Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Girls don't Like Sports: Female Viewers and the World Cup

I was watching the BBC coverage of the World Cup last night and there was an interesting segment in which the announcer talked about how young women made up the largest proportion of people talking about the World Cup on social media. I think this is an interesting phenomenon to discuss because here we have a sport that women seem to be taking enthusiastically about, and probably have a good amount of interest in, and yet there wasn't a single female commentator on the BBC coverage of the matches.

The argument I suppose for lack of representation has usually been that women aren't really interested in sports, or that they just don't know as much as men and watch only because the men in their lives watch. Women are considered to be "fake fans" who don't really know anything about football but watch to see hot guys, as if you can't both watch to see hot guys and understand or appreciate the sport. The fact that women are clearly interested in talking about sporting events like the World Cup shows that they do in fact, know something and are fans. So why is this being ignored by commentators and sports organizations?

Women are expected to "prove" themselves when they watch sports in order to be considered an acceptable fan by men. Most of the time female fans are entirely ignored by sports clubs and when they are acknowledged it's usually with "sexy" or "pink" versions of fan merchandise. It makes for a sort of tiered fan status in which women are at the bottom of the totem pole. It's not to say that there shouldn't be merchandise that appeals to and fits women, but it is entirely possible to do that without making the merchandise painfully and obviously gendered in a way that paints women as accessories and not fans.

It was interesting that when I was looking through social media posts about the World Cup that I had to scroll through countless pictures of women in flag decorated bikinis or pictures of attractive female audience members instead of seeing information about the matches or pictures from the matches. So I do wonder how much straight men are actually interested in the sport if most of what they are posting is pictures of scantily clad women? But that might bring into question the fan cred of straight men, for the very reasons they question female fan cred.

Female fans are portrayed as a kind of mascot rather than people who actually are interested in the sport and watching the game, and until this sort of thing ends we probably won't see as many women calling the games or offering commentary during high profile sporting events. We need to start questioning our assumptions about what makes a sports fan, and who has the cred to talk about sports, because women are a huge demographic of viewers of these events and are just as entitled to representation in broadcasting and other areas of sport as men. There is no such thing as a fake fan.