Culture's consequences: Part 6
Mike Holden looks at masculinity and explains why some nations go to greater lengths than others in search of victory...
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Individualism
Part 3: Collectivism
Part 4: High power distance
Part 5: Low power distance
Part 6: Masculinity
Part 7: Femininity
Part 8: High uncertainty avoidance
Part 9: Low uncertainty avoidance
Masculinity: why do some nations go to greater lengths than others?
It was probably the most gruesome moment in World Cup history. On a tense night at the Sanchez Pizjuan in Seville, deep into the second half of the semi-final between France and West Germany, with the scores level at one-apiece, goalkeeper Harald Schumacher demonstrated the lengths he would go to in the heat of battle.
Substitute Patrick Battiston had only been on the pitch for ten minutes but a searching pass from Michel Platini put him through on goal. Schumacher raced out and, upon realising he wasn't going to intercept Battiston's goalbound effort, he launched his sizeable frame into the Frenchman, the full weight of his rump smashing straight into the defender's skull in mid-air.
Battiston was knocked unconscious and needed oxygen. He later slipped into a coma. The French players were clearly distressed, particularly Platini, who held the hand of his colleague as he escorted the stretcher all the way back to the touchline. All the while, Schumacher was unmoved. Battiston's shot had dropped wide of his left-hand post and the keeper's main concern was taking the resultant goal kick. He seemed almost put-out at being made to wait.
That Germany would later win the World Cup's first penalty shoot-out (with Schumacher the spot-kick hero) is relevant, although not necessarily connected to the above. Schumacher could have been imprisoned for his assault but he wasn't even booked and some would argue that Les Bleus were galvanised by outrage and injustice, at least initially. At the start of extra-time, they raced into a 3-1 lead. But then they tired, allowing the Germans to draw level at 3-3.
The game remains high on the list of all-time World Cup classics and arouses nostalgia in anyone old enough to remember. But it also raises a number of interesting points in the realm of masculinity versus femininity, as outlined by Geert Hofstede's model of cultural dimensions. The terms masculinity and femininity provoke all sorts of connotations, so let's be clear with some definitions before we go any further.
According to Hofstede, masculinity refers to the extent by which a society will be driven by competition, achievement and success. In such societies, the primary objective in life is to be the best in your chosen field, a value system that starts at school with exams from an early age and continues throughout organisational behaviour.
By contrast, a feminine society is one where success is measured by quality of life. In feminine societies, the emphasis tends to be placed on 'working in order to live' rather than 'living in order to work'. So the fundamental issue here is what motivates people, wanting to be the best (masculine) or liking what you do (feminine).
With that in mind, it shouldn't surprise anybody to learn that Germany is one of the most masculine societies in Europe, along with Italy and the UK, whereas France is one of the most feminine, along with Spain and Holland. And it shows in the respective international records of those particular nations too.
Even with England letting the side down, the masculine trio can boast 11 international tournament triumphs and 10 runners-up spots, compared with just six trophies and five other finals among the big three feminine types. Of course, there's no feasible way of establishing how much competitive edge accounts for that difference rather than overall historical ability, and when pursuing this chain of thought there's always a counter-argument to consider.
Nonetheless, conventional wisdom has already created the stereotypes - "Never write off the Germans", "Italian teams are always hard to beat" - and the stats back up the cliches when you look into the idea that those nations will consistently be there or thereabouts and invariably present the most formidable opposition at the business end of a tournament.
Looking at the respective semi-final counts, the masculine heavyweights have reached the last four 33 times in total, compared with 22 such appearances for the feminine three. This also means that the masculine trio have progressed to the final 63 per cent of the time, compared with a 50 per cent progression rate of the feminine three. Moreover, on five of the 12 occasions when the masculine teams haven't progressed beyond a semi-final, it is beacuse they have been beaten by another masculine nation.
The natural conclusion to draw from this is the idea that masculine countries are more successful by going to greater lengths in the pursuit of victory, willing to make more compromises with the conscience than feminine countries. Schumacher's moment of criminality offers a prime example of how far the boundaries can be pushed in the heat of battle. But I also have another theory.
When you look at football in terms of this particular dimension, it's fair to say that the masculine ideology is end-goal orientated while the feminine ideology is process-orientated. In masculine countries, football is purely a results business, whereas in feminine countries, greater emphasis is placed on the manner in which the game is played and success is also measured in terms of the joy it brings as an art form.
This being the case, there's an argument to suggest that masculine countries should invariably display greater levels of stamina and endurance because the psychological focus remains constantly fixed on the end prize. Such nations never lose sight of the overall objective, regardless of any unforeseen obstacles that may present themselves along the way. The joys of the process, on the other hand, can be achieved at any time, and once you've tasted joy early on in the competition, it's much easier to lose sight of the overall objective and let standards slip.
In the last 30 years at the two major international events, some 31 knockout matches between European nations have reached the end of 90 minutes all-square. On 21 occasions, the more masculine nation, according to Hofstede model, has prevailed, while on a further three occasions, the two nations involved have shared an identical score for masculinity (England v Germany being two of them).
Or to put it another way, when a knockout match finishes level at the end of 90 minutes, only 23 per cent of the time can the more feminine nation be expected to win during extra-time or via penalties.
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