Feminism and Football: Look at All These Microagressions!

They still act like football is a man’s game, and it’s really starting to get on my nerves. This feminist has positioned herself in the heart of macho dudeliness, and sometimes it isn’t pretty. 

NFL logo

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?

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Elfity

Elfity, so named for her tendency to be a bit uppity and her elf-like appearance, is a graduate student and professional Scary Feminist of Rage. She has a propensity for social justice, cheese, and Doctor Who. Favorite activities include making strange noises, napping with puppies and/or kitties, and engaging in political and philosophical debates.

15 thoughts on “Feminism and Football: Look at All These Microagressions!”

  1. I have a great story from when I was in high school where a guy implied that I didn’t know what I was doing.

    We were in AP Physics C together, a class which by the way had about 15 kids, only three, including me, were girls. One of our typical assignments was to put one of our homework problems on a whiteboard and explain how to get the correct answer to the class. Only two people in the class got this problem correct, and I was one of them so I was copying my work onto the board and would be presenting in lieu of my two classmates who got the wrong answer aty table. My asshole classmate (who works for Wall St now and was part of the derivative-swap mayhem) comes over to see if I need his help even though he did the problem wrong. I told him, “No, I’m fine.” Then he said, “Empowered, are we?”

    Well that really pissed me off. We were in the same AP Chemistry class the year before and he seemed to think that I needed his help in science because I have ovaries. I’d never encountered this attitude before middle school and it became prevalent with my fellow insecure male students when I was in high school, and as you can bet, it annoyed me immensely. After I turned him down, he flounced off, but when we went up to present our problem, he wanted to do the talking. I let him, but when he got to the point where I diverged from what he did on his homework, he was a little stumped, and that’s when I leaned in and said “What Larry means is that…” Our teacher saw the whole exchange and she was beaming at me after I’d finished the presentation. Now that I’m older and more mature, I don’t like doing that to other people unless I feel they really deserve it.

    Give ’em enough rope is my approach to this kind of bullshit, which is yet another reason I’m pretty turned off sports except for gymnastics, figure skating, and synchronized swimming which I watch maybe once a year and see the full events in the Olympics. I love when athletes look powerful but graceful at the same time, probably because I took ballet throughout my childhood. I’ve even had my interests dismissed as “not sports,” i.e. “not important,” so much that I just don’t bother engaging with men about sports. It’s not out of fear, but it is out of frustration with the number of microaggressions that I’ve experienced over the years. I admire you for taking on people who act that way so good luck!

  2. I’ve been going to football games since I was 12 and I’m in the SEC East so football (and tailgating) are serious business. I’ve been sexually harassed at football games a number of times and been looked at funny for screaming and cursing louder than most during a game. It’s the little moments that really make you feel like shit.

  3. I’m not much of a sports fan, except for rugby (and when “my” team plays). I live in a country in which majority probably thinks rugby is American football, so I never really experienced sports fan life. The small experience I have comes from going to matches in other countries and I never felt like I was the odd one out for not having a penis. But hey, it’s a world in which fans of the other team congratulate the fans of the winning team and I never heard about the insane vandalism soccer “”fans”” create. So maybe rugby-fans are like unicorns of the sport fan world.

  4. I’m not into football, but this sort of crap happens to me all the time with geek culture stuff. The one that infuriates me the most is probably the topic of Star Trek, because I know FAR too much about Star Trek. The BF, however, knows very little (and most of what he knows is what I’ve told him). However, most people will still ask HIM about Star Trek instead of me – even when I’m answering all their questions!

  5. I grew up smack dab in the middle of the SEC West, so football has always been a big component of my life and at all stages. It’s pretty much *the* thing to do as a boy or watch/cheer for as a girl (actually in the youth football teams girls can play until like the 9th grade or something, but I preferred playing basketball at that age). That being said, I watch a lot of football with my dad. As in living 8hrs away from him now and we still watch every Notre Dame game together while texting/skyping. That’s our team. We never miss a game. When he’s in class during one, I send him updates on what’s happening regularly. So you would think by now that he’d realize that I genuinely love this sport and our team, right? Sadly, my father has blinders on to my true enjoyment of the game, or he thinks I only do it so we have a common activity to enjoy together. Which is why every Christmas he’ll give my sister, who doesn’t even pretend to like football, Notre Dame paraphernalia while I’m stuck sporting hand-me-down ND wrestling shorts from the 70s on game day. Now, will I always wear them on game day even if I had other team clothing? Yes, because they are my lucky ND shorts, dammit. Basically, I just want my dad to acknowledge that we love the same team and that I deserve to be gifted team stuff because I’m too cheap to buy it on my own.

  6. I was taught football at my mother’s knee. She joined the fantasy league at the gym she used to work at (the first woman to have ever done so) and promptly won the whole thing. Hysterically neither my step-father nor my boyfriend cares anything for football. My boyfriend actively hates it. Mom and I do all his picks in the pool at his job for him. For the duration of the season we kick the pair of them out of the house for the entire weekend (gotta cheer for our Gators on Saturdays).

      1. I’ve been refused service at a Burger King for being a Gator fan before. I don’t think it had anything to do with being a woman though. I lived in TN and it was the day after we beat Peyton Manning in his “I stayed in college an extra year so I can beat Florida” game. Dude at BK saw my shirt (and jacket and hat), turned around and walked in the back and refused to come back out. His manager eventually took my order while I giggled hysterically. Football is *serious business* here in the South.

        Though when I think about it I have been patronizingly informed that I shouldn’t just cheer for a team because my boyfriend tells me too. I didn’t really take that for sexism at the time; just the insanity that is a UT fan. And the best part of that was the BF at the time was a total Cornsuckers fan. I schooled that UT douche.

        1. Heh, my sis was at a UT/Florida game when we won on a the Gaffney catch in 2000, when the refs ruled it a touchdown. She had full cans of beer thrown at her.

          Seriously, if the passion people put into football could be channeled, so much shit would get done.

          1. My mom was working in Knoxville for a few months earlier this year and was warned in all seriousness to take her Gators bumper sticker off her car or it *would* get keyed. I have friends from all over the south who root for different SEC teams (Bama, UGA, LSU, UK) and they aren’t anywhere near as crazy as UT fans. These people are batshit.

            Although to be fair, if *I* could just manage to channel all the passion I have for football (or pro wrestling but that is a whole other can of worms) I think I’d be ruling the world by this point. haha

  7. I didn’t grow up a football fan. In fact, it wasn’t until I moved in with my boyfriend a couple of years ago that I cared about the game at all. He started teaching me and, this season especially, I’ve become a fan of the game and of his team, the Redskins.

    On Thanksgiving we were watching their game with my dad, who was pretty excited that I was finally interested in the sport. Then he mentioned that the NFL store had pink jerseys for girls, and maybe he could get me one for Christmas. I know it’s a breast cancer awareness thing, but I was stunned that he assumed I’d rather have a pink jersey than something in the team’s actual colors.

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