Sedat and Mehmet: Constructing Gender Differences via Swearing Policies

The fan club organisers and members take their social agenda beyond the local Viennese setting very seriously. They collect money for poor regions in Turkey and support disadvantaged children that have illnesses which require costly treatments and travel. The first times when I met with the group I immediately felt welcome and included. This was due to their strong belief in the club’s policy to provide a family-like environment for all members and visitors, old and new. This establishment of a family-like environment becomes very explicit when they talk about members of the club and indeed refer to them as sisters, brothers, fathers, or mothers.

Mehmet is 27 years old, has been living in Vienna for more than ten years and was the main initiator of the fan club. Sedat is 18 years old, grew up in Vienna and is very active in the club’s organising team. When Mehmet talked about the fan club he emphasised its social commitment and its regular charity activities. Furthermore, he underlined his own democratic worldview. In the interview he claimed that he adopted this attitude for the club’s structure too, implementing a rejection of hierarchies. He further explained that in the fan club every opinion was important. At the same time, in participant observations and also in the interview, it became clear the Mehmet remained a leading role model that people asked for help and advice. Sedat, for example, called him Mehmet abi (short form for agabey, elder brother), the respectful way to address a non-related person.

In the following section I will focus on an interview section with Mehmet and Sedat where we discussed the club’s family policy. As a consequence, we also started to talk about the role of women in the club. Both had mentioned their rejection of swear words [Schimpfworter] at a previous meeting11 and again at the beginning of the interview without exactly explaining why they think swearing and women are mutually exclusive. This is why I asked them directly why it is so crucial to them that people do not swear. [1]

Nina: Why is it so important for you that people don’t swear?

Sedat: It is, one feels more comfortable, I mean when I-

Mehmet: It doesn’t matter for us, for men it doesn’t matter at all, but we respect women. Women do not feel so good when men swear, women don’t join to watch matches then. It is about the culture, I guess.

Sedat: Yes, I guess no woman likes if there is swearing right next to

her. It’s like that, isn’t it?

Mehmet: And we don’t swear like: Shit! You are a pig! Or something like that. We swear about the whole family, the whole country. Everything.


Sedat: I can go there [to football places] with my girlfriend but if

there is swearing my girlfriend wouldn’t feel comfortable there either. Or my little brother, for example. There are also eight- or nine-year-old kids [in the club]. They learn those swear words and then they go and tell that they learned swear words here. It’s not a good advertisement for us [if we swore]. Because when people know that there is no swearing then they come, also families, and you can bring your wife. But I was, for example, in a cafe, nobody, I guess, nobody can go there with his wife. But to us, they can easily join because they see it’s a family situation and they are simply happy about that.

Mehmet: Yes, and a woman thinks that if I go somewhere and there are hundreds of men there then I cannot go there because I am the only woman and they will always look at what I am doing. That’s the problem. But with us, there are many women and that’s that. They sit right in front and always have our respect, nobody swears, everybody must respect the women. Everybody! This is our first rule.[2]

Mehmet and Sedat discuss the role of women neither as unwelcome nor as entirely passive. On the contrary, women and girls were explicitly invited to join and to take an active part in the organising process of club events. They underline that the club was particularly suitable for women and children and that they both ‘respect women’. This is why, in their view, the use of swear words is strongly prohibited in the club. In their case, ‘respect’ is not necessarily an attitude of a person but something people show to other people.

Their approach to creating a ‘safe’ and family-like environment is successful in the way that the group consists of nearly as many women and girls as men and boys. Similar to other groups of football fans, the family structure of the community includes both men and women (cf. Sulzle 2011, p. 239). Nonetheless, their attributions of how men, women and children should behave, particularly the non-swearing policy, belong to powerful discourses that (re)produce gender hierarchies. In Sedat’s and Mehmet’s narration, women are declined the right to speak for themselves regarding whether they care about swearing or maybe even want to swear themselves. Both of them simply claim that women do not like to swear and more importantly: they need to be protected from swearing (men). Thereby, they put women and kids on the same rather passive level.

These discourses about gender and swearing are quite common in Turkey, particularly in the football context. Swearing has been and is often still considered as a male privilege and likewise the proof of male power:

In Turkey, a deeply engrained ideology about the language of swearing is that it is men’s talk. Not only is it considered inappropriate for women to swear, but some men might also consider it rude to swear in the presence of women. (Nuhrat 2013b, p. 5)

An important part of the emotional practice of swearing is the maintenance of gender duality. Like our bodies, emotional practices are subjects to gender construction. Fan practices are strongly influenced and sometimes divided by the normative constructs of our bodies and the rules and regulations that allow certain practices only for one gender in a constructed gender duality. Particularly, because emotions are often perceived as ‘natural’ due to the fact that they are perceived as a part of our bodies, it is necessary to underline the cultural construct of our bodies:

And there will be no way to understand “gender” as a cultural construct which is imposed upon the surface of matter, understood either as “the body” or its given sex. Rather, once “sex” itself is understood in its norma- tivity, the materiality of the body will not be thinkable apart from the materialisation of that regulatory norm. “Sex” is, thus, not simply what one has, or a static description of what one is: it will be one of the norms by which the “one” becomes viable at all, that which qualifies a body for life within the domain of cultural intelligibility. (Butler 2011 [1993], p. xii)

