone quieted and the players started to "serenade their rugby queen" with the following song, sung to the tune of "Alouette"

(Schacht 1996a):

Chorus: (Start with chorus first and then insert it between each verse)

Alouette, gentille, Alouette. Alouette, gentille plumerai.

Leader: Does she have the scraggly hair?

Group: Yes, she has the scraggly hair.

Leader: Scraggly hair.

Group: Scraggly hair.

Leader: Alouette. Group: Alouette.


Leader: Does she have the furrowed brow?

Group: Yes, she has the furrowed brow.

Leader: Furrowed brow.

Group: Furrowed brow.

Leader: Scraggly hair.

Group: Scraggly hair.

Leader: Alouette.

Group: Alouette.


(Continue in this fashion, adding the current descriptive phrase and then repeating all previous descriptive phrases)

Two glass eyes?

Broken nose?

Two capped teeth?

Double chin?

Saggy tits?

Pot belly?

Clammy thighs?

Furry thing?


With each verse, the rugby queen became more visibly upset. She made several attempts to get off the player's shoulders, but with the assistance of the other players, he kept her squarely in place. With the song verse of "saggy tits," about half of the players started a chant of "show us your tits." When I had witnessed the singing of "Alouette" in the past, several times the rugby queen "willingly" complied with this chant by flashing the participants with her breasts as a means of stopping the song.[1] In this case, however, the woman was so upset that she began to cry. After the song's completion, she was let off the player's shoulders, and everyone, except the rugby queen, went on with the party as if nothing wrong had occurred. She continued to cry for several more minutes and then left, apparently by herself.

Due to the coercion and force used, the singing ritual of "Alouette" can be considered a psychological, almost physical, form of gang rape. As a social scientist undertaking a feminist-oriented study, I was very disgusted and confused about what I should do.[2] On one hand, I was very upset over what I had just witnessed and every part of me wanted to stop what was being done to this woman. If, on the other hand, I had personally done anything to stop this ritual, I would have not only put my membership role in this setting in jeopardy, but realistically, any attempts on my part would have been futile with a group of large drunken men. As a result, all I did was later ask the players why they continued to sing this song when the woman was so visibly upset. Quite simply, they perceived the practice as innocuous. As they told me, "It's just a joke," "It's not suppose to hurt anyone," "It doesn't mean anything," "It's just good fun," and "C'mon, she likes it. Otherwise she wouldn't agree to do it." Having witnessed this woman become so upset and numerous other similar incidents, several to be discussed in the pages that follow, I knew all too well that this was not just a harmless situation or an event that had simply gone too far. Moreover, although I neither encouraged nor condemned what occurred in this setting, I still knew that my mere presence inevitably supported such outcomes. Given my ever-increasing, deep-rooted commitment to a feminist worldview and accordant ways of being, compliantly observing and sometimes participating in the sexist activities of this setting caused me considerable anguish. Yet, my outlook as both a feminist male and as a sociological researcher made me feel morally compelled to illuminate the activities of this setting to others.

This essay explores both the problems and promises of undertaking feminist fieldwork in misogynist settings. First, I briefly review the literature on how others have dealt with problems of undertaking research in settings where the researcher's worldview and/or status is drastically different or incompatible with that of the participants.

Special note is made of the emotional costs and unique vantage points such incompatibilities present. Drawing upon my own and other feminist researchers' experiences, I then offer some suggestions of how field-workers might approach and survive inherently incompatible settings. This discussion is followed with specific examples of both the personal and political knowledge I gained from the setting. The essay ends by noting both the richness and importance of fieldwork being undertaken in blatantly incompatible settings.


Researchers often stumble upon ethnographic settings that are rich in theoretical potential but are inherently grounded in participants' views that directly oppose their own. This incompatibility is typically brought about by one of two factors: (1) participants in the research setting hold a worldview that is drastically different than that of the researcher (Daniels 1983; Mitchel 1993) and (2) the researcher has an ascribed status(es) that results in she or he being differentially treated (Easterday et al. 1977; Gurney 1985; Warren 1988; Wax 1979). Sometimes both of these incongruities are present in the same setting.

Researchers who enter inconsistent settings have frequently found that they have to put on special impression management faces to pass (Daniels 1983; Easterday et al. 1977; Peshkin 1984) and to undertake covert actions to keep secret their true intentions in the setting (Mitchel 1993; Peneff 1985). This can lead to feelings of betraying one's own values and of potentially betraying the research subjects because of the deception involved (Thorne 1979). Additional feelings of disappointment, discomfort, and anger often also occur in such settings (Kleinman and Copp 1993; Lee 1995).

