The film “Murder Ball” is a documentary about a men’s quadriplegic rugby team. The film follows players of the U.S. wheel chair rugby team as they compete at the 2004 Paralympics. The rugby players share their struggles and successes as quadriplegics as well as document their interactions with their friends/ family/ each other. This film review will address three questions regarding quadriplegic men and masculinity:
1. In what ways do the men in Murder Ball redefine masculinity as quadriplegics?
2. In what ways to the men in Murder Ball re-enforce traditional masculinity
3. In what ways are quadriplegic women denied access to Murder Ball? And are quadriplegic women at a greater disadvantage than quadriplegic men in our society?
If society were to define what it means to be a “man” it would certainly include characteristics such as independence and self- reliance which are characteristics that are much more easily accessed by able- bodied individuals. So how do men living as quadriplegics maintain their “manhood” if they are unable to successfully fulfill these defining characteristics? It was interesting watching the men in this film interact with each other in a way that was so traditionally masculine in one sense, and so untraditional in another. A portion of the documentary was focused on romantic relationships that the Murder Ball men were engaged in and how being quadriplegic changes their sex lives. In one sense their self- disclosure with the camera crew challenged the construction of masculinity in that “men” do not admit to their shortcomings and challenges that they’ve had particularly when it comes to having sex (which is supposedly the pinnacle of manhood). However when the camera crew began filming the men interacting with each other and their and especially with their able- bodied friends, the men were much more adamant about proving their masculinity by saying how much they “love a women with big tits” and make other sexist comments that assured them a place amongst “the guys” despite their disability. It was as if they were overly assert their masculinity and male privilege in order to make up for the ways in which they are not privileged.
The men in Murder Ball made it a point to say repeatedly how rough and aggressive this sport was and how even though they are quadriplegic they can still “kick some ass”. This hyper masculine aggressive attitude was a common theme throughout the film and represents the key way in which these men affirmed their masculinity to themselves as well as to society.
Watching this film was both empowering and frustrating at the same time. Although I felt extremely empowered by the disadvantaged men empowering each other and making such a powerful statement for folks with disabilities- it was frustrating to see that these were predominately white men with economic privilege. It seems that while this demographic of people with disabilities were able to re-gain acceptance into society, other groups with these same disabilities would have a much harder time. This double standard can be seem in many areas of society for example, it is much easier for a man to be over weight and still be respected in society than for an over weight woman or person of color. I believe that this double standard is also visible with people with disabilities, in that society is much more likely to accept and create space for men with disabilities (particularly men adhering to traditional masculinity) than women with those same disabilities.