Women and the Football Precariat
I haven’t had much luck with the ladies lately.
No, not like that. Let me backtrack. In the past weeks and months, I’ve approached many football fans to ask if they’d be interested in guest-contributing to TheHardTackle.com.
I’ve gotten mostly positive responses — with the exception of one particular demographic: women. From the guys, I hear a general: “Yeah that sounds cool, I’ll let you know.” But from the gals? “Oh, I don’t think I could do my team justice.” “I don’t think I have enough writing experience.” “I don’t think I can.”
I can take a rejection, honest; but this whole thing is just making me sad. Because these people are some of my favorite football fans. These are the people I love chatting with via Twitter or Facebook or IM. I depend on their insights and sympathy to survive the general madness that is football.
Obviously, being a sensible opinionated football fan doesn’t mean you have a public duty to become a blogger. Some people don’t like to write. That’s cool.
I’m just stumped as to why I’ve been turned down by so many women, and why the reason always seems to be some variation on, “Oh, I’m probably not up to task.” I don’t get it.
Except that’s a lie. Because I do, I think. It’s not a very nice think. But there it is:
You need a bit of ego to be a writer. How else do you convince yourself to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), if you don’t believe that someone, somewhere, actually cares what you think and write? And it’s not the writer’s ego that women lack. Women write. We’re authors, poets, journalists; keyboard warriors and vociferous commenters. We write about all the things we love. Music, movies, politics, activism, religion, home improvement, fashion, culture, cats.
But when it comes to football, suddenly the tumbleweed’s rolling through a ghost town. Which is strange, because it’s not like women don’t love football. Don’t believe me? Look at the stands on a match day. Look at merchandizing. Look at the 24/7 Twitter debate. Look around.
Now take a closer, reflective look. Because I think therein lies the answer:
Women love football, but we still constantly have to assert ourselves as “proper” football fans. We have to put up with the snide remarks and knowing smirks at the pub on Saturday. We have to say, “No, I’m not here with my boyfriend. Yes, I am watching the game. Yes, I love my club. Yes, I’ll give you my opinion on this defender and that game and this freakin’ referee. I’m here for the football, and I’m here to stay.”
After a while, you don’t get bothered by it. You ignore the sexists and turn to friends who laugh at your bad puns. Football’s beautiful, and everything’s fine.
Except not really. Because when you’re surrounded by a culture that, by default, denies your existence — it shows. It wears you down. You start getting defensive. You feel a little insecure. If you have to work twice as hard to get half as far, then you know that nothing is for granted. You want security. You want validation. You begin to think you have to be perfect, because one mistake and that’s it, the jig’s up: you’ve been revealed for the phony that you are.
You can’t get “too emotionally attached” to a player. You won’t be “unreasonably emotional” over your club. And for god’s sake, never ever ever “lust” after over some hot piece of ass. That’s not what proper football fans do.
So you do everything right. You’re witty, you’re incisive, you’re in the zone. And doesn’t it feel good, when somebody says, “Yeah, I agree with you.” “Hey, that’s a good point you made.” Or best of all, perhaps, when someone doesn’t even notice you’re a woman — because you write and sound like a proper, regular football fan. Like a man.
Congrats, you’ve made it. You’re in the club.
A friend of mine writes for football sites under a male pseudonym, as a neat way to sidestep all that bullcrap. I respect that. I’ve passed as a guy online before, myself. But, honestly, why did I do it? Why does my friend do it? She’s one of the most intelligent and dedicated fans I know. Why not write under a female pseudonym? Could it be that we believe passion and insight are not enough to earn others’ respect, when said passion and insight comes from a woman?
The answer, I think, is an uncomfortable yes.
Think about the worst, most ignorant football article you’ve read lately. Bleacher Report? An angry fan blog? Everybody has an opinion. Not everybody’s opinion is equally salient. But people still type it up and publish it on the ‘net (R&R Plz).
A man has a place, as a football fan. So whatever he does, he’s fine. This is his world, and he is the standard. And if his opinion, his writing, his facts leave something to be desired — well, we all know there are silly football fans out there. Roll eyes, shrug shoulders. Move on.
Except no, wait, back up. When a man spouts off nonsense, we put it down to him being another one of the ignorant masses. He’s just another stupid football fan. But at least he still belongs in the football world, even if it’s on the bottom rung.
That’s not quite the case for a woman. Because when she says something objectionable, she’s slammed for being a woman and what does a woman know about football anyway? Cue: rehashing of the proverbial offside rule debate. Cue: every stereotype you’ve ever heard. Because she’s not “just another stupid football fan”, see — she’s a stupid woman trying to be a football fan.
A woman doesn’t have a god-given right to be a football fan. She has to earn it.
So when it comes to writing about football, it’s not enough to jot down some half-formed opinions mixed with a dash of fact. You don’t get that kind of leeway, as a member of the football precariat. You have to stay on top of your game. You have to get it right.
Or else develop a skin that’s thicker than the lithosphere.
I write for a football website. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder and triple- and quadruple-checking my articles, worrying over details, wondering how it will come across. It invariably ends with me writing ’til unholy hours of the morning — and making stupid typos as a result.
Every so often I get a glowing comment from a reader or a fellow editor, and I’ll treasure those words for days and days. But it never really makes the nagging feeling go away. “Do they really like it? Was my article really OK? What if they’re only humoring me? Why does anyone even care what I think? I don’t actually know anything!”
This is the part where I tell you that I’m a very insecure writer in general, and YMMV. This is the part where I jump into wider issues of feminism and acceptance and otherization. This is the part where I talk about society.
Except, you know what? This already is about society. Football is part of society. It’s our little corner of it, our piece of the pie. And how do we get acceptance anyway, if not piece by infinitesimal piece?
I’m not asking everybody to play nice in the sandbox or hold hands and sing kumbaya.
I’m not asking for a commitment to fight against sexism.
All I’m asking is that the next time you read a crap fan article or blog, take a moment — before you roll your eyes, leave a snide comment, and ragequit the page — whether the author is male or female or otherwise, just take a moment and think:
“God, what an ignorant football fan you are.”
There’s nothing to stop you from raging against foolishness.
But at least give me the dignity of being smote by the same judgment as my fellow fan.