Although inconsistent worldviews or statuses can present serious impediments to field-workers, if researchers can overcome them, they will find themselves in a unique position that enables them to see things in the setting that others might be unable to ascertain. For instance, some female field-workers have exploited the sexist assumptions of the research subjects to gain access to the setting, establish and maintain rapport, and, as a result of their differential treatment, uncover and explore the gendered nature of the setting (Daniels 1983; Danzinger 1979; Easterday et al. 1977; Gurney 1985; Martin 1978; Warren 1988; Warren and Rasmussen 1977; Wax 1979).

Further, worldview, gender, and other status incongruities can lead to insights about the research process and oneself. For example, identifications, friendships, and feelings that result from establishing rapport may cause the field-worker to reevaluate his or her own preconceived notions about the setting and the actors in it; this can occur without completely undermining the researcher's critical stance (Daniels 1983; Peshkin 1984). In other cases, the researcher learns important things about her- or himself as a result of undertaking a given study (Daniels 1983; Kleinman and Copp 1993; Thorne 1979). Finally, important lessons about the research process and academia can also be learned (Penff 1985; Thorne 1979).

In sum, although incompatible worldviews and statuses are rife with potential pitfalls and obstacles for field-workers who enter such settings, these incongruities can also provide researchers with unique vantage points from which to evaluate their own and others' social interaction. In fact, as I will argue later, researchers in incongruent settings often have a unique vantage point that can lead to the collection of rare and rich information. Thus, there is a definite need for researchers to undertake this type of fieldwork. The next section of this article outlines a specific research strategy that I employed to survive and overcome the problems associated with a highly incompatible field setting.


There has been a growing consensus in recent years over what is distinct about feminist research methods. Quite simply, although there is no one feminist methodology, and feminists use an infinite array of different methodologies to undertake feminist research, there are some very distinct guiding principles that feminists use in their research (Canclan 1992; Cook and Fonow 1986, 1991; Hawkesworth 1989; Reinharz 1992; Wolf 1996). My own research of the rugby pitch, to varying degrees, was a feminist study because (1) its primary focus was on gender and gender inequality, (2) I drew upon my own and players' experiences, (3) it is hoped that the findings can be used to transform rugby and similar societal practices, (4) implicit within is a critical stance concerning the research process, and (5) I used participatory methods (Schacht 1996a). This study also was very much grounded in a larger radical feminist worldview. For me, "I take the same view as other radical feminists that gender oppression is the root of all forms of oppression and that the life-affirming-giving-enhancing values it proposes are the only ones veraciously powerful enough to offer an alternative path to the self-destructive one patriarchy is leading us" (Schacht and Ewing 1997). Moreover, as Sonia Johnson argued, I believe a truly feminist orientation is found in the present, not the future. When we envision the future without first changing our present feelings, without undoing our indoctrination, we project all our unexamined assumptions into the future, recreating the old reality, making it inevitable .... This means that our feelings about ourselves in the present moment are the sole source of change, and that they are therefore our only source of power. (Johnson, 1987, 305-6; emphasis in the original)

Quite simply, this means that "[w]hatever situation I go into, whatever it is, wherever I go and whatever I do involves feminism--because that's me. Because that's a part of my everyday interaction with people that I meet each and every day" (Stanley and Wise, 1993, 18; emphasis in the original). As such, to undertake feminist fieldwork on male rugby players meant that I had to immerse myself in a blatantly incompatible setting to which every part of my being was diametrically opposed. This also required me to act in ways that fundamentally contradicted my feminist worldview and my corresponding way of being. Without question, I found myself immersed in a situation rife with apparent contradictions. Drawing upon the work of Black feminists and her own experience of attending graduate school in sociology, Collins (1991a, 1991b) insightfully calls situations where people find themselves in a contradictory social location an "outsider within status." She noted that this "status is bound to generate tension," and while those "who become outsiders within are forever changed by their new status," it is just this status (and still being perceived and treated as different) that "sensitizes them to patterns that may be more difficult for established sociological insiders to see" (1991 b, 53). In other words, although being an outsider within is a contradictory location full of inherent tensions, it also affords holders of this status a critical, often creative vantage point that is largely unavailable to the insiders.

