Men like to watch sports, as a generalization. They like to drink beer and talk with their dude friends about point spreads and interceptions and infield fly rules. They like to piss off other dudes who like different teams they don’t like, or even different sports they don’t like. Hockey dudes like to talk about how much tougher their players are than Lebron James.
Occasionally, even, they like it when their female romantic companions stop shoe-shopping for five minutes and sit with them on the couch–after bringing their man another ice cold beer, of course. And when that happens, they will have studied up on how to talk to talk to their women about sports using small words and simplistic concepts to penetrate those tiny, purse-hunting little brains. Also they can talk about emotional storylines, because only women need and feel emotions for anything, and that goes double for sports!
(Is my sarcasm coming through? I hope it is.)
The truth of the matter is, there are a lot of women who enjoy sports. They aren’t even just pretending to for their man! Some of these women have enjoyed sports their entire lives; some played sports as kids, and some still do as adults. (And hey, some women don’t have a man, and others don’t want one. I know, I know. Shocking. But they still enjoy sports.)
The talk that actually needs to happen between the genders, though, is the talk about sports that don’t involve men at all: women’s sports.
In February of this year, we had the Olympics. It was a glorious time, especially for hockey fans, because one of the hallmarks of the Winter Olympics is ice hockey. There were two tournaments involving ice hockey, one for men and one for women. As it happened, the women’s tournament started first. And as the men’s tournament crept closer to beginning, I started to see posts on Twitter to the tune of, “Oh man I can’t wait for hockey to start!”
I would point out that the women’s hockey was already in full swing. Inevitably, the reply back to me was, “Oh, I meant the men’s hockey.”
Then when both were going at once, when the men’s side had a day off I’d hear, “I wish there was hockey tomorrow!”
I would point out that the US women had a game tomorrow. Once again, the reply would be, “Oh, I meant the men’s hockey.”
I’m somewhat less bothered by these hockey fans not caring about the women’s side, but I’ll get to that in a moment. What really aggravated me was the fact that saying “hockey” by itself was not a term to refer to the entire sport, no matter who was playing, but instead specifically referring to men’s hockey–that “men’s” is meant to be implied by the lack of clarification, while the women’s version must specifically be noted to be considered part of the conversation.
(I tried Googling “man bored watching women’s sports” for images to include with this post. The results are kind of horrifying, not only in that there was nothing really matching what I wanted, but what did show up instead.)
So, ladies, this is what we have to talk to our men about. We have to remind them that they are not the end-all of sports, and that women’s sports exist and are successful and worth their time as fans of sports in general. Look at our national soccer teams. Our men’s team is not considered a contender in worldwide competitions, while our women are consistently potential gold-medal winners, and expected to get to semifinals and finals.
The National Hockey League, which is still all-male, involves 30 teams and in the 2013-2014 season had a league minimum salary of $525,000; the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in that same season had a half-dozen teams and a total league budget of $1 million–not even twice what a single player must earn in the NHL. There isn’t the audience or the funding for women to make hockey their entire careers. Last week, US Olympian Hilary Knight was invited to practice with the Anaheim Ducks, the first time a non-goalie has ever participated with an NHL team (two female goalies have practiced or played exhibition games with NHL teams). The Ducks players were impressed with her, found her to be a formidable player who fit right in. In fact, Knight is listed as 5’11” and 172lbs on the US Hockey website; Claude Giroux, the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers, is listed with the exact same height and weight on the Flyers’ website.
(My blog is gonna need a cleansing after linking to the Flyers. Ugh.)
We need to sit down with the sports-loving men in our lives and talk to them about women in sports. We need to overcome the tendency to consider a sport’s name by itself to indicate men-only, and start showing them that the women’s side of a sport is just as legitimate. Should every female athlete be able to play on a men’s team? Of course not. But let’s acknowledge that there are some women who can totally play with the men’s pros, and even if they aren’t yet doing so, that means that they are elevating the level of the women’s side, encouraging players to be faster and stronger and get better and better.
We need men to encourage young girls to play sports not just to get them out of the house a few hours each week, but to develop a passion for competition and bettering themselves. We need girls to have their dads’ full attention when they’re on the field, court, or ice, and we need those dads to imagine a day when their daughter’s number hangs from a banner. Sports can bring out the best in people, and women should not be denied the chance to attain that level of self.
Most importantly, men need to stop insulting male athletes by feminizing them. No more “he throws like a girl”; no more “Cindy Crosby”. No more calling guys “pussies” or “fags”. Girls are not inferior men. Girls are worthy of respect for their accomplishments. And Hilary Knight can crush your head in her thighs like Gallagher smashing a watermelon, okay? So just stop it.
Ladies, we need to talk to our men about sports, because they really, really don’t get it.