This week was FULL of stories about female sports fans — an article on which jerseys are top sellers among women, a Times piece on women watching football, and a series on the so-called "challenges that face female sports fans."
Also, over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about teaching his wife about football, and there was a quote at the end of his post that really struck a chord with me.
"…the lesson I took was that she [his wife] probably would have been a football fan all along, if not for the haze of male exclusivity that pervaded the thing."
I have a lot of thoughts on men's reactions to women who watch sports. Almost all of those thoughts fall under the umbrella of the "haze of male exclusivity" that Coates mentioned. For some reason, men think they own sports. They think there is some innate thing that makes them inherently more knowledgeable and that women who watch sports are anomalies they should examine.
Not only do men challenge a woman's knowledge of sports more than they challenge the knowledge of other men, they also find it their business to analyze a woman's intentions and behavior.
Hampton Stevens' piece called "Can Men and Women Watch Sports Together?" (A part of The Atlantic's series on women and sports) included a pretty telling section:
If guys have an inherent wariness about female sports fans, much of it comes from our fear of screwing up and hurting your feelings. It has very little to do with how much you spent on playoff tickets or how good you are at Celtics trivia. Truly. It's because we know that having a woman around-even if you promise otherwise-usually means we have to be careful about what we say. What fun is that?As for women who pretend to like sports to meet athletes, avoiding that label is easy. Don't wear heels to a ballpark. Kidding!
Seriously, though. If you don't want to be treated differently because of your sex, take sex out of the equation as much as possible. Men compete. If sports are involved, we compete even more. Throw a woman into the mix, we turn to idiots.
The most important thing a woman can do to gain acceptance with male sports fans is to never, ever, for any reason, mention that you find a player attractive.
It. Just. Isn't. Done.First, that injects sex into the conversation. Never a good idea. See above, re: men are idiots. Bring up sex, you are inviting guys to think about you sexually. Secondly, nothing alienates the average heterosexual male football fan faster than reminding him of the game's massive latent homoerotic appeal. You might as well badmouth America or take a wiz in the guacamole.
Stevens' first point is that men are ball-scratching insult tossers that don't want to alter their childish conversations just because women are in the room. So basically men are fearful that women will ruin game-watching with their delicate sensibilities.
That's fine, but I would point out that men have sensibilities of their own that women also have to tip-toe around. Ever tried correcting a man on a piece of sports trivia? You can almost see their little eyes well up with tears.
Unfortunately, to be around other people, you have to take their feelings into consideration. It's one of those little annoying things about, you know, life and shit.
Speaking of male sensitivity, cue Stevens' second point about "gaining acceptance" with male sports fans by never mentioning that the men are attractive.
Stevens is essentially trying to argue that men can't forget that you're a woman (and therefore cannot take you seriously) if you keep yapping about how you love to look at men.
Try reading sports blogs and being a heterosexual woman. Men are constantly using female bodies to attract viewers to their content. There's enough porn on sports blogs to legitimately turn them into porn sites without changing a thing else.
Further, I've heard plenty of men make comments about Anna Kournikova or Serena Williams or any number of volleyball players, and I've never once seen a woman get upset about it or accuse the man of not knowing what it means to serve an ace or spike a ball.
Men's insistence that women not comment on the players' looks has nothing to do with their feelings about women or homo-eroticism. The truth is, complimenting athletes, who male sports fans tend to look at as Gods of some sort, feeds into every insecurity men have about their bodies, wallets, toughness, and general station in society.
In other words, not only does Adrian Peterson make more money than Tim at the bar, he also has a better chance at scoring with that woman Tim's been eyeing all night (and holding her up in the air while doing so).
I know it hurts to know that there are men more desirable than you, but quite frankly, listening to heterosexual men whine about what bothers them about woman sports fans kind of kills my boner when it's not making me laugh my ass off.
The biggest issue with the Stevens' piece is that it treats gaining acceptance by male sports fans as something a woman should aspire to, when really, men should aspire not to be sexist assholes. Unfortunately, the former is more likely to occur than the latter.
Alyssa Rosenberg, Stevens' partner in the series, talked about the difficulty of being a woman sports fan when male behavior at stadiums is so asinine and there are players who have been accused of all manner of sexual misdeeds.
I do see stadium behavior as an issue for women. Some of these big drunk adrenaline-driven men in the stands are scary. I don't even like to go to the bathroom or to concessions alone when I attend games and I ain't no shrinking violet!
But when it comes to the players, I don't find it difficult, generally speaking, to separate the men on the field from the men off the field. That's why I can say that Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has some serious issues he needs to work on, but in the same breath name him as my favorite QB.
On a general note, I think that the way some men treat women sports fans is a broader metaphor for how women are treated in society. If a man believes something is inherently male, then he doesn't feel compelled to take a woman seriously unless she jumps through whatever hoops he puts up.
When it comes to watching sports, those jumps are voluntary, but what about the parts of life when it actually matters what a man thinks?
This piece originally appeared on Player Perspective. Republished with permission. J Danielle is a professional speechwriter and political consultant who blogs about football and media when she's not tweeting too much.
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