I believe the status of outsider within is equally applicable to my research of male rugby players. In this setting, I held what has been termed an "active membership role, where researchers participate in the core activities in much the same way as the members, yet they hold back from committing themselves to the goals and values of the members" (Adler and Adler 1987, 35). As already noted, as a feminist, I am vehemently opposed to the gendered nature of rugby and the misogynist attitudes and actions of the players. Then again, when I first came in contact with the rugby setting, it appeared to be rich with research potential (Schacht 1996a). If I wanted to truly understand this setting as a sociologist and to expose it to other feminists and the general public for what it is, a misogynist activity, I would have to become an active member in the group. To do this, at the invitation of the players (see more detailed discussion below), I became what is best viewed as a token member of and player on two rugby clubs. I was a token member because, while I have some limited athletic ability, the players were anywhere from six to ten years younger than I, many of the players were former football players (several at the collegiate level), and thus, much larger in stature, and overall, most were far more physically fit to be playing. Moreover, although I was a college professor, almost all the players were students, and many of them thought it was "real cool," as one of them stated, that I wanted to play. Although my contribution on the playing field was very limited, several times I was asked to start a match (game) and to continue to play when far more eligible players were available. Further, when I played in actual matches, if players from opposing teams tried to maliciously hurt me, there were several players from my club that often would come to my assistance and try to protect me. In total, not only did I view my contribution to the club as a player as token, I was also largely treated this way by the players albeit in a positive manner.

Unfortunately, however, my decision to enter this incompatible setting caused me to feel that I was betraying my feminist worldview. This feeling was further accentuated by my feminist friends, who frequently chastised me for undertaking such a study. This feeling of betrayal was additionally aggravated because I felt it was ethically important that the identities of the participants and their activities remain confidential, and what I was learning about the players would present them in a very negative light. As a result, I felt increasingly alienated from both those inside and outside of the setting.

My solution to this outsider within status and the alienation I experienced from it during the fieldwork portion of the study was to temporarily become a sylph--a being without a soul. Not only was I a sylph in my own eyes, but I would guess my feminist friends also viewed me this way (as would many male rugby players who might potentially read this article). More specifically, whenever I was in the research setting, I did not advocate or even defend any of my deep-seated feminist beliefs. To have done otherwise would have realistically led to me being treated very differently and in all likelihood being asked to leave. For although it is true "that many settings do not require an acquiescent demeanor" (Kleinman and Copp 1993, 40), I strongly believe that because of the rigid gendered expectations that the rugby pitch is based on, any dissent in it, beyond refusing to partake in certain activities (i.e., singing "Alouette"), would have been extremely detrimental to my entering and staying in it. Moreover, I also stopped discussing and trying to justify my research to feminist friends. Being a very outspoken feminist advocate in almost every setting I find myself, and always trying to live such a reality, maintaining my silence during this period was an exceedingly difficult task. I do not believe that my initially becoming a sylph was the result of a conscious decision; rather, it was perhaps the only pragmatic way that I could survive the overwhelming feelings of self-estrangement I was experiencing at the time. As my alienation from both inside and outside of the setting increased, I slowly but very definitely took on this researcher role. As my time in the field increased, however, and especially when I became a member of the second club, I did begin to consciously recognize that I was trying to control and repress--but not ignore--my feelings about the research I was undertaking. Since the only other realistic alternative would have been for me to withdraw from the setting (something that I did consider on numerous occasions), this seemed at the time to be a reasonable way to continue the research. And although I agree with Kleinman and Copp's (1993, 33) argument that such an emotional stance can "inhibit analysis" and often "involves a reduction, not an enhancement, of our cognitive faculties," these are not automatic, predetermined outcomes in all field settings nor do they always adversely affect the observations being made. Due to the idiographic nature of fieldwork, we should recognize that there is not necessarily one way to enter and stay in research settings but a multitude of emotional stances, often determined by the participants in it.

Some might also be tempted to argue that this form of emotional detachment from the setting is seemingly a positivistic research stance and antithetical to a feminist or critical research stance.

By temporarily rejecting my soul, however, not only was I able to enter and survive this misogynist setting, but I strongly believe that the inherent tension of being an outsider within and a sylph enabled me to observe and later critically evaluate this activity in a far different manner than if I had been otherwise situated. Additionally, since it was fortunately only a short-lived state of being, directly resulting from extremely repulsive and compulsive attitudes and actions of the insiders of the setting, I was able to learn important things about myself and to take the things I learned about rugby and use them to strengthen my own stance against sexist activities--both professionally and personally. Realistically, however, my awareness of what I had learned was not actualized until after I had left the setting and reflected on and wrote about the activities I was involved in and witnessed.

The next three sections of this article more fully explore these general themes: entrance and privileged insights, learning about oneself, and strengthening one's feminist advocacy. These themes are not proposed as mutually exclusive or exhaustive; rather, they are offered as possibly valuable outcomes of undertaking feminist research in misogynist settings as an outsider within and a sylph.  


