Why Being a Female Sports Fan Sucks

Sports are an essential way of connecting with people and a community. All around the world people gather for their home teams in hopes that today is the day. In the United States, that feels essentially true, with millions of people gathering to watch football on Thanksgiving Day, but how do female sports fans fit into the mix. The stereotype seems to be that women are only present in sports to cater to men. Hundreds of commercials have presented that very phenomenon with a mother or wife held in the kitchen, only coming out to see the game when she’s serving her family snacks. 

And when women are allowed to be a part of the experience, they are usually only present as objects of the male gaze. The overwhelming image that comes to mind is the famous Super Bowl commercial from Carl Jr. where a young blonde is walking practically naked through a farmer’s market only to chow down on a burger from Carl Jr. This, of course, happens all while every man in the commercial, and around the country, ogles her 

Apart from racy commercials, that can cost upwards of 3 million dollars, women are objectified as cheerleaders. Football cheerleaders are given pitiful airtime, where they are usually seen in bikini-like outfits in 30-degree weather for the five seconds between a pause in the game and a cut to commercial. They are seen as an afterthought in the industry and their treatment reflects that. Pro football cheerleaders are paid between $75 to $150 per game which can round out to about $3,000 a year, not including all the expenses cheerleaders have to pay to stylists. While football players are paid roughly $860,000 to $2 million a year, with the rookies usually only picking up about $50,000 a year. Football player’s income varies depending on where they are, who they are and how they play, but even the poorest football players make exponentially more than the pro cheerleaders do. 

Cheerleaders are also treated poorly by their teams and managers. Recently a scandal came to light where Redskin cheerleaders were shooting a nude photo shoot and corporate executives and major shareholders were invited to watch and then the cheerleaders were forced to escort and entertain them after. 

When this is the way women are treated in the sports industry it reflects a view of women in sports. Female fans are then presented with a limited role of who they can be in the sports industry: either matronly serving her family while they watch a game or a sex object to enhance the experience for men watching the game. This role can come with violent consequences for a female fan looking to participate in rituals of the game, like a tailgate, where other fans will view her as part of her gendered role. 

I ran into this phenomenon when I went to see the Stanley Cup finals between the Washington Capitals and The Vegas Knights in D.C. I have been a huge fan of hockey and the Caps for the majority of my life and seeing them win the Stanley Cup for the first time should have been the best night of my summer. There were thousands of people watching the game outside the stadium on the big screen and I stood with everyone else in the middle of that mob. In it, I was pushed and stepped on, which being 5’1” in a crowd that size felt expected. But what wasn’t expected was having to dislodge another hockey fans hands from wandering all over my butt and inside my shorts just to enjoy the game. No matter where in the crowd I moved, this guy followed me and had his hands firmly grasped on my body. It didn’t matter when I told him to stop or elbowed him off of me or had my friends stand in between us because he was taught that as a woman at a sporting event I could never be there for the game; I was there to make watching the game a better experience for him. Whereas my memory of such a historic moment for my favorite team is how I spent almost the entirety of the game on the metro home and watched reruns of it the next day from the safety of my home.