On the scale of microaggressions, I’m guessing the erasure of women from football fandom sits pretty low. Why would I even want to be a part of it? It’s violent, carries a culture of beer-drenched misogyny (seriously, watch any commercial on during a game), and routinely excuses abusers and rapists just because they can throw/catch/run. Well, we can’t all be perfect, and I accepted long ago that I would never be The Most Perfect Feminist. I don’t make excuses, and I recognize that NFL culture is disturbingly flawed, especially to a feminist-minded individual. I critique the culture at every turn to anyone who will listen, and I make it known that I don’t approve of the standard of “manliness” sports tend to push on youth. I don’t support dishonest teams or players, and I sure as hell didn’t put Ben Roethlisberger on my fantasy team.
I grew up in a household full of women. While my mother tried to instill in me a love for all that was “girly” and a disdain for everything that was not, her efforts ultimately fell to a couple of the most brilliant aunts you’d ever find. They’ve been taking me to football (and baseball and hockey) games since before I can remember, and one of them is what even the most know-it-all football dudebro would call an expert. I don’t think it was until high school that I started to get the message, from guys in particular, that football was a man’s game. They weren’t interested in talking sports with me, and when I jokingly mentioned trying out for the team (I don’t play that touch football shit), I got shot down and told to wait for Powder Puff, a single game dominated by the popular girls and put on for an internalized misogyny-driven oglefest for the guys.
In Texas, football is serious business. We’re no strangers to ladies at football games, but they have to look a certain way. No big, baggy men’s tees for them! Why would you want to wear something like that when you can have a blinged-out, tight replica jersey or a glittery tank top? It’s completely acceptable for a woman to like football, but only if she isn’t serious about it and has a man next to her to answer all of her questions. And it’s not just acceptable, but embraced if you’re playing it up for male attention. I’m not saying that a woman can’t wear feminized jerseys and heels and go to games with a male partner if she isn’t a real fan. This is totally possible, and I love that women can perform femininity while participating in an activity deemed by society as for boys only. I am saying that if she opens her mouth, she will be shot down, ridiculed, condescended to, hit on (in a pervy way), and/or excluded. I have seen it happen, and it has happened to me.
A few recent examples out of the hundreds of just-plain-sexist things I’ve seen or experienced personally:
- I’m out with my male partner at his friend’s house about a year ago. I had recently started teaching him about football and had taken him to a college game that day. I tell one of the friends, pleasantly, that I’m teaching him about the game. He laughs and offers to teach my partner himself.
- A coworker talks football with other guys in our environment in my presence, and when I jump into the conversation to remark on a specific play or unwarranted penalty, he always acts shocked that I “really know my stuff.” He tells me he always forgets that I can talk football. Perhaps my jewelry and heels are casting some sort of spell.
- Over the weekend, Boyfriend complimented a man on his jersey. We had been admiring it from a distance, and when the man walked by, Boyfriend complimented him. I agreed and paid a similar compliment. The man thanked my male partner without so much as a glance towards me.
- My family, including the aforementioned awesome aunts, is watching a game on Thanksgiving. I witness an ongoing pissing contest perpetrated by another aunt’s boyfriend, who seemed determined to prove he knows more about the team and the game then my expert aunt. She wasn’t having any of it, by the way.
And those are just a few examples. It’s absolutely maddening to deal with this every single time you open your mouth about sports. I’m not sure if it’s the macho vibes, but I’m often afraid to say anything. I don’t fear for my life or anything, but this feeling of getting ganged-up on even if it’s only one person I’m talking to has kept me rather silent. I’ve made a promise to myself not to stay that way. If it makes me some angry feminist who gets upset and offended by everything, then so be it. A lot of people feel that way about me already. I’m going to get told that I’m overreacting, that I’m imagining things, but I know I’m not. My whole life I’ve watched my gender diverse, ass-kicking aunt verbally destroy anyone who suggests that she doesn’t know football because she’s a woman. I’ve watched her win multiple fantasy tournaments and call plays like a professional. I’ve always aspired to be like that, and from here on out, I’m going to be. I can be a feminist who happens to really love a male-dominated, aggressive sport full of institutional -isms while recognizing its flaws. I can look feminine and still know my stuff. And I can call out sexism even in an environment that looks to condescend to and mock me at every turn.
So tell me, what are your experiences with this? What do you do when someone implies that you don’t know what you’re talking about?