Once again, if I had not become a sylph, realistically I would have never been befriended by any of the players (or subsequently befriended others myself) and established the rapport necessary for undertaking fieldwork. For instance, I initially hoped to be a pure observer in this setting. Taking such an approach, I found the players to be respectful but not very receptive to my presence. After attending several matches in the role of observer, however, the coach of the club invited me to come to one of their practices. After attending one practice, I was invited to go drink beer afterwards, something done almost every practice, to attend the match that weekend as a player, and to come to the rugby party that followed.[3]

Given the brutally physical nature of rugby that often requires players to try to purposely hurt their opponents (frequently with great success, as I had witnessed at the matches I attended prior to my invitation), I basically knew what would be required of me and the "ambient dangers" of the activity to my physical well-being if I was to participate (Lee 1995, 3). Although I am personally opposed to all forms of violence, if I wanted to gain entrance to this setting, I would have to partake convincingly in such actions. Doing so not only earned me the respect of many of the club members, it also led to temporary friendships. These friendships allowed me not only to gain further access to the setting but also gave me entry to participants' previously secretive attitudes about the activities in which they were participating.

As a result of the inherent tension of being accepted into and involved in a setting that I am diametrically opposed to, I was able to take a highly critical stance that was very attuned to making observations which led to insights that would largely be unavailable to those who felt comfortable and supportive of the rugby players' activities and attitudes. Thus, although I made the choice to become a player, and for the most part, acted in an accordant manner to gain access to information that would otherwise be unavailable to me, even as a sylph, I consciously tried never to forget why I was undertaking the study and what sort of theoretical framework I was using in my investigation. In many ways, I believe that it was my long-term moral commitment to doing sociological research, especially as a feminist male, that enabled me to control and repress my emotional feelings about the repulsive nature of the setting I was involved in.


During the two-year period I undertook this ethnography and since then, I have learned a great deal about what society expects of "successful" men and my own past desires and attempts to be one. Through my experiences of investigating rugby players and partaking in their activities as a feminist researcher, I was forced to critically evaluate many of my past, and in some cases, present masculine-oriented behaviors. This self-discovery was largely based on three experiential realities: (1) survival of the fittest, (2) no pain, no gain, and (3) relational rejection of the feminine (Schacht 1996a). Once again, these three themes are not proposed as mutually exclusive or exhaustive. Considered together, however, the impact of these experiences and the awareness they brought has forced me to change many of my fundamental attitudes and corresponding behaviors.


Tim, the club's player/coach, had been verbally admonishing and hacking (tripping) several of the younger rookie players on the club during most of the practice. Sexist, derogatory comments such as "Come on girls" or "What are you, a faggot/ pussy?" were frequently made during practices by older experienced players directed at younger ones who were seen as not quite measuring up. Since, however, most practices involved us playing "touch" (a form of rugby that involves no tackling or other physically aggressive actions found in matches), Tim's hacking would seem entirely out of place. This is even more true considering that hacking is illegal (although often practiced) during actual matches. And yet, none of the younger players who were being hacked, or even the older players who were witnesses to this apparently improper behavior, notwithstanding periodically shaking their heads in apparent disapproval, uttered one word of condemnation.

Tacit acceptance and/or complicity of all present, including me, largely appeared to be the response to the coach's seemingly inappropriate exercise of authority.

Finally, Tim hacked another quite promising rookie player named Joe from behind, sending him sprawling face first on the hard ground. As a result, Joe had large bloody abrasions on both elbows and knees and down the right side of his face. Joe immediately jumped up and threw the ball at Tim, and the following verbal exchange ensued: Joe: Fuck off! What the hell do you think you are doing? You ... asshole. Tim: Fuck you, you pussy. Just shut the fuck up, or I'll bend you over [and] fuck ya like a bitch. This is my team, I've played for the past four years. Put my blood and money into. If you don't like the way I play, you can get the fuck out of here. Other than several players placing themselves between Joe and Tim to keep them from fighting each other, the only words of condemnation came from another club leader and one of Tim's best friends, who said, "Come on you faggots. You two are on the same team. Knock it off or I'll beat both of your asses." Following this exchange, the practice ended shortly thereafter.

Less than an hour later at the bar over beers, I overheard Tim explaining to Joe that he really did not mean any ill intent or harm. Rather, "I'm just trying to toughen ya up for the upcoming match. They're [members of the other club] real cheap bastards." Although Joe did say "Fuck you" in response to "Tim's explanation, he also laughed and no longer seemed very upset about the malicious act perpetrated against him earlier. About an hour later, "Tim and Joe, now both fairly intoxicated and appearing to be the best of friends, left together with several other players to frequent another bar offering drink specials.

