Last week several people told me I must listen to Frank Deford's weekly piece on NPR's Morning Edition. I finally listened to it this morning. I have not read any other opinions about it--or even looked to see if they exist.
I have seen many opinions, however, on the hot new non-fiction book, Lean In, by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. I have not read the book yet. I am on the Kindle wait list at my library. I don't really want to read it. I am a little irked by the whole thing. Sandberg is pretty darned privileged. She owns $1 billion of FB stock. She is white, married to a man, and a mother of two. Who is she appealing to? I have heard the thoughts about the book and its message from non-white, non-middle-class, non-married women and they all offer legitimate criticisms. But I shall wait until I actually read it before launching into a full-scale critique.
But since I have heard Deford's piece, I won't hold back.
I have heard this rant before. It came from Nancy Lieberman who told a group of lawyers and scholars at a Harvard Law School conference to support women's sports--with dollars. She told us to maybe not buy that Coach bag and instead opt for season tickets to professional basketball or intercollegiate softball.
Deford tells us that if women want more coverage of and attentions to women's sports, we need to show up as fans. He says we can't blame it all on the male-dominated media.
He is absolutely right. But lean in closer, Frank Deford--and you too Nancy Lieberman--because I have some insights into this issue of female fandom.
1. Let's start with obvious. Women don't make as much money as men. While we have economic power in the domestic realm--making purchasing decisions for the home and family members--we have less money for discretionary things like tickets to sporting events.
2. Also, related to money: using economic capital to buy social and cultural capital for use in and outside the institution of sport is different for women. Being fans of women's sports does not provide the same social rewards for us in male-dominated society. The same is true about knowledge of women's sports. Rattling off Abby Wambach's career stats earns you the admiration of some lesbians and little girls. I argue that the reason women have become a greater presence as fans of men's professional sports is because the rewards are greater. Such fandom is more valuable in a male-dominated society. Being a fan of women's sports can actually be potentially damaging. Who likes women's sports? Lesbians!! Granted being gay is more socially acceptable, but overtly enjoying women's sports as an adult women....well...
3. Most women have less time to devote to fandom. So they either go for the socially and culturally valuable fandom--as fans of men's sports; or they don't do it at all. Or they do it less often than they would like to. But if you are a married woman with children--how much time (and let's not forget money) do you really have to devote to following women's sports? I am married but child-free and I still don't have a lot of time. I have been to two Boston Breakers games since the team existed. Because I live two hours from Boston and it's hard to carve out that time. I did manage to make it to one intercollegiate softball game this season and I considered it a triumph. I was able to complete all my work--in and outside my home--and get to the ballpark on a Friday afternoon. I watch a lot of softball on television because I have an extensive cable package--which costs a lot of money--and so I am able to see games other people do not. But does anyone who cares or can make a difference know that I will go home this afternoon and turn on cable and watch some intercollegiate softball? No.
Why is the burden always on the underrepresented to either change the system or buy into it? Why isn't there greater discussion of the limitations that make it so hard for, in this case women, to do so? Frank Deford's piece is not a call to arms. So stop calling out the "ladies" for what they don't do for women's sports and start looking at the larger institutional restrictions.