Watching Sports as a Girl In 2018

“Wait, what? Really, you watch football? That’s interesting. “

“Serena Williams is not the only tennis player. You do know that, don’t you?”

“Did your brother tell you about this? “

“I don’t think you’ll understand what we are talking about. “

“You only know this much about football because of Messi and Ronaldo.”

I could go and on with this and it will never come to an end. If you are like me in any way or just a regular fan of male dominated sports, chances are that you have heard at least one of the remarks from above. They have most probably, in fact, surely, been said by a male counterpart.

For me personally, it is this year’s FIFA World Cup that brought around quite a few revelations and profound observations that I somehow missed previously. Maybe, it all has to do with growing self-awareness and evolution. In the past, I was probably oblivious to such experiences and brushed them off with a laugh but now as I look around, I see it happening all around me, with friends, family and even distant acquaintances.  If you are still wondering where am I going with this? Then, let me just put it out there clearly for everybody to reflect upon.  Girls or women are discriminated against in sports; that is a universally acknowledged truth (by females, of course!). However, what most of us seem to brush off lightly is discrimination or gender based bias against women as members of sports audience.

In the past, I never realized it, primarily because it didn’t happen to me or I did not witness it myself. The little idea I had about girls being dismissed as sports fan came from people talking about how they proclaimed their love for a particular game and were ridiculed by their male friends or family members. Hence, most girls just stopped discussing their love for any sport, not just football, with anybody else and kept it to themselves.

This time around, it is very much in the open. Be it because of the rapid integration of social media into our lives or more open freedom of expression, the discriminatory behavior that female football fans have been subjected to is becoming evident with each passing day.

I see posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media forums where women are sharing their views about football fixtures and making some very valid points as well, however, they instantly become target of belittling comments by several of their male followers or acquaintances. Sometimes, even friends or family members cannot come to terms with the fact that this girl is an avid fan of the spot and capable of having an in-depth conversation on the subject.

If you talk to girls or women around you, they will have countless stories to share about being ignored completely during a discussion on not just football but any sport. It’s quite demeaning at times and causes a number of girls to hide their interests or even became embarrassed about them due to fear of being ridiculed by their male friends as well as family members.

You may be wondering why I chose this time to express my outrage since the attitude has been prevalent for a long time. Well, because it happened to me. A friend was quite surprised that I was quite aware of technicalities in football and well-versed in strategies too. He wanted to know who had taught me so much about the sport. The assumption that I probably learnt everything from a man got me thinking.

Why do other men mostly assume that you are interested in sport due to someone’s influence? You can be and there is nothing wrong with it but you can just purely be interested in it for yourself as well. It is not necessary that a girl has to be avid player of the sport or an athlete, she can genuinely be interested in it for the same reasons that men are.  I personally know a number of girls who have been dedicated followers of sports such as football, cricket and tennis since an early age, and do not have any male influences either.

As far as my limited research goes, I would say, it’s mainly due to male centric marketing by sportswear companies and other product makers as well. Now, with time and progress perspectives are changing and more marketing campaigns are targeting women as an audience of sports as well as athletes. Previously, if you take a look down memory lane, you will see numerous ads with renowned cricketers, basketball players and football players sending out messages to only their male fans. The advertisements did not feature women either. The only presence of a female would be for glamorizing the campaign and again catching the eye of the average male.

I am not going to go further into that because the conversation would turn towards sexism, stereotyping and objectification of women. My focus here is the dismissive behavior of men towards female audience of a sport, in this case, football.

A Complicated Relationship

Explaining the complexities of the relationship between women and sports can be slightly challenging. I mean, where do I begin and what do I talk about first? The gender inequality, the disparity of wages, the blatant gender discrimination or the sexual harassment that female in sports have to face; these are all integral aspects of this relationship. If you initiate a discussion or talk about any one of the topics, it can lead to highly unpleasant results. You, like me, will discover that despite of all the progress we have made as a civilization, there are certain beliefs that seem to be set in stone and are not likely to be erased any time soon.

There are still men who believe that a woman’s opinion on sports does not matter and only specific sports can be comprehended by the ‘feeble’ female mind.

I may be coming across as an angry triggered feminist here, particularly to the men who are reading this but believe me when I say that all of this is a culmination of extensive fact based research done objectively. If you look at the coverage of one of the biggest sporting events in the world, you will feel further disappointed. News of female journalists being harassed live on air are making headlines, while pictures of glamorous female members of the audience are circulated on social media where they are openly objectified.

This has happened several times before and still does. The only thing that has changed about it now is that I have realized that things have to drastically turn around otherwise, female athletes will continue to undermine their potential and the female fans are going to fade into background as well.

Now, I can see that people are stepping up and having their voices heard. It has made me optimistic about the future, despite everything. There are boys who value the girls’ opinion on sports and actively encourage them to participate in conversations revolving around the subject. They also stand up for women who are put down by other boys after sharing their views. I say, we need more of such people and hopefully, more Zainab Abbas’s will emerge, in not just cricket but other sports as well.