Written by guest contributor Angelica Guarino
My boyfriend’s eyes widened and repeated my question.
“You want to do fantasy hockey next season?”
I half-nodded, suddenly scared that by asking, I had once again overstepped an invisible boundary. After all, fantasy hockey was something that he did to bond with his male friends and family. Who was I, as his girlfriend, to intrude on that? And, I had only really been intensely following hockey for a year, was that enough time to prove that this was more about my interest in hockey and less about my interest in him?
“You should do it, then,” my boyfriend answered. “It would be fun.”
He went back to typing. Just like that, something that should have always been that easy was finally that easy. But it got me thinking: why did I feel so badly for wanting to join his fantasy hockey league? As a person who enjoys watching hockey enough to want to play fantasy hockey, why did I feel like asking to participate was so inappropriate?
Things are difficult for women involved in any predominantly male subculture, whether that be sports, video games, music scenes, or anything else. Despite major efforts to bring female athletes and sports fans into the spotlight, most people have this strangely internalized belief that not just playing, but also liking sports is more for men than it is for women. However, this is not necessarily because so many more men are “naturally” more interested in sports than women.
I remember the first time I realized I “couldn’t” do something simply because I was a girl. My sister and I were sitting at the kitchen table in my grandfather’s house, fixated on the Yankees game on the television. My sister, who couldn’t have been more than five, pointed to Derek Jeter as he stole second base, and turned to my father to ask:
“Can I do that?”
My father’s face scrunched up as his hand tentatively scratched his chin.
“Well. . .not really.”
Her heart broke. I could see it in her face. If she had been a boy and told my father that her dream was to steal second base in a Major League Baseball game, it would have immediately led to leaping into the car to go and buy a batting helmet and dashing to sign up for Little League the next day.
To be fair, my sister eventually did start playing softball, very well I might add, but it took a couple of years of asking. The point being: before my sister was told that she could be a part of the sports subculture, she was told she couldn’t. I went through the same thing when the boys on the playground didn’t want to trade Pokemon cards with me because they thought I wouldn’t have any good ones (which really just meant more shiny “legendaries” to keep to myself). It also happened when I was groped in the pit of a Panic! At the Disco concert at age 15 when all I wanted was to enjoy a mediocre pop-punk band. Eventually, we’ve both worked our way into participating in the sports subculture, her as a player and me as a spectator, but we continuously have to suffer criticism and limitations in order to maintain our spots.
It’s almost as if women have to prove that they are just as, if not more, interested in sports than their male peers, and if they can’t, they are not “allowed” to be fans, or it is determined that they are pretending to like sports for male attention. In addition, when women do “prove” that we’re just as capable as the men, they’re still faced with being undermined.
Think of Serena Williams - the best tennis player of our age. She’s the winner of 21 Grand Slam titles, which is four more than any male tennis player. . .ever, and any white player either. However, instead of focusing on her impeccable record of victories, even the New York Times can’t stop talking about her body rather than her serves.
In this article by Ben Rothenberg, attention is paid to Serena Williams’ arms instead of the fact that she, at the time, was yet again in the Wimbledon Singles Women’s Final. (She won, by the way, again, in case anyone wants to look past her muscles long enough celebrate that.)
Articles like this are neither few nor far between. Several major news sites, including The Guardian, Salon.com, and the Huffington Post, among countless others, have posted articles about Serena William’s body. In fact, when googling the term “Serena Williams,” it autocompletes with “body.” The term “boyfriend” is the second option, while “workout” and “net worth” fill out the third and fourth spots. Pardon my language, but this is some sexist bullshit. “Roger Federer” autocompletes with “twitter,” “Wimbledon,” “kids,” and “news,” respectively.
For women who want to engage in culturally “male” hobbies, it’s a classic case of what women deal with in every other facet of modern life, whether it be having to put on makeup while getting ready for work or school in the morning while men simply roll out of bed or having our follow up calls after job interviews seeming “pushy” while men are rewarded for their “go get’em” attitude.
In our world, women have to do a lot more work to receive less credit, and yes that trickles far down enough to having to earn the right to be invited to hang out with a group of boys watching a hockey game, even though “it’s a guy thing.”
That’s right, I, as a fan of a sport, was told I could not participate in an event that sports fans participate in because I have a vagina between my legs. It may seem ridiculous that this happened to me while I’m explaining it in this setting, but to the guy who told me I couldn’t come to his apartment to watch the game, it felt normal. I don’t really blame him for that, nor do I blame my father for telling my sister she could never play professional baseball. They’re convinced that sports are for men because they grew up being taught that sports are for men. I don’t blame them, but this badly needs to change so future boys don’t grow up with the same attitudes.
Since we’ve been children, the world around us has taught us how to perform our gender. When we were learning how to speak and getting potty trained because our parents told us that’s what we should be doing, we learned gender the same way with all of the mannerisms, actions and “interests” that come along with that.
There are more men who like sports than women not because of some biological sports-loving gene that men pass onto one another, but instead because we taught these men that they are supposed to like sports. Just as little girls were taught to like makeup, dresses, and hot pink.
Of course, there are people who have escaped gender ideals. In fact, women have had to give up every subculture that was previously strictly “feminine” to an increasing number of male participants i.e. cosmetology, the fashion industry, cheerleading, and pop music. Men now more than normally hold equal or superior roles in all of these subcultures.
So why do men get to keep sports, video games, and punk music all to themselves?
[image via x]