Women and sports in America

By Pitt News Staff

Do perceptions match reality? Four writers discuss

Male writers: Stop telling women how to watch the game

Tracey Hickey | Columnist

Every sports season, like clockwork, writers who are short on material decide that the world really needs another how-to guide about watching sports while female. Magazines such as Cosmopolitan have always urged women to hang around sports bars and develop a passable knowledge of the game — not to broaden their horizons, but because men will totally dig you if you pretend to be into sports.

This advice is cringe-worthy, mostly because anyone of any gender who wins over their sweetie by pretending to share a hobby is going to have to keep up that very boring charade for the remainder of the relationship, but also because, as someone who genuinely doesn’t like or understand sports, I always figured there would be a noticeable difference between watching a Pens game with a woman who truly loves hockey and watching a Pens game with me after I frantically looked up the rules on Wikipedia 30 minutes beforehand.

Apparently, though, not everyone can tell the difference. In fact, the New York Rangers and certain comedians endorsed repeatedly by the Huffington Post don’t think there’s any difference between a woman who loves a sport and a woman whose boyfriend dragged her to a watch party.

The Rangers’ “Girls’ Guide to Watching Hockey” slideshow, which appeared on its website for less than an hour before overwhelming fan pressure resulted in its removal, provides women with a set of “rules.” Rule one proclaims that “Every red-blooded male in the world loves sports” — my boyfriend apparently bleeds some other color, but it would probably be creepy if I asked him about that — “so girls better get used to it so the human race can survive.” After you’ve read the rules, you get to hear, “Congratulations! Male Ranger fans will now likely allow you to watch along in their presence.”

I don’t need to be a sports fan to recognize that the slideshow — similarly to Denis Leary’s “How to Watch the Superbowl With Your Boyfriend”,” which has been published repeatedly over the years by seemingly female-friendly outlets including the Huffington Post and Oprah.com — is a modern marvel of condescension. I don’t need to be a sports fan to notice that all of their well-meaning advice seems to boil down to “shut the hell up, lest you ruin everything by running your lady mouths.” I don’t need to be a sports fan to notice that there is not a similar amount of equally stereotypical “How to watch the Grammys with your girlfriend” blogs, perhaps because men aren’t expected to feign interest in things they find tedious for the sake of their partners.

But women who are really into sports feel the hostility and alienation of blogs like these in a way that someone like me never will. With that in mind, I invited three of my awesome coworkers from The Pitt News to explain, from a knowledgeable perspective, why these how-to guides need to go the way of the Dodo.

Write Tracey at [email protected]. Visit her blog at traceyhickey.wordpress.com.

Finding legitimacy as female sports fan

Torie Wytaiz | Staff Writer

As my byline clearly indicates, I am a female writer. My byline can typically be found in the sports section of The Pitt News, accompanying articles about volleyball, basketball and football. I have been a member of the sports writing team for more than three years, and in that time, I have never felt out-of-place as a woman, whether covering an event or participating in staff meetings. While I am grateful to be viewed as simply a sports writer and not specifically as a female one, I believe that this recognition comes from a sense of legitimacy offered by publication. As all sports writers — male and female — must do, I have proven myself to be knowledgeable about sports, and I am considered capable enough to comment on such matters. However, in regular conversation and interactions in society, I feel that women must work to gain that legitimacy in ways that men do not.

While it is assumed that most men know the intricacies of the rules of football, for example, it has been my experience that a woman must prove that she has this knowledge. Recently, when watching the Super Bowl at a party, I correctly predicted a penalty flag, and this was met with surprised looks from a few of the male viewers in the room. Throughout the game, I continued to voice my opinions on the game while commenting on regular-season statistics and past histories of the teams. As the game went on, other people were less surprised by my remarks, and it felt as if I was being accepted as a person who understood football. I had become accepted as a “legitimate” sports fan.

