Everything Barstool Sports is Doing For and Against Feminism

If you haven’t checked Facebook in the past few weeks, you may have missed the headline about Dave Portnoy’s $20,000 donation to Penn State’s THON, the largest student run philanthropy in the world benefitting childhood cancer. The Barstool president initially offered the donation under the conditions that the school’s Dean of Communications, Marie Hardin, agree to debate him about gender roles in the sports industry. The request followed a statement that she’d made a few weeks prior in an article on NBC discussing Bartstool’s depiction of “hypermasculine, sports-loving men and hypersexualized, submissive women” as a reflection of their company culture, which has proven controversial in the media. In the absence of Hardin’s response, Portnoy went ahead and donated the money anyway, parading around PSU’s campus in a t-shirt that read “I promise not to bash Dean Hardin even though she lied about us first and stinks at her job and should be fired.” 

Hardin is merely one of a large group of people in the media who write off Barstool as a niche, misogynistic boys’ club. ESPN even cut ties with the company back in 2017 after just one episode of their collaborative show “Barstool Van Talk” aired on the channel, amid pushback from employees concerning the company’s reputation for sexism and political incorrectness. However, the diss from ESPN execs appeared to be no insult to Portnoy, who prides in the comedically uncensored nature of Barstool’s online content. However much fame Barstool may garner for their shock humor, companies like ESPN are right to be threatened by the brand’s arguably reckless image. Barstool holds ownership to accounts spanning a multitude of social media platforms, with one of its most popular pages, @barstoolsmokeshows on Instagram, showcasing women, often in revealing costumes, for fans of the brand to engage with and sexualize in the comment section. That, along with their infamously coined “Saturdays are For the Boys” phrase, makes users who visit Barstool pages feel like they are immediately stepping foot in a high school boys’ locker room. 

This makes the following statement all the more surprising: Barstool Sports is currently the only sports media brand in the industry with a female CEO. Not only that, but Erika Nardini beat out a whopping 74 men for the position.  

So why would a woman want to work for a brand that has been slashed time after time in the news as a playground for male objectification of women?

It’s possible that Barstool is doing more for feminism than we credit them. As much as their influence has encouraged a dangerous wave of disrespecting women online, they’ve also worked to reverse gender stereotypes, most evident through their female-run podcast “Call Her Daddy”. Alexandra Cooper and Sophia Franklyn voice the show, using traditionally masculine, vulgar language to dispel stereotypes regarding female attitudes toward sex. The podcast is undoubtedly feminist, normalizing the discussion of socially taboo topics and empowering women to embrace their sexuality. The duo express their own experiences in a blunt and hilarious manner, teaching their listeners that it is okay to laugh at yourself in embarrassing moments. 

Admittedly, I follow Barstool Sports on social media. While the hiring of Erika Nardini as CEO and the “Call Her Daddy” podcast doesn’t cancel out the company’s inappropriate and sexist acts of the past, I still respect Barstool for their incorporation of female voices in a traditionally male-dominated industry. Though the brand’s reputation is far from perfect, their success is probably not slowing down any time soon, so we can at least appreciate the transparency they display in communicating with their audience.


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