Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Review: Night Games, by Anna Krien

I have to admit, football is not my favourite topic to talk about, let alone read about. But in saying that, the particular culture it tends to promote - that being a highly masculine world where players are given an almost god-like status - is still one that I find somewhat fascinating, perplexing and at times disturbing. So when I discovered Anna Krien's Night Games, I was hoping to get an insight into these issues of sex, power and sport that have intrigued me.

Night Games follows a rape trial involving the Collingwood Football Club in the aftermath of the 2010 Grand Final against St. Kilda. Krien uses this trial as a lens to explore society's attitudes towards rape; gender and power imbalances in male-dominated sports; and how problematic it is that these attitudes remain accepted in everyday culture. It's like Krien has held up a giant mirror panel through which the trial is originally refelcted in, dropped it so it shatters, and then we the readers are left to pick up the pieces and put it back together again. Though each time we pick up a piece, our own images are reflected in the pieces themselves, reminding us that our own ideas and experiences will always influence how we view particular scenarios. The glass piece itself is never perfectly whole again either - lines from where the pieces join up are still evident so that the original scenario can never be viewed in the same way again; and some of the pieces have gone missing so that we can never truly know the full story. 

That's what reading Night Games is like, with Krien highlighting how fragmentary trials, particularly rape ones, can be, and how many shades of grey are involved with trying to understand the act of rape itself and the actions of the people directly involved. It's what I most enjoyed about reading Night Games, with the shades of grey Krien gutsily explores extending to attitudes towards sex and power in sport. It's very risky territory and Krien is very aware of this herself, stating, 'You've got the rapist or the liar...and by trying to seek out a shade of grey I'm protecting one of them' (p.258). She goes on to state:
'It is as if there's a fear that venturing into a grey area to discuss the complexities of consent and rape will unravel some forty years of feminist spadework, that people will be unnecessarily confused by any such discussion. But surely feminism isn't that fragile. And isn't it obvious that people are already confused? For despite the law being clear on the definition of consent, neither the police nor the public prosecutors seem to have much faith in a jury's ability to convict in certain cases, even if they do satisfy the legal criteria.' (p.259)

Thus, this very issue of how to delve into these shades of grey is a central theme of Night Games. The issues that unravel are many, including, but not limited to ideas that:

  • Thinking a women is asking for it when drunk can be just as bad as thinking all footballers are badly behaved jocks and potential rapists. 
  • AFL is one of the few male-only sports codes in the world that boast a large proportion of female supporters. Yet the gender and power imbalances are still so vast. Why? 
  • Are football 'groupies' complicit in promoting rape culture? Or are they examples of sexually empowered women?
  • Boys, as well as women, are used, abused and discarded in football, though obviously in very different ways.

Krien is so well read and justifies the positions she offers with such clarity and conviction that as a reader you feel that she is representing the issues in a very fair and honest manner.

Night Games, as Krien states towards the end of the book, is not anti-sport. After all, not all footballers, let alone sportsmen, treat the people they interact with poorly. But what needs to change is the 'men who use sport as power and the people - teammates, fans, coaches clubs, doctors, police, journalists, groupies - who let them do whatever they want.' Night Games is one gripping insight into this complex, multifaceted world, and has allowed me to begin seeing the shades of grey where I once didn't. 

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