Monique Scheer, who analyses emotions from a ‘Bourdieuian Approach’, emphasises ‘the mutual embeddedness of minds, bodies, and social relations in order to historicize the body and its contributions to the learned experience of emotion.’ (Scheer 2012a, p. 199) Due to their connections to the body, emotions, like gender, are often perceived as ‘natural’ or ‘authentic’. Scheer points out:

Emotional norms are informed and authorized by orders of knowledge, to use Foucault’s term, such as that which constitutes emotion and reason as opposites. This fundamental dichotomy correlates with a series of other homologous dualisms, such as female-male, nature-culture, savage-civilized, childish—mature, animal—human, exterior—interior, private—public, and so on, which provide mutual overlap and support. They inform the sense of what is “proper” feeling in the performance and reading of emotional expression. (Scheer 2012a, p. 216)

Emotional practices that are legitimate for men are not necessarily also appropriate for women and the other way around. In the interviews of the underlying example, swearing is narrated as the most symbolic boundary between men and women. However, these boundaries do not only draw on gender constructions but intersect also with age and other social dispositions depending on the perspective. Mehmet and Sedat draw the line between men and women/female children/male children. Others, as we will see later in this chapter, draw the line between grown-ups and children.

Another important point of swearing, also in football fan cultures, is that it is often extensively sexist and homophobic (Nuhrat 2013b, p. 2). This explains to a certain extent a critical view and debate on it in general. Erhart summarises:

Football and sex share a common vocabulary. The phrases which mean to score a goal are “to enter”, “to insert”, and “to penetrate”. When a team scores a goal fans oftentimes start singing about anal rape or insult the goalkeeper for his “weak performance”. Similarly, men use the phrase “score a goal” to denote successful sexual conquests. When a sexual liaison is made impossible, it is said that the “match” was “cancelled” or “postponed”. (Erhart 2011, p. 90)

Also elsewhere in the research field people broached the issue of swearing. When I told Alper, the main bartender in the Fenerbah^e Pub, that I was taking Turkish lessons to better understand the fan chants, he was not very happy about it. He said that I should not do it because 90 per cent of the fan chants are ‘below the belt’ (unter der Gtirtellinie), meaning sexualised swearing.[3]

It is necessary to look to which controlling images Sedat and Mehmet referred to and how they positioned themselves in this nexus. Both tried to paint a certain counter image to two controlling images. On the one hand they referred to the image of the ‘Turkish macho man’ and on the other hand to the controlling image of the ‘oppressed Turkish woman’. These two strongly gendered and ethnicised controlling images are part of the most dominant hegemonic discriminating discourses against Turkish migrants in Germany and Austria (cf. Scheibelhofer 2011; cf. Spiegel Online [Gezer, O.] 2013).

In the interview Mehmet and Sedat tried to create a gentlemanly image of themselves to prove that they are just the opposite of the ‘Turkish macho man’ which I, from my socio-cultural background, unluckily perceived as degrading towards women. This led in some parts to a mutual misunderstanding in the interview situation. With Stuart Hall’s vocabulary one could say that I decoded the message they were trying to send me differently to the way it was encoded (Hall 1980). In his article on the limits of ethnological understanding, Werner Schiffauer argues that even if two people might talk about the same matter their interpretation of the same narrative can differ immensely (2002, p. 236). The researcher always interprets and represents the research results from her or his context that is not the same context as that of the researched.

Mehmet and Sedat tried to represent themselves as open-minded men and I decoded their narratives as male patronising behaviour. The situatedness of narrations and interviews becomes very obvious. Interviews can only be interpreted as ‘positioned truths’ (Abu-Lughod 1991, p. 147) and as part of certain techniques of social positioning (Lucius-Hoene 2004b, S. 61; Sutter 2013, pp. 110-6). This does not mean that the narratives are less significant for research. On the contrary, in this example we can see how the analysis of certain contexts such as the relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee can reveal different understandings of the empowerment of women in a society or in this case very specifically in a football context.

In Sedat’s and Mehmet’s description of the club, it is women and children that need male protection from swearing. This protection is not necessarily meant in a physical way but refers to men building a ‘safe’ environment for women and children. The crucial thing about these narratives is, however, that interactions in the club were quite different. Men and women, boys and girls spoke up and took part in decision-making processes. This is why it is important to add other perspectives to the ones of Mehmet and Sedat and to further contextualise their arguments and the other motives in the interview section.

  • [1] Fieldnote from 2 May 2015, Fenerbah^e Pub and Fan Club, Vienna, with people in pub andpeople from fan club, Benfica Lissbon vs. Fenerbah^e (Europa League), evening.
  • [2] Interview Mehmet and Sedat, 27 years old and 18 years old, male and male, Fenerbah^e fan andFenerbah^e fan, 3 June 2013, Mehmet’s house, Vienna, afternoon/evening.
  • [3] Fieldnote from 15 May 2013, Fenerbah^e Pub, Vienna, with people in pub, FC Chelsea vs.Benfica Lissabon (Europa League final), evening.
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