For my final MA project, I interviewed female sports fans and wrote about their relationship with the media. The women interviewed were aged 19 all the way up to their early 60’s. This lengthy project opened my eyes to how the media directly and indirectly portrays female fans and how they interact with them. The following is my opinion piece I wrote as part of my final project.
This morning, I unlocked my phone to do my usual routine of scrolling through social media before moving out of bed. As I’m browsing through Twitter, I see a post from U.S. Soccer announcing some new merchandise. I tap on the tweet and see a shirt that makes my face scrunch up with disgust.
A sweatshirt adorning the words “U.S. Soccer Cutie” was one of the new pieces of merchandise.
“They can’t be serious,” I thought to myself as I’m looking through the comments. Others felt the same way, calling out the federation for ignorance and being out of touch. One person even said, “Do literally any women work in this organization?”
It hit me that this is just another example of female fans not being taken seriously, even more appalling to myself that this merchandise is coming from a national team.
I chose to do my project focus on female sports fans in the media because not only am I a sports fan, I’m wanting to work in sports media for my career. I thought doing some research and talking with other female sports fans could help me better understand emotions surrounding the media.
My media consumption has gone up over the years, mostly because of my career as a journalist. I use many of the same forms of media as my project respondents use: television, Facebook, Twitter, and magazines being my most popular choices. I used to faithfully watch SportsNation on ESPN when I’d come home from school on the days I didn’t have sports practice. Now, I mostly use Twitter as my main source of sporting information.
I was not surprised while interviewing the women for my project at some of their answers to my questions. Not wanting to comment on social media posts because of men who told them to “stay in the kitchen”. Respondents arguing against the stereotypes that female sports fans fall under: lesbian, seeking male attention, not knowledgeable about sport. I’ve experienced these firsthand.
I’ve had men argue with me trying to get me to name some obscure statistic on a team that I liked. I’ve had looks when I’ve corrected those on what the penalty would be when the flag was thrown in an American football game. I’ve felt physically sick looking at comments on posts about female athletes. I’ve even avoided commenting on social media posts because I didn’t want my sex being singled out for my opinion.
I remember watching football matches and only seeing men being shown in the crowd. If women were shown, it was usually because they were conventionally pretty or to point out some girlfriend/wife of a player. I don’t remember growing up around women who were as big of sports fans as me. As I’ve grown older, I’ve forged more relationships with women who do love sport as much as me.
I wanted to know by doing this project, “Do other women feel this way? Am I crazy for wanting to go into a male-dominated career and have my abilities questioned?”. Of course, the answers I sought out were a big YES and NO.
One thing I did find interesting while doing this project was the large number of respondents saying that showing women playing sport on television would in turn help reverse those stereotypes and make it seem that women involved with sport is not a bad thing.
I’ll admit this wasn’t a concept I had thought of before. At times when I’ve been covering sport I’ve thought, “I don’t want to be the one to HAVE to cover female sport, just because I’m a woman.” But now after talking with women who want to see other women rise and help get more women’s sport on television, I feel like it’s what I need to do. I need to speak up, interview female athletes and write about women’s sport if I want these unnecessary comments to stop.
I still wonder on some days why I chose to follow a career path where the sector is male dominated. Then I think back to the reason why I chose this path.
I love sport.
I love learning about new sports and the rules. I love reading books filled with statistics like Moneyball and Soccernomics. I enjoy interviewing athletes and fans with big stories of how much sport means to them.
I do agree with the women that I’ve interviewed that there’s work to be done. We’ve come so far and we can’t stop now. I look forward to the day when our opinions as women matter as much as our male counterparts.
Until then, I’ll keep singing my soccer chants and hope that my voice catches on.
Postscript: The mentioned tweet from the U.S. Soccer Twitter account has now been deleted.