Masculinity, Cricket, and What Women Are Really Up To

It has been interesting to see how people have reacted to India’s journey in the ICC Women’s World Cup, 2017. There’s no doubting the sense of joy one gets watching Mithali Raj, Harmanpreet Kaur, or Jhulan Goswami play. There’s no doubting the genuine passion one possesses for the game. And there’s certainly no doubting that Women’s cricket needs more appreciation and recognition to demasculinize (although that doesn’t just happen with mere appreciation and recognition) the game of cricket which historically has known to be a ‘Man’s’ game.

Even before the first game of the World Cup was played, the Indian skipper, Mithali Raj, proved to be an astute personality with her ingenious reply to a journalist who had asked her who her favourite male cricketer was. People, having adored male cricketers all through their life, managed to find this impressive and radical enough. With a loss to Sarfraz Ahmed’s team in June, a lot of people were waiting for the Women’s India-Pakistan game, hoping that an Indian victory would rub off the disappointment and hurt of the Champions Trophy final. When the Indians convincingly defeated the Pakistanis the Indian public instinctively alluded to the idea of Nationalism yet again. Yes, the Indian team once again did make the general public feel patriotic and nationalistic. One can only wonder if the players thought of their victory in those lines.

Fast forward a few weeks and the same person in Mithali Raj was being ridiculed for her rather slow-paced innings that seemed to cost India the match. There were comments aimed at her captaincy and at her concealed ‘professional’ motives. Lines of comparisons were drawn to Indian male cricketing legends who were known not to play the game of cricket for the sake of personal records. Well, at least that is what the general public was taught to believe. From being appreciated for what they—as women—were doing on the field to being ridiculed for what they—as women—failed to bring to the field, women cricketers have caused people’s emotions, sentiments, responses, and perspectives to oscillate from one extreme to the other. Therefore, one might at this juncture wonder or question as to what these women are really up to? And if you do not seem to have this query in your mind, it is high time you do.

The day after India overcame the mighty Australians in the semi-finals, I was going through people’s comments on Facebook posts, paying particular notice to those written by men. While there were comments that spoke of women cricketers with high regard, there were quite a lot of men that found it perfectly fine to refer to these women as “their girls” and “their women’s cricket team.” I do understand the sentiments here, but hold on, they are not “your girls” or “your women.” The fact that men (not all) tend to personalize (and that could range from a person to a person’s achievement) is only reflective of the ‘right to ownership’ that men believe they naturally possess.

Men’s ‘right to desire and acquire’ and the ‘right to ownership’ was garbed in appreciation and admiration. Men tend to emerge from all corners to share in the “sporting” joys of women only because they think they are entitled to it. To all the men who think in that vein, I say again that these cricketers are not “your” women and are not “your” girls. They play the sport because they love it, because their lives and the lives of their people depend on it, and because they want to use their talents to bring honour to their country. And perhaps, they play the sport to challenge those chauvinistic men that think women are incapable of doing certain things.

It is however ludicrous for a man, sitting in his room and in complete coincidence happens to come across a channel telecasting the match, to think that these women play the sport for his happiness, pride, and feelings of nationalism, which obviously is momentary at best. What also needs to be asserted is that Raj or Kaur or anyone for that matter aren’t the Dhoni or Virat of Women’s Cricket. They are the Raj and Kaur of Cricket; they are who they are. And for sanity’s sake, can we men stop addressing Kaur as “Bahubali?” To compare a woman’s performance and achievement to that of a man’s is to covertly establish men and their achievements as the norm. When will we men learn to acknowledge success (of women) in its own right?

There is a lot more to offer to women than just praising them when they do something good like winning a game of cricket. Try reserving the applause for moments of disappointments; try reserving the applause for moments when they question your rights; and try reserving your applause for moments when they challenge and expose your manhood. Try it! The fact that the Indian cricket team is doing well and has managed to come so far in the sport is not because of men; it is their own doing. They have had to fight for it and perhaps they might still have to continue doing so. So let us not even for one instance think that we men have the right to share in their glory when we did nothing but make it hard for them to reach for it.

If there is a reason I am happy that the team has achieved what it has, it is because they continue to boldly and resolutely challenge men and/from their domain. The women out there in the field are confronting the phenomena of masculinization where cricket and other sports has been masculinized, where press meetings and conferences has been masculinized, where public spaces, social forums, and even our consciences have been masculinized. The women sportspersons and women in every other field are doing something remarkable and radical – they are undoing and bowling out a masculine culture and a masculine world.

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