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Leveling the playing field: An Analysis of Female Fandom

Updated: Feb 21, 2018

A brief expert from college paper analyzing the role woman play in sports as fans.


In the 2015 NFL Championship game, the New England Patriots defeated the Seattle Seahawks and over 115 million viewers tuned in to watch the live coverage (Dosh, 2016). This event is the most watched American television broadcasts of all time. Of the viewers who tuned in, 46% of them were female (Dosh, 2016). While sports are primarily a male dominant social realm, women are gaining importance. However, the lived experiences of female fans, specifically at football games, depicts that women encounter significant obstacles when engaging in sports fandom. Female fans are grouped into “othered” categories that prevent them from being seen as “true” fans under the masculine ideology of fandom. Nevertheless, sports are the ideal arena through which women can undermine hegemonic masculinity through their active participation leading to a more level playing field. In order to supplement analysis, two interviews with female football fans were conducted at the Boston College vs. Clemson University football game on Friday, October 7, 2016. The two women are Megan Herring (2016), a current Senior at Boston College, and Jenn DiChiara (2016), a recent graduate of Clemson University visiting Boston for the sole purpose of this football game and time with friends.

It is important to look closer at what it means to be a sports fan in general and why some members of society become sports fans. Stacey Pope (2012) points out that defining fandom has largely gone undone because “everyone knows what a ‘fan’ is.” However, she does attempt to ground this knowledge by describing fans as people who are obsessed by their particular object of devotion (Pope, 2012). The term fan is derived from the term fanatic, which is a person filled with extreme enthusiasm, and a fandom is the connection between fans to each other and their team. Looking more closely into the motivations behind fandom, Wann et al. (2001) found eight key motives: entertainment, eustress, group affiliation, self-esteem, aesthetic, escape, family, and economic. They found that women inclined to say that family was their primary motive, while men argued their primary motive was either eustress, self-esteem, or aesthetic. Both Herring (2016) and DiChiara (2016) stated their primary motivation was that of family as well.


Regarding the ideology of femininity, it is important to look at the socialization of gender. This process begins at birth when we are named by our parents and are then placed in a socially constructed category that controls behavior, beliefs, actions, values, etc. (West & Zimmerman, 1987). Children learn gendered behavior through reinforcement and punishment by society and same-gender role models. This transforms into a self-regulating process where children will socialize and discipline themselves. Ultimately, gender becomes something we do or perform on a daily basis (West & Zimmerman, 1987). The stereotypes of gender are reinforced during this stage. “Little boys appropriate the gender ideal of ‘efficaciousness,’ that is, being able to affect the physical and social environment through the exercise of physical strength” whereas, “little girls learn to value ‘appearance,’ that is, managing themselves as ornamental objects,” argues West and Zimmerman (1987, p. 141). Female sports fans draw upon these socialized norms and when attending the realm of sports in which they “do” various “performances” of femininity and masculinity that uphold the gender hierarchy.


While football may be played by men, women are still watching. But, they watch from a different space than those of male spectators, the space of an outsider or “othered” group. Women as sports fans are positioned as having a lack of knowledgeable, being less interested, or being interested because of ulterior motives, therefore, they are not considered to be a “true” fan (Borer, 2009). Borer (2009) explains, in order for women to fit in at sporting events, they must assume three identity-types through which hegemonic masculinity can accept their attendance. First is the “tomboy fan” who adopts “masculine attributes and attire” (Borer, 2009, p. 2). She wears jeans, a jersey, drinks beer, and is entirely carefree. This is the fan that is most commonly seen at Boston College sporting events. When asked why she was wearing a sweatshirt reading “Boston College Football” to the Clemson versus BC football game, Megan Herring (2016) said, “Because we’re at a football game and I’m cold!” Herring said this as if it was assumed and I was at fault for asking her the question. Her response illustrates no regard to the sweatshirt being seen as either masculine or gendered in any way but was practical instead. Borer (2009) argues that as a female, Herring is not consciously making her clothing decision but is being duped into believing that what she wears makes her a “better fan.” This “better fan” persona is inherently coded with masculine traits. She attempts to present herself as equal to her male counterparts and often does not want to be considered a “female fan” but simply a “fan.” (Sveinson and Hoeber, 2016)

Writing

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