During my adolescent years, I, like many young men in our society, felt it necessary to partake in an array of masculine activities, many of which were sport related (Messner 1990). Although there were many times during this period that I felt uneasy and uncomfortable with the activities I was involved in, such as hockey, I never really questioned why I was so drawn to them. While playing rugby, it became overwhelmingly apparent to me that to be a "powerful," "successful," and "fit" man, whether it be on the pitch or in the larger society, one has to subordinate others aggressively, sometimes violently. That is, to prove one's superiority and authority, one inevitably has to demonstrate others' inferiority and subordination. Whether accomplished physically in sports and other similar venues when I was younger, or verbally in interpersonal conversations as I have grown older, I have been forced to recognize that most of my personal notions of superiority and attempts at exercising male authority have almost exclusively been based on others' subordination. Of course, I too never meant anyone ill intent or harm by my actions. And sadly, not only was I often quite successful at playing such games, but I have received immeasurable explicit and implicit rewards from my peers and others--frequently even from those whom I subordinated--for acting this way. (Moreover, I also find it to be paradoxical and quite disconcerting that not only the "insiders" of the setting rewarded me for acting in such a manner with their acceptance, but by publishing my observations, "outsiders" are also indirectly applauding my actions.)

In sum, although it is seemingly appealing to be a "winner" and apparently superior to others, such a status fails to take into account the far more numerous "losers" who often are rendered powerless in this process--often violently--and marginalized to the point that they can become invisible and forgotten (Young 1988). Of course, subordinates are expected to remain this way until their presence is once again necessary to inflate and bolster their superiors' false state of being. This ultimately is playing the role of oppressor, exercised at perhaps its most base level--the interpersonal. Presently, as a White, heterosexual male from an upper middle-class background, "I increasingly find myself searching for places where my class, race, gender, and sexual orientation would have no meaning" so that my present privileged state of being would lose its accepted meaning and no longer be so oppressive to so many people (Schacht 1996b, 5).


Scene One

Twelve matches were simultaneously being held every two hours during this two-day tournament, which involved nearly 2,000 players representing almost 50 different rugby clubs from throughout the United States. In the center of the playing compound was a refreshment stand, and next to it were parked three ambulances doing a brisk business of attending to numerous players' injuries. Two clubs (teams) were finishing up a match on the pitch (field) our club was to play on next. With a chilling scream, all play on the pitch suddenly stopped. In the middle of several toppled players from both clubs lay a single player writhing on the ground desperately grasping his leg. As I ran out on the field with many other players, I quickly noticed a large bump protruding under the already discoloring skin on the back of his right thigh. His leg was severely broken; apparently the result of one player tackling him around the knees while another, going in an opposite direction, had tackled him around the waist.

Quickly, a paramedic from one of the ambulances was dispatched to the scene. The hurt player, however, who had now calmed down considerably (although it was more than apparent that he was still in a great deal of pain), refused to allow the paramedic to attend to his injury. Since he was a chiropractor (all the members of the club he played on were), he insisted that "I know how to set bones and I'll do it myself... godamnit." With the assistance of two of his teammates, he stood up on one leg. After hopping around a few seconds on one foot, he grabbed the back of his injured leg just above the back of his knee and forcibly wrenched it upwards towards his body. Immediately after this he passed out and fell backward onto the ground. Another paramedic was called to the pitch, and the two subsequently carried him off on a stretcher. Since I nearly vomited after witnessing this and had ran off the pitch as a result, I never found out if he had successfully set his own leg.

Scene Two

Each time the "hooker" (the front center player in the scrum) from the opposing team went into the scrum his scrotum became exposed. This was the result of the props (the other two front row players at each of his sides) using his shorts to bind down on (grab) when they went into the scrummage and his failure to wear any underwear. Every time this happened, one of the props on our club protested vehemently about having to view the opposing player's scrotum. As he put it during one of his protestations, "Get your goddamn balls out of my face. What are you? A faggot, or what?"[4] During the break between halves, the apparently offended party on my club went and secretly grabbed a handful of Icie Hot. Subsequently, during the first scrummage of the second half, he liberally smeared the other players exposed scrotum with this substance. The player on the other team, having no idea what had just been applied to him, was now the one adamantly complaining, "Get the fuck away from me you fucking faggot." Play resumed for about five minutes. All of a sudden the player who had been smeared by the Icie Hot ran off the pitch, emptied one of the larger beer coolers of all it's contents but the ice, pulled his shorts down to his ankles, and sat in the cooler for most of the remaining match. Of course, given the participants in this context, players from both clubs uncontrollably laughed at his embarrassing injury for several minutes before resuming play.