This necessity to gain legitimacy is misguided, and it is only perpetuated by blogs and articles such as the New York Rangers’ “Girl’s Guide to Watching Hockey.” The article, published on the Rangers’ website, gives five “rules” for women to follow when watching a hockey game with their husbands or boyfriends. In describing these “rules,” the author implies that women do not know the rules of the game and that they watch only as a favor to their partner. By publishing such an article, the Rangers add to the sentiment that women do not have an inclination to learn about sports out of pure interest in the game. As such, it becomes necessary for women to demonstrate their comprehension before being recognized as a true fan.

I have been lucky when it comes to being respected for my opinions on sports. My brother invites me to participate in his otherwise all-male fantasy football league and my male colleagues at work include me in their conversations about the future of the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, I feel that I have had to work hard to develop a reputation as a woman who knows about sports. With “How to Watch Sports” blogs for women being published so frequently, I do not foresee the need to prove myself decreasing in the near future.

Write Torie at [email protected].

Title XI has changed everything

Megan Boyle | Staff Writer

Thinking that women need to be “educated” on how to watch athletics falls into gendered and stereotypical patterns.

Women are finally gaining legitimacy in the sports world. For years, this world has been heavily dominated by men, but finally, women have broken through.

Thanks to Title IX — a law that requires equal opportunities for both men and women in sports — more than 100,000 female athletes are now in competition on the collegiate level. This number is almost equal to the amount of male participants (the men have found an increase due to Title IX as well, but it has not been as drastic of an increase). Not only are women rising on the field of play, but also off the field in the area of sports reporting, as well.

Female sports reporters are becoming known for being more than just a pretty face. Erin Andrews, a notable sports reporter for ESPN, gained a reputation as being a serious sports reporter. However, due to her gender, she is still trying to gain legitimacy from some skeptics.

As a female reporter and sports fan myself, I cannot help but be annoyed at those blogs that show tutorials on how to “watch” sports. Despite what the blogs say, there’s no special formula, specifically for women, to understand the jargon that’s associated with watching a football or hockey game.

You cannot differentiate a male fan from a female one — a fan is a fan. I often get quizzical looks from men when I tell them I enjoy watching sports (for the quality of the game and not for the hunky star player).

My appearance as a petite sorority girl gives off the notion that I am ignorant when it comes to sporting events. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are many other women like myself who enjoy watching their favorite teams succeed.

Gone are the days when women were only supposed to know about the latest fashion trends. Times are changing and women are gaining respect in the sports world — we should focus on female athletes’ and reporters’ successes instead of magazine articles that seek to educate women on how to watch sports adequately.

Write Megan at [email protected].

Women can talk sports just as well as men

Ellie Petrosky | Staff Writer

The over-sexualized image of women in sports that men might be used to makes it difficult for girls like me, who don’t look like models, to be taken seriously when entering conversations about sports. Even though we may not be on a sports network flirting with professional athletes, we still know what we’re talking about.

I hate listening to people who don’t know squat about sports talk about them just as much as the next girl. I grew up with three sisters and was the only one who actively watched football on Sundays. It drove me nuts when one of my sisters would plop down on the couch beside me and begin asking what every flag, whistle and line on the field meant. Even worse was when they cheered for the wrong team’s touchdown. But because my sisters don’t know much about football doesn’t mean they don’t know anything about sports, in general.

My sisters and I are all athletes. We can analyze basketball games, shot put throws and block starts with the best of them, and we can talk about soccer for days. The most heated discussions in my household happen when the four of us crowd in front of the TV watching the World Cup, calling out the openings in the defense and for passes up the line. These sports-based conversations are all well and good when we talk among ourselves, but we are faced with resistance when we try to talk about sports to our male peers.

Often, when I try to add my two cents to a conversation within a group of guys, I succeed in doing nothing but killing the conversation. As I walk away and the conversation picks up again, I repeat my statements in my head, wondering if I said something offensive or stupid. More often than not, what I said was spot-on — the fact that I’m a girl with knowledge and an opinion about sports is just not taken seriously.

Like I said, I understand that we all hate people who don’t know what they are talking about. But girls’ sports knowledge should not be written off because, culturally, sports are seen as a testament of masculinity, manhood or some other sexist nonsense.

Although it might take some time, hopefully women in sports will be taken more seriously in the future.

Write Ellie at [email protected].