I’ve just returned from Vancouver, where the U.S. women’s soccer team played sixteen minutes of the kind of soccer you see in dreams. The city was very hot, flooded with forest fire smoke, and full of Americans. American women, mostly (and if I don’t hear “American Woman” misused as a patriotic rather than a misogynistic anthem ever again, it will be too soon). They were on their own or with groups of friends, sometimes they were with partners and children. They were wearing jerseys. So many, many jerseys, every player imaginable. Or T-shirts and hats full of ironic Americana kitsch, just for today meant whole-heartedly. Their faces were awash with red, white, and blue paint. They filled the Starbucks on every corner, the Tim Horton’s, the weird European chains, and the bars. They talked and laughed and screamed and celebrated.
There were also a good number of fathers taking their daughters on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Unfortunately, not many (any?) fathers without daughters seem to think that it’s also important to make sure their sons attend this type of event. It’s of a piece with the obnoxious ‘I didn’t understand/care about feminism until I had a daughter’ nonsense, or the ‘would you treat your mother/sister’ this way rhetoric. Women are not only important because of their family connections to men, a call to tribal loyalties that we can all do without (I’m looking at you, England team Twitter account). Women are people, and the sooner boys understand this and make it a part of their everyday mental architecture the more humanist, let alone feminist, adults they will be. The friends I was with, a lesbian couple, certainly would have taken their son even if they didn’t have a daughter. They rented an Air BnB house for a month and bought a ticket package and invited family and friends to share their North Vancouver bounty. Last week their son and daughter were chatting out in the yard and they overheard “Okay, there can be two Megan Rapinoes.” This is how progress happens, as Garry Trudeau knew way back in the 70s when he wrote his strips about the King/Riggs match and one of the boys in daycare said “when I grow up, I want to be a tennis player just like Billie Jean King” and Joanie shouts “Howie! Breakthrough!”
Perhaps more pieces saying ‘you should also take your sons to women’s sports’ would be helpful. But after cycle upon cycle, I am sick and tired of what does happen in the media whenever there is a major women’s sporting event. There is the hounding recalcitrant media for coverage, which sadly seems to be necessary. But it is accompanied by the ‘Look! Some people actually watch this stuff!’ articles and their concomitant ‘why you should care about women’s soccer/hockey/tennis/existence on earth’ and ‘why this thing you think sucks is actually good.’ One endlessly re-tweeted recent piece told us we should actually care *more* about the women’s soccer team than the men’s team, because it embodies a number of values we Americans hold dear. I find this line of argument dangerous. It won’t always be true, for one thing, and then what happens when the USWNT is not this good/progressive/gay whatever. The *should* word is bothersome in other ways, because while it contains an element of ‘this is fun and cool and you would enjoy it,’ it also tends to appeal to a sense of duty toward their fellow humans/gender equality that many men simply aren’t socialized to have. That these happen to be the men the endless stream of words are aimed at is the problem. We’re shouting into the void, which every so often shouts back with misogynistic swill, and then it starts all over again.
This is not unconnected with the also common ‘now they go back to obscurity’ laments. Where ‘obscurity’ = ‘watched primarily by women.’ Yes, it’s true that 30 million people will not watch the women’s pro soccer league on TV or in the stands, but 30 million people don’t watch any pro sporting event with the possible exception of the NFL (Mariah Burton Nelson once wrote a book called ‘The Stronger Women Get, The More Men Love Football.’ She has a point). It’s also true that of course it would be nice to have more fans at league games. (Although LET US BE CLEAR, THE WUSA DREW A TON OF FANS PROPORTIONALLY. I am so very bored with the conflation of the WUSA, which had great attendance but was financially mismanaged, with WPS, with its attendance struggles. Meanwhile teams like the Boston Breakers have kept chugging along through it all). What this hue and cry has built in is the idea that the extant fan bases aren’t good enough. Queer women and various types of families provide the major viewing base for live women’s sports. They buy tickets, watch on TV, and purchase thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. They are *fans.* They are just as good as any other fans. Athough you wouldn’t know by the WNBA, which took more than a decade to change its policy from ‘Lesbians? Nope, no lesbians here.’ to ‘I guess we’ve got pride now.’ Women’s sports could make the effort to embrace and grow the fanbase it already has, but that would mean not worshipping at the altar of The Man Who Doesn’t Care.
I am *not* saying that we shouldn’t hit back against misogyny in sports fandom and sports coverage, or advocate for more coverage. I am also not saying that making the case for women’s sports to an audience who may be unaware or apathetic, or an audience who already likes the men’s game, isn’t useful. But anyone who in the year 2015 thinks that women’s sports are lesser, that women exist solely to be sexualized, or that women’s role is domestic…not worth the advertising dollar or the column space. Treating a sport as if it isn’t valid until men are won over to its cause, is like those pundits who opine that a politician “doesn’t have a mandate” because the coalition that elected him included only a small percentage of white men. Those are the *real* voters. But just as the Democratic party has realized the demographics will continue to marginalize those votes, so women’s sports needs to come to terms with the fact that this generation has some dumbass men in it. They’ll never be converted. Fuck ’em.
We didn’t need them in Vancouver. We had each other.