Twitter made me start thinking about something I’m sure a lot of people have written about. Since writing topics are coming a little harder for me lately I’m going to run with it anyway: how do women see their role as sports fans? Specifically, how do we see ourselves as watchers of men’s pro sports, or any men’s sports for that matter?
Watching the Game
I believe the original Twitter topic had something to do with fan jerseys tailored for women, but it quickly turned to the topic of women watching games without any understanding of the sport:
Playing the devil’s advocate, I suggested that some of those women might only be pretending to know nothing about the game. In some circles, it is more acceptable for women to watch men be beautiful than to study the game. I was surprised to get this answer:
That makes my brain hurt, not because it is sad that someone feels she has to deny being informed, though that is sad. It makes my brain hurt that someone would be self-consciously aware of this twisted social role, and accept it. I was brought up to only go kicking and screaming into any role deemed oppressive by my rigorously feminist views. Maybe I’m retro. Actually, I’m sure I am.
I would guess that the friend is in a minority of young women sports fans:
Why do some women feel pressure to not know anything about the sport they watch? Is it so you can keep those dumb questions in reserve in case you need something to talk about with a player? Would intelligent questions not work for that?
If you assume that being dumb is undesirable, then pretending to be dumb is far worse. Dumb is not the same as uninformed, but one has to wonder how you can watch something without eventually becoming informed. It is just a game, not quantum physics: if you go to enough games, and still can’t figure out what is going on, then you may indeed be dumb.
What if the purpose of pretending to be uninformed is a social ruse which may require mental agility to maintain? That’s not the same as being dumb. Perhaps it is misguided, perhaps it bolsters a view of women a lot of us don’t like, but it isn’t proof of low intelligence. It is merely an indication of where your priorities are, what you think is important and attractive.
Watching the Players
Can’t you watch the game and the players? Is one activity meaningful and the other hopelessly frivolous? That question trips me up. If I ask it, I must be laboring under a sexually biased perspective. If you don’t accept social or political rules about who gets to watch who and why, then there is no question to ask. It’s just people watching shiny things and fast movements, or, equally normal, the search for suitable mates which doesn’t have to be politically loaded.
But that part is so loaded. Why? Why is it “better” or “worse” to watch a sports event with an informed understanding of the sport? Does that preclude being able (or allowed?) to appreciate the less sport-specific appeal of the players? Does it make a woman a nitwit or a bimbo if she likes the fact that a lot of the players are aesthetically pleasing to the eye?
If you do know something about the sport, is it still okay to comment on peripheral matters? What if greater knowledge of the game actually influences what a woman finds attractive? Some women actually find skill as attractive as nicely balanced features. Then is it okay for her to be reasonably critical of play in one sentence and in the next observe what a fine specimen that new guy is?
Why does it bother anyone if women acknowledge the physical or charismatic appeal of players apart from the skills and strategy that are on display? Why would anyone want to call this something dirty, some kind of objectification?
Isn’t that tit for tat anyway? Don’t we complain that heterosexual men do this to women all the time? That might not make it right but it gives it a little more social kick than the image of weak-minded females swooning over a bunch of sweaty guys.
Watching Each Other
Speaking of objectification, the original discussion is a little more complicated than I first thought:
Why does it bother some of us that others want to wear curve-hugging tops? I include myself among those who respond badly to women flaunting their assets in public. I too find myself thinking: “put some clothes on you shameless hussy.” But just because I do it doesn’t make it right.
Why would it better for women to wear clothes tailored for men than for women? Are men’s clothes better? Why? Isn’t it sexist to think so? What does wearing a jersey mean? Is it merely a way to identify yourself as a supporter of a player and team? If so, does it need to be just like his jersey or is it okay for it to be a little different?
Wearing men’s clothes can mean a host of things for a woman. It can be empowering: there was a time when women could hang for wearing pants.
It can also just look like you are wearing some guy’s clothes, implying that you have a man. You may be off the market but you are actively engaged in the hetero mating game.
It can also mean, in the context of sports jerseys, that you are a “serious” fan. You don’t buy knock-offs, you don’t go for the inauthentic facsimile of team colors. There are no women playing in the NHL, “real” NHL jerseys don’t come tailored for women.
Does that make following the Flyers or the Sharks an anti-feminist thing to do? No. We should all be able to watch we want, no matter who is in the cast or on the team, even if they are mostly white guys.
Does it bother me that their clothes don’t fit me? No: they are men, I am not a man. I don’t feel uncomfortable not looking like them.
Real player’s jerseys probably don’t fit a lot of people, male or female, especially without the pads. So… is it alright if the jersey you buy from the official source is sized or tailored differently from the real thing? Are you a less serious fan for wanting one that fits you? If you buy it, you probably want to wear it in public and not just sleep in it. The NHL’s authentic jerseys make lousy sleepshirts. Try it, those logos are like trying to sleep with a dinner plate strapped to your chest.
I don’t own any women’s jerseys. It never occurred to me to buy one, though they are cheaper than the men’s ones. Maybe I should consider it. I can’t afford to buy another one any time soon, so I don’t have to decide now. That’s good, because the question seems a lot more complicated than I thought.