It's possible — nay, natural — for a woman who is sexually attracted to men to watch the World Cup while perving the hell out. You're still a real fan if you realize once you level with yourself that you definitely want to fuck the goalie.
Today, the 20th FIFA World Cup commences in Rio de Janiero and on every high def flatscreen in every bar and exposed brick loft in blue states, and half the screens in half the bars in red states. And leaping, running, kicking, sweating, diving, dogpiling, and disrobing on those screens will be an almost overwhelming number of incredibly attractive men with foreign accents and soccer-level thighs in the best physical shape of their lives. For female fans, this is both a blessing and a curse.
Female fans of men's soccer (or football, if you're anywhere else in the world besides the ass-backwards non-metric-system-using United States) put up with a lot of shit to watch the sport they love, much of it from male fans — accusations that they're only into it because their boyfriend is, that they don't really understand the intricacies of the game, that they have no business occupying space at pubs or at games that real, male fans could be occupying. They're catcalled, derided, and quizzed as though they don't belong there. One hard core female soccer fan I spoke with told me that she had her ass grabbed at her first soccer game. Because she was there.
But most annoying to the women I spoke with was the constant demands from male soccer fans to brandish their authenticity like an ID badge that grants them admittance to the Real Fan club. Women who love soccer are so often asked by male fans to "prove" that they belong, says Carrie Dunn, academic and author of Female Football Fans, that they do their best to mute their female-ness in contexts when it could be used against them.
Basically because men's football is so very male-dominated in the stands (and in its administration...and its media...but that's another story) female fans tend to be very wary of doing anything that makes them stand out as "female" or "feminine". So that means they'll wear trousers to games, not skirts; flat shoes, not heels; they won't wear too much make-up; they don't want to be accused of what you're saying - that they're there to look at the boys, not to watch the football. It's almost as if this gendered/sexualised element of watching football would detract from how much you enjoy the sport.
With our without fake eyelashes and push-up bras, female fans are plenty authentic. The dozens of female soccer fans I spoke with for this piece told me they watched for all manner of reasons just as "real" as those of any male fan. Some grew up playing it, some fell in love with the sport alongside a parent, others became fans after getting swept up in World Cup fever as adults. One New Yorker told me that she was lonely and living abroad during the 2002 World Cup and going to pubs to watch games was a way to participate in something that felt truly communal, and after that became a devotee. They're in it to see the national team spirit, to support the best athletes in the world, to see the usual configuration of professional European leagues completely upended and reordered on the world stage. "It's my lifeblood," confessed one female fan, sans hyperbole.
Female soccer fans tell me that hostile male fans often accuse them of watching the game because they're only interested in exploring their sexual attraction to soccer players, resulting in tens and hundreds and thousands and uggghhhhh exchanges between casual male fans and female devotees that look like this one that occurred on my Facebook wall just the other day:
Another female fan told me that she feels like she has to be a much bigger fan with much more knowledge to be considered on par with what she calls a "casual dude fan" who assumes she's just going to giggle during the entire game because PECS.
This critique that won't die — "YOU'RE JUST IT FOR THE HOTTIES!" — seems to stem from the errant belief that it's not possible to be a "real" fan and also feel a sexual attraction to the athletes playing a sport. That being turned on by Cameroon's Benoit Assou-Ekotto somehow undoes a lifetime of paying attention, a decade of fandom. Fuck that.
Humans are physical beings with physical desires, and lusting after a person exhibiting mastery of a physical activity is only natural. Our dumb animal brains likely see sports as ads for an athletes' DNA. This doesn't mean they're being dehumanized, or objectified, or lessened. It just means that you're a person who is turned on by hot people who are fast and strong.
It seems unfair that most of the female fans I spoke with feel the need to push physical attraction out of their minds when they watch soccer while the fashion world has given up on any vestiges of caring about the actual game being played. Observe the 1000+-word piece from last weekend's New York Times that is completely and 100% about how badly fashion dudes want to brandfuck soccer dudes.
Take a deep breath, everyone. The World Cup begins Thursday, and the fashion world is ready. Every four years, designers have a chance to locate, scout and mint a new fashion star. A footballer (that's how the fussy soccer fans like to refer to them, forgive us Tom Brady) has the looks, a dash of international flair and a frame made for designer clothes.
Just because they're not doing it as openly as Man of the World magazine doesn't mean some serious female fans aren't lusting after the players. One woman told me,
I like the soccer uniforms with the shorter shorts, showing some muscular thighs. I think that if the NBA would shorten their shorts an inch or two, I bet they would have a broader female fan base. Part of sports is celebrating the human body and what it can do. I don't think there's anything wrong with liking the sport AND thinking they are attractive. I know female sports fans get a bad rep for only watching for the guys, but I think we would get a bad rep under any circumstances so fuck them, I'll watch for whatever reason I choose.
I consume a lot of my entertainment because I enjoy seeing people who are awesome at something do it at the highest level, whether that's writing a great novel, delivering a perfect season of television, or executing an uneven bars routine that makes me gasp because dear god your shoulders shouldn't be able to do that. In this case the people I'm watching happen to be awesome at something physical that turns them into steel-abbed hotness machines. (And for what it's worth, I also like women's soccer. I fantasize about marrying fewer of the players, though.)
One simply told me, "Best asses in sports."
But you don't need to be sporting a World Cup jersey from 1994 and a rolodex of obscure statistics to be welcome at a game watch. Unlike the men who make watching soccer significantly more obnoxious for female fans, women who are into soccer are much more hospitable to the casual fan. A few told me that they've enticed non-soccer fan friends to watch games with them with .jpeg files of the prettiest players. With the conviction of religious evangelists, they tell me they welcome women who watch for any reason, because they're pretty sure soccer is so great that after a few games non-fans, too, will be hooked by the beauty of the sport. How you come to The Beautiful Game doesn't matter, only that you stick around for the good part.
Watching the Wold Cup in part to ogle attractive men doesn't make anyone — from the casual cultural participant to the obsessive screaming face painter —an inauthentic fan; everyone is welcome to enjoy one of the most-watched and most-loved sporting events in the world. And if the World Cup is so sexually overwhelming for you that you spend the next four weeks ovulating, be proud. Just don't feel compelled to tell the whole bar that's happening during a shootout.
Save it for the post-game celebration.