In rugby, like many similar sports, inflicting and especially taking pain is an integral part of the activity (Sabo 1989; Sabo and Panepinto 1990). Players who "take pain," and do it without any overt complaints, are seen as "a man's man," true role models for all in this setting (Schacht 1996a). Or, as one of the players and a highly respected team leader enthusiastically stated to me as he came out of match after playing for nearly ten minutes with an apparently broken collarbone, It takes balls to play. Can't be a fucking pussy. If you want to kick some ass, you're going get your ass kicked sometimes. (Gesturing to the other team) Just don't let the fucking bastards know they hurt ya.[5]

Part of this paradoxical view of pain is the result of definitions of masculinity being so rigid and fragile in male sporting events that a player's status can be quickly lost in the group if he becomes injured and can no longer play (Curry 1991, 126-27). Taking pain, in terms of injuries survived, also "often allow[s] more experienced players to differentiate themselves from initiates and nonplayers in general; non-players, of course, being feminine males who are perceived as not being tough enough and/or lacking the courage to play, and women" (Schacht 1996a, 557). (Hierarchical notions of masculinity will be more fully explored in the next section of this article.) It also explicitly demonstrates the extremes that "real men" will go to hide the fact that they have been subordinated, or to display any accordant emotions (specifically those seen as feminine), even when a serious injury strongly suggests otherwise. Finally, taking pain, as reflected in the above player quote, is often tolerated in hopes of being able to "kick some ass" and forcibly subordinate others in the future. This is especially true of new initiates, who tend to become injured more frequently than experienced players.

Notwithstanding my temporary lapse of playing rugby, I had long since ceased seeking out situations where I would potentially physically inflict or experience pain. Ironically, however, there was still something all too familiar about the players paying homage to pain. That is, while the central focus of pain in rugby appeared so barbaric, it was also strikingly similar to other societal realities that I was part of and that surrounded me. The closer I examined the hierarchical realities I was involved in, especially the university (i.e., grades and tenure), the harder it was to ignore this same dynamic being played out by many (fortunately not all) of the participants found in other settings. The expectation in many settings (if not all societal contexts) is one firmly grounded in the notion of no pain, no gain. Stated in slightly different terms, like rugby players, we often tolerate reprehensible situations and being personally denigrated with the implicit hope that our subordination will be eventually rewarded with statuses--positions and money--that will give us the right to do the same to others in the future. Those who most readily accept these terms and never complain increase the likelihood that they will be rewarded in various ways.

Such a process is also seen as character building that results in better, more appreciative individuals, with the "fittest" being most rewarded. Of course, since white males largely control and benefit most from such practices, one must also consider additional relationalfactors that temper this societal process.



As the players put on their boots (cleats) and stretched out in anticipation of practice, Dave (one of the older members of the club who had played for the past five years) was telling a story about how he had recently met this "girl" in one of the many bars frequented by the players and how he "fucked the bitch in one of the shitter stalls." Several of the players intently listening to the story were adorned in T-shirts with misogynist slogans promoting their affiliation with the club and other corresponding identifications; for example, "The--Rugby Club. Just Like a Sore Peter. You Just Can't Beat 'Era" and "Hate Women. If It Tastes Like Fish--Eat It. Women Swallow It." Frequently, these same T-shirts were proudly worn elsewhere on campus (such as to classes) and in numerous other public settings. No sooner had the participants present broken into two groups and started to play touch, an "attractive" young woman walked by the university practice field. Although none of the players apparently knew this woman, they all stopped what they were doing and clapped and whistled. Some of the especially "brave" players also screamed comments like "Hey baby. Take a bow" and "Nice bo... book bag" (the beginning "bo" here being in reference to a woman's breasts). Whether the recipient of this sexual harassment understood the inferred meaning of this last statement, I will never know. Like almost every other time I had witnessed this frequently practiced malicious harassment, however, the young woman increased her pace past the practice field and appeared quite embarrassed. Once she was past the field and practice was about to resume, one of the rookie players said to the coach, "Man, she was so ugly I wouldn't even fuck her with your dick." Having said this, he picked up the ball, touched it to his foot (to signal that practice had resumed), and took off running with the coach playfully in hot pursuit.

Although prior to playing rugby I had undertaken an exploration of the heterosexist, misogynist nature of our masculine society (Schacht and Atchison 1993), since I incessantly tried not to partake in such actions and avoided settings where they most frequently occurred, I had also become somewhat removed and detached from these all too commonplace realities. While undertaking this ethnography, however, I partook in activities and witnessed behaviors that often were grounded firmly in a misogynist motivating reality (as reflected throughout this article). This led to an insight that forever changed how I view myself.

