“You know more about sports than any girl I’ve met in my life! I should have you come and talk at my party or something.”
I still remember the blush that crept into my cheeks, the hesitant cadence of my laugh in response to the middle-aged man’s well-meaning remark. It is this strange mix of self-consciousness and pride with which I regard my position as a die-hard female sports fan.
When I’m watching sports, I can’t help but be hyper-aware of my gender. The constant barrage of advertisements for Viagra, Coors Light, or my personal favorite, Dr. Pepper Ten (which boasts that it’s “not for women”), reminds me of my place outside the target audience of 18-to-54-year-old men.
At family gatherings where I congregate with my uncles to discuss the latest athlete indiscretion or new player acquisition, my aunt often smiles and quips that she never would have pegged her niece as sports fan material. Even my mom has been known to say I “sound like a boy” when I yell at the TV set over a strikeout or fumble.
Being knowledgeable about athletics is something I take pride in, but lately I’ve found myself questioning why that is. Is it simply because I like to be informed when it comes to everyday news, including that of the sports world? Or is it because I am a woman, a figure oft considered a minority in a field stereotypically dominated by — and catered to — men?
Through the realm of new media, I’ve quickly come to realize that the female sports fan base is not nearly as small and solitary as I once believed it to be. The numbers back up my observations — women account for more than a third of those who watch major sporting events like the NBA Finals, the World Series and the Super Bowl, according to a recent article from Forbes magazine. From the bleachers to the blogs, it is undeniable there is a large population of intelligent, savvy women who can talk sports as comfortably as any of their male counterparts. For this reason and others, it’s long overdue the media in particular (and society as a whole) reevaluate the idea of the typical sports spectator.
Despite the United States’ status as a purportedly post-feminist society, sexism is still a part of daily life, particularly in the sports world. While men are often expected to be passionate about sports (or at least to know enough to have a casual conversation about the latest “big game”), women are regarded with special surprise when they show an interest in athletics. This leads to an “othering” effect through which females are either ignored in the sports conversation, or worse: specifically targeted by sexist marketing.
Want an example? Look no further than the “Baseball Boyfriend” fantasy baseball app, put together by CBS Sports Interactive and a company called A View From My Seat. The app’s website claims the app is designed for those already deeply familiar with fantasy baseball, but simultaneously attempts to simplify the game’s process for the targeted female user. The app’s interface features hearts doodled around the faces of players, and instructions encourage “girls” to draft a player (i.e., boyfriend) from their “little black book.” Users are provided with stats on how their “baseball boyfriend” is doing and can dump him for a new player if they choose. If the app’s target audience isn’t obvious enough, the website’s description closes out with the invitation, “Bring your girlfriends and BFFs together for a fun baseball season this summer.”
Some may defend the app-makers by saying they were at least paying attention to a frequently forgotten market. But that’s actually where the problem of this app lies. It makes assumptions about women’s sports viewing habits and even their sexual orientation, making women out to be imaginary sports groupies who can’t — or don’t care to — understand baseball unless it’s put into the context of a romantic, heterosexual relationship. It ignores the reality that there is a contingency of females out there like myself, who organize their friends’ fantasy sports league each year and don’t need a “baseball boyfriend” to keep them interested.
Just like the comment I received about my sports fanaticism, sexism sometimes comes under the guise of good intentions. In an interview with the blog Zap 2 It, the Baseball Boyfriend app’s creators said, “We were having fun and, yes, being a little sassy with the text. It’s a fantasy game and it’s meant to be taken as seriously as a romance novel.”
This defense only signifies that the sports community has built up an immunity to sexism, to the point where a blatantly offensive app can be produced, packaged and advertised by a reputable media organization. The generalization that women can only operate in the sports world as “fangirls” is akin to the notion that a woman’s place is in the kitchen and not in the workforce. While both concepts can be considered sexist, the latter is more widely recognized as such because sports are seen as operating outside the normal confines of society.
Although proposing universality as a solution for conflicts based on one’s gender can be problematic, it is ultimately the way to go here. Women don’t need a baseball boyfriend or a bedazzled tank top to become a sports fan; they need a sports society that will accept them into the fold without restricting allegiance and knowledge to the male gender.
Sometimes I look around my room at the walls plastered with San Francisco Giants memorabilia and the flowered blanket adorning my bed. I always used to think it clashed, this stereotypically feminine decor mixed with sports posters and ticket stubs. But now I realize it’s just emblematic of who I am.