Women, Sports, Playing, Watching, and What We’re Exposed To

A month ago Fit and Feminist posted a blog about women watching sports. I word vomited in her comments and pledged to her on Twitter that I was going to write my own post about my feelings about it because, clearly, I haz some.

I have a hugely complicated relationship with watching sports. I grew up spending weekends and holidays at my Italian Catholic grandmother’s house – men in front of the tv, women cooking, or sitting at the table yelling at the men to turn it down, and pay attention to the kids. I hated it. HATED IT. I remember those dinners being dominated not by being with my family, but by yelling at my uncle (the stereotypical Italian son – late 20′s, early 30′s still living at home and having his dinner cooked by my entirely too indulgent, and wonderful grandmother) to turn the goddamn game off, and my uncle’s response that we were all making too much noise.

The game would end, or halftime would start, and my uncles, and 2 male cousins would head out to the front yard to throw a football around. And my dad would grab my sister and I and take us outside and insert us into the game. We weren’t met with hostility, but we weren’t included. I learned to play almost every sport I ever played from those dinners (I’m ridiculously proud that I can throw a pretty damn good spiral), but my dislike for televised athletics was cemented.  I swore I would *never* get involved with someone for whom rabid (yes, I call it rabid) sports watching was the norm.

Annnnnnd then I married my husband. Who is a HUGE fan of sports. And it was a big bone of contention early on in our relationship. I don’t have any desire to dedicate several hours of my day to watching football, or a Nascar race, or a baseball game, or a golf tournament. (Please note, there is approximately no time of the year when one of these events isn’t on over the weekend.) And his desire to do so meant that if we were going to spend time together over the weekend, we would need to consult some various sports schedule and plan accordingly.

We’ve talked about this a million times, and he watches less now than he did 4 years ago. Partly because we got rid of cable (Hallelujah!) and partly because we have a child. A boy child who I don’t want growing up with the sexist influence of the culture of male dominated sports.

I really enjoy playing sports, and watching sports, when I’m at a game. Not on TV. And the vast majority, I’d say close to 90% of all sports events that I have ever attended in my life, have been to watch women’s sporting events. Women’s college volleyball, women’s collage soccer, women’s professional soccer, women’s college basketball (it’s handy living near a college!). Men’s games? I don’t have a whole lot of interest in it (I make an exception for NCAA men’s basketball). And I will make every effort to take my son, and my husband with me to the women’s games that I go to. It’s really important to me that I expose him to women sweating, and running, and scoring. Everyone should see that. Because we’ve created this culture of “sports” in the US, that really means “men’s sports” and it gets on my last nerve.

The Olympics are happening right now, and I’ve seen a bunch of people commenting that they have no interest in them, “Yawn…sports,” but I love them. I LOVE THE OLYMPICS. I love them because it’s the only time of the year when turning on the TV yields an equal chance of seeing women competing as it does men. Women’s sports are valued in the Olympics. Last night a capacity filled stadium, along with millions of people at home (at least in the US), watched the US vs. US women’s beach volleyball gold medal match. Four women, two of whom I can’t ever get enough of and am so sad to see one retiring, jumping, swinging, digging, and killing it. Before that game there were women’s track and field events on. I mean, women’s track and field, how often is that on TV? (Yes, I know men’s track and field isn’t on TV a whole lot either, so underrepresented sports for the win!) For the past two weeks Twitter has been blowing up with Tweets about women’s gymnastics, track and field, soccer, even fencing. It’s inescapable during the Olympics, and I love it.

Women are, for the most part, erased from athleticism as it is popularly presented. But we are athletes. We run, we play in recreational leagues, we play in competitive leagues, we play in college, we have professional teams, we lift weights – we use our bodies in athletic endeavors all the time. Yet we don’t see it. (I have to interject and say we DO see representations of women’s athleticism in commercials selling us products to make us better athletes. So, as long as there’s a product to push, we exist.) We NEED to see it. Culturally, we NEED to see women performing athletically, and winning titles, and gold medals, and not winning, and falling, and healing, and hurting, and anguishing over a loss, and succeeding. Our children need to see that athletics and success can be achieved, by everyone.

Do you attend women’s sporting events? Do you watch men’s sports? Do you claim ‘athlete’ as a label for yourself?

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Women, Sports, Playing, Watching, and What We’re Exposed To

  1. I love the Olympics and for the most part I can’t stand watching televised professional sporting events. I feel like there is a heart in college and Olympic sports that isn’t present at the professional level.I want to watch people with everything on the line. I also like the weirder events that you just don’t generally see.
    Also in one of the few cases where I prefer to watch men compete instead of women is gymnastics, mostly because I like the events better. I would watch the rings all day long and prefer the floor exercises that are just the tumbling runs without the music and the dancey-dance.

    • I think that’s one of the huge strengths of the Olympics, all the television exposure of sports no one gets to see usually. Fencing, ping pong, etc. LOVE IT.

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