More specifically, I experientially started to understand that most of my masculine sense of being and perceived superiority to others was relationally based on rejecting--sometimes violently--anything seen as feminine: women and feminine-acting men. Or, as several theorists have insightfully argued, the only way one can understand the category men "is to relationally and simultaneously also consider the category women" (Connell 1995; Eisler 1996; Lorber 1994). This means that for me to "do masculinity," I had to actively seek out women and less privileged men to interactionally demonstrate exactly who I was and its importance (Stoltenberg 1996). They, quite simply, provided the real estate upon which I constructed, exercised, and proved the significance of my being (Schacht 1996a, 551). Presently, I find myself increasingly rejecting what Eisler (1987) called a "dominator model" of being in the world, as reflected above and throughout this article, and replacing it with a "partnership model." This means I now actively seek situations that I, in concert with others, can contribute to, instead of take from the interaction taking place (Schacht and Ewing 1997). In sum, I believe that being temporarily fed a steady diet of hierarchical, misogynist experiences further radicalized and strengthened my own feminist awareness and advocacy.



During the school quarter immediately following the completion of the fieldwork portion of this study, I taught a sociology of sport course. As one might guess, my recent experience of playing rugby assisted me in innumerable ways while teaching this class. In many situations, I was able to relate to the materials presented in an experientially grounded manner and to further support many of the academic statements made during class with my own experiences. The things I had learned about organized masculine sporting activities while undertaking this ethnography also allowed me to better relate to other class participants' experiences and feelings about sports. (Most of the class members were or had been involved in organized sports. Moreover, I believe many of them signed up for the course with the idea that we were going to talk about the "good" things about sport.) Although class participants' interpretations of the attitudes and behaviors surrounding sports often differed with mine, there seemed to be a reasonably high level of respect for the ideas I presented, and this enabled me to present what often were quite radical interpretations of sporting activities. This was accomplished by relating our experiences to the often abstract academic materials being discussed. I teach all of my courses using what could be termed loosely an inclusive, feminist pedagogical approach (Schacht 1996b).

Moreover, the focus of the materials presented is primarily in terms of how they relate to issues of gender, class, race, sexual orientation, and to a lesser extent, other social categories of inequality. This is combined with an experientially grounded presentation format. Unfortunately, such an approach often is quite foreign and alien to many of the class participants of courses I teach. I believe that the familiarity I often had with these class members' social worlds, however, allowed me to teach this course in a far more convincing and meaningful manner. Somewhat ironically, having participated in many of the same sexist activities members of the class had participated in seemed to lend validity to critical statements I made about sports largely informed by feminist and other discerning perspectives.




Often we are forced into situations that make us feel like an outsider within, and we act in a correspondingly sylphlike manner. And while acting this way often is very painful, the forceful and discriminatory manner in which it is accomplished can give us insights into a world that we could not ascertain if we were otherwise situated. Undertaking fieldwork in such settings often gives the researcher and her or his audience a glimpse into a social world of oppression. By understanding its occurrence, we can question its apparent necessity and possibly eliminate its existence. Then again, the combination of "situated knowledges... ruled by partial sight and limited voice" is "the only way to find a larger vision" (Haraway 1988, 590). While the statuses of being an outsider within and becoming a sylph holds promise for many field study areas, I believe it is especially useful, and perhaps an essential research strategy, when one undertakes fieldwork in incompatible settings such as the rugby pitch. In many ways, feminist researchers undertaking fieldwork in any misogynist setting (to varying degrees, most societal contexts are such) implicitly hold an outsider within status, and this frequently leads them to forgo (temporarily) feelings that would otherwise be elicited and to not partake in proactive and reactive behaviors that they would undertake in other settings. I believe that this would also be equally true for field-workers in general who find themselves in such blatantly incompatible settings.

When I first read Lorde's (1983) article '"The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" several years before playing rugby, I found her words to be engaging and moving. Yet, while I could see their application to numerous other people and situations, I did not have the slightest notion of how what she had written might apply to me. By temporarily becoming a sylph to play rugby, reliving the blatantly masculine behaviors I had complacently undertaken without question when I was younger, and experiencing them in an all too familiar manner, I was forced personally to reinterpret and redefine their meaning. No longer could I aspire to societally accepted and expected normative notions of being a "successful" man; once again, being "superior" to others by aggressively (sometimes violently) seeking out so-called subordinates to demonstrate this arrogant state of being.

