Tuesday, June 30, 2015

You Should Care About This Thing: Transitive Fandom In Women's Soccer

The Women's World Cup (er, sorry, Women's World Cup) is something Americans need to care about even more than the other, bepenised kind, according to Meredith Bennett-Smith in Quartz. She never quite gets around to why anyone should care particularly about this event, though the numbers of late, 5 million viewers, seem to provide plenty of room for optimism on that front.

And yet.
I am tired of having to explain that I’m wearing a women’s national team jersey because, news flash, the World Cup is upon us. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Yes, the women have one too. And by the way, that No. 20 number emblazoned across my back just happens to belong to the greatest goal-scorer in the history of women’s soccer.
This is how you promote your favorite sport and players, by belittling anyone inquiring about it? By shrieking you should already know who this is, you dolt at people who almost certainly don't know the players in what is a niche market of a niche sport? Memo to FIFA and constituent clubs: don't hire this person as a marketing consultant.
I am tired of watching World Cup games in sports bars where the TV screens are split between three other games and bartenders turn the sound off at halftime.
Have you ever tried to be a baseball fan in September? You know, when the postseason races are really heating up — and the tsunami of football drowns out everything else, so that unless it's the local team in hot pursuit, or the Yankees or Red Sox, bars already turn their attentions to the NFL? If it isn't football or basketball, sports bars devote screen space on an as-we-feel-like it basis. It's even worse for hockey. So... I feel your pain, but petulance isn't going to change anybody's mind, or the channel.
But most of all, I am tired of feeling like every four years the very legitimacy of women’s athletics goes on trial, again. With the exception of maybe tennis and a handful of Olympic events, we have not achieved gender parity in professional sports. Not by a long shot. So while Mia Hamm may have once been mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan, the US women are tasked with the burden of proving that they—and by extension women athletes in general—deserve to be recognized as second-tier professional athletes, by being the best in the world.

And if that’s not a perfect metaphor for modern-day sexism, I don’t know what is. America’s women and girls (and boys) deserve better. Really.
And this is where the entirety of her argument really runs off the rails. You hear that, sports fans? It's your responsibility to like this thing she likes, because she likes it, and you're sexist if you don't. It's hard to imagine anything more narcissistic. She has a hard road; male interest in team sports remains greater than that of women, despite longstanding efforts to reach parity in that area, and one suspects that translates to spectator sports, as well. The notion that men might find women's soccer interesting in part because of the shape of the participants is met with predictable Victorian horror (Dave Zirin called it "screeching sexism and subtle-as-a-blowtorch homophobia"). Bull Durham's Annie Savoy was so named for a reason, but apparently players-as-eye-candy is strictly verboten when men might be the target audience. If anything, Bennett-Smith makes the case for staying away from women's soccer, if only to steer clear of harangue.

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