The F Word: Why Sports Needs Feminism This Week and Always

It hasn’t been the most exemplary week for the status of women and girls in sports, whether as fans or players. Last week during Kentucky’s SEC championship game against Arkansas, internet trolls bombarded actress Ashley Judd’s Twitter account with sexist slurs and threats of gender-specific violence after she talked trash as a Wildcats fanatic. This week, Bloomsburg University first baseman Joey Casselberry posted a misogynist obscenity on Twitter against thirteen-year-old Little League sensation Mo’ne Davis, on the occasion of Disney’s announcement of a biopic.

Yet, I’m not here to expand on how terrible sports are for women. I want to talk about how feminism can make sports viewership better.

Feminism, in case you’ve been misled, is a social and political movement that supports gender equality. That’s it. It’s not about female domination over men, it’s not about “bra burning” (that never happened, by the way. Like, never ever.), and it’s not about “femi-nazis,” a coin termed by Rush Limbaugh. Feminism is invested in critiquing and expanding notions of femininity and masculinity, as they go hand in hand.

I’ve been a sports fanatic ever since I was a little girl growing up in St. Louis in the 1980s, dreaming of becoming a short stop just like Ozzie Smith. And feminism has been crucial in keeping my love of sports alive all this time. To me, it’s a crucial analytic of how to watch and understand sports. In the tool kit I keep in my head to analyze a game, it sits neatly besides statistics, schemes, play calls, pitch counts, option formations, pick-and-rolls, coaching, player style and character, and all the myriad other things that contribute to a deeper understanding of sports.

When the misogynist Twitter tirade against Ashley Judd was reported, feminism helped me not lose my shit, and understand what was going on. What the misogyny against Judd shows is that sports fandom is still very much a boys club. Despite all the aggressive women-targeted merchandising and branding, at the end of the day, female fans are “allowed” in sports crowds only on the margins, and “tolerated” as long as we don’t ruffle feathers. We have to prove and earn our way into serious fandom, whereas I know so many dudes who could care less about sports but pretend to follow anyway because they feel they have to. These are important and linked ways in which sports impacts women and men, and how our understandings of femininity and masculinity are bound together.

This week, Joey Casselberry was suspended from his team for his remarks regarding Mo’ne Davis. That Cassleberry was a fellow baseball player who called her what he did (I needn’t repeat it here) on occasion of a celebratory event for her, testifies to a larger trend of traditionally male sports being antagonistic to female players. That his vicious words were so nonchalantly thrown around is proof that he thought he didn’t have to think things through. Misogyny is the casual norm when it comes to talking about women, and in the case of Davis, young women of color.

Linked with the Arkansas fans who attacked Judd, Casselberry’s words reminded me of a specific college culture of white masculinity, where racism and sexism are only considered jokes and never taken as possible real things. It’s all part of a larger system, also recently expressed in the SAE fiasco at Oklahoma, where a group of white frat boys were recorded gleefully singing a racist chant. Instead of simply condemning the specific people on the tape for being racist, the event was also an opportunity to be critical of a fixed notion of masculinity, one predicated upon ideas of power derived only from dominance, violence, and hate. This narrow definition of masculinity does few people justice, including most men.

You hear that, men? Patriarchy is selling you short!

I wish more men would take the time out to understand concepts like “gender construction,” “heteronormativity,” and “patriarchy” as much as they are obsessed with bubble screens, 6-4-3 double plays, and triple doubles. Why not bring in another realm of knowledge to help you love what you love even deeper? I bet it’s more useful than calculating the fourth decimal point in a batting average. Seriously, the idea of gender fluidity is liberating in ways not unlike when your team scores on a pick six, or when your beloved team makes the damn playoffs, finally.

There are some people who follow sports because it helps them tune out from the rest of the world. I’ve never really understood that. I follow sports because it helps me figure out what the hell is wrong with the world more carefully, and to figure out how to tackle it all.

That’s what timeouts are for, right?

Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

About heesjoo

I'm an educator, thinker, spectator sport fanantic, and nacho enthusiast. I grew up in the Deep South, which explains everything. My body currently resides in Winnipeg, Canada.

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