My present definition of being successful is based on helping, not hurting, others and is firmly grounded in a reality that I strive to grow and flourish in a manner that is not predicated upon anyone else's subordination and denial (Schacht 1996b). Quite simply, by undertaking this ethnography of male rugby players, I discovered myself to still be carrying many of the accouterments of the monster--patriarchy--with which I purported to be doing battle. As a result and somewhat ironically, by playing rugby, my feminist awareness and consciousness was deepened and ultimately made stronger and potentially more efficacious.

Finally, my motivation for beginning and continuing this study was that the information I collected could be used, if in but some small way, to transform rugby and similar societal practices. While I can only be sure that the information I collected has changed one individual, myself, the reactions and comments of the numerous audiences with whom I have shared what I learned about rugby strongly suggest that many others have also been moved. Although I had to temporarily lose my soul to undertake this ethnography, what I learned from it will continue to transform my own awareness and consciousness, so that someday, in concert with others, no one will feel like an outsider within or a sylph in any social situation. As reflected in the poem below, such a reality would allow the sharp edges of every individual's being to truly blossom and shine through. In undertaking this ethnography and writing this essay, I believe that I have further shed the spiked heels of my masculine identity, often so harmful to others, refusing to ever again be silent.




I tried to be obliging

some say they never noticed

but I tried

like those spike-heeled shoes

I used to wear

which made

the act of walking

a penance

the strangulating party dress

which made

the act of breathing

a privilege

since I never could

learn the art of smiling

while I was in pain

I chose to remain silent

undoubtedly why

others still perceived me

as not quite accommodating enough

in the name of love

I tried hardest of all

always alert

for the slightest cue

as to the part

I must play

until I found myself

no more than a shadow

amongst the shadows

and even there

I tried and could not belong

I tried and could not rest

for all the yards of velvet

I tried to hide myself in

the sharp edges of me

still came through

Jaci (1939-1980)


AUTHOR'S NOTE: I thank Doris Ewing, Lesley Champeny, Susan Hinze Jones, Carolyn Ellis, Arthur Bochner, and the anonymous reviewers of this journal or their thoughtful and helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.




1. Over a two-year period during which this ethnography was undertaken, I witnessed the singing of this song over two dozen times. Since, however, this essay is specifically based on my experiences of undertaking research in a misogynist setting, I ask the reader to refer to the original article for a more detailed discussion of specifically what I discovered and concluded about rugby players and other similar behaviors they partake in (Schacht 1996a).

2. Although I held an "active membership role" in this research setting (Adler and Adler 1987), I refused to partake in the singing of rugby songs or other blatantly misogynist activities. My participation in this setting was not to reify or support the activities but to learn from the players about their gendered social world. Nevertheless, given that I held a positive token status (see subsequent discussion), inevitably my mere presence did indirectly support the players' attitudes and behaviors.  

3. Later, I told them I was doing a study. Although I would guess most of them were not quite sure what I meant by this, most expressed support for my "study," and I never heard any objections about my doing so. As long as my presence was interpreted as supportive (or innocuous at worst), there seemed to be little concern about rugby players' behaviors being observed by me.

4. Although rugby players, as reflected in this incident, frequently expressed homophobic sentiments, like American football, many of their behaviors were just the opposite and extremely homoerotic (Dundes 1980). For instance, not only do players on the pitch have the explicit goal of trying to penetrate the other club's defensives to touch the ball in the opposing club's end zone, doing so involves an incredible amount of physical contact between all participants. This is blatantly evident in the scrum, where second row players reach between the props' spread legs to bind down (grab) for pushing leverage forcibly applied against two of the front row players' buttocks. Moreover, rookie players who score their first try (touchdown) are expected to "Zulu warrior" (strip off all their clothes) while their teammates pour beer on them, and "choke-the-chicken contests" (public displays of one's genitals) are quite common at rugby parties, as are naked beer slides at rugby tournaments.

5 . Prior to this incident, I had witnessed this same player on several occasions maliciously try (often quite successfully) to injure people on the pitch, some of who were teammates.

6. The woman who wrote this poem was, among many other beautiful things, a radical feminist, an artist, an author, a poet, and my mother.




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STEVEN P. SCHACHT is a visiting assistant professor of sociology at Montana State University. His primary areas of research and teaching interest are race, class, gender, and sexuality. Recent publications include Social Statistics: A User-Friendly Approach (Allyn & Bacon, 1995), a guest-edited special issue on Feminism and Men in the International Journal of Social Policy and Sociology (with Doris Ewing; 1997), and an edited anthology titled Feminism and Men: Reconstructing Gender Relations (with Doris Ewing; New York University Press, in press). He is presently working on several articles and chapters based on his ongoing ethnographic experiences with female impersonators in an array of different gay and lesbian communities over the past four years.