Where are the women sports fans online?
This is long…and ranty…and maybe a bit repetitive. I’m annoyed and needed to get it out so humor me.
Willing to get my inspiration from any sources available, I clicked on a link via Twitter today that I knew I shouldn’t have based on the phrasing of said tweet. There was no hidden message; I knew exactly what was coming, yet I clicked anyway (Warning: I decided not to edit out the colorful language because, frankly, I found it appropriate.)
The link brought me to a very interesting article written by Alex Remington about women in Major League Baseball’s front offices. For clarification purposes, Alex is a man. This is important as some of the comments on the piece relate to his wife or girlfriend making him write this piece or the idea that, because he supports there being more women in the front offices of MLB, he must be a homosexual.
And support he does. Alex takes to the comments section to not only defend his writing, but the main person interviewed for it, Kim Ng (who, Remington tells us is “the highest-ranking baseball executive for nearly a decade, Assistant General Manager of the Yankees and then the Dodgers, (and) recently accepted a job to work for Joe Torre as the Senior Vice President for Baseball Operations in the Commissioner’s office of Major League Baseball.”).
Please go read the article. It’s well worth it. The point of the entire article, along with showing there are women working in MLB, is this:
“The current problem for women isn’t interest, but opportunity.”
With Ng’s assistance, Remington gives a strong argument supporting the idea that men get more opportunities in MLB than women do. (The same could be said for most of the business world I’m sure, but this is an article on Fangraphs and as such it is entirely appropriate to write about it as it specifically relates to baseball. I mention this because the question of “why bother writing about this” gets brought up in the comments.)
But I’m not here to talk about women working in baseball. I’m here to talk about, again, women as baseball fans. Because the comments section of this well written, informative and interesting piece can be summed up thusly: ”Women can’t play baseball on a Major League level so they don’t appreciate it or know as much about it as men“. Yes, as of this writing there are over 400 comments on Remington’s article and the majority of them discuss the inferiority of women’s baseball knowledge as it relates to that of men. (In fairness, there are comments from men on that article that support women and don’t turn them into a punchline. Sadly, there are too few.)
I’m also not here to discuss who are the better fans. There is a specific argument many bring up in the comments section that has been brought up to me before that I wish to address. The argument is that, no matter what polls tell you or what statistics get brought up, the proof that women who identify as baseball fans aren’t as passionate or knowledgeable about baseball is that they are not represented online in the same kind of numbers that men are.
In short, because more men write for blogs and online sports pages and more men comment on said blogs and pages than women do, that proves they are more knowledgeable and passionate.
Here’s the thing, and I think I’ve shared this before: A house fire in May of 2002 forced me to live with an aunt and uncle for a while. It was a sad, dark time (not because of my aunt and uncle, they were and are wonderful) and I found solace in the Red Sox fan forum on redsox.com. I eventually made friends (some real-life friends I still have today) and became a very active member of the online community there (which led to my starting the Red Sox Chick blog over at MLBlogs).
Although I eventually became one of major contributors there, it took me a while to dip my toe into the commenting pool. Just reading over the comments you saw an air of superiority coming mostly from men (along with a lot of jokes about women) and it felt like a place not exactly looking to welcome women. I’ve since been told that many women felt this way when they first found the fan forum and I have never been told this by a man. I would say about 85% of my time spent there was full of positive and fun experiences; almost never being called out because I was a woman. But most of that came with time and much posting and with my developing a relationship with the other members of the community. It took a while to get my foot in the door but once I did I kicked it open. When I left the forum to start blogging it seemed that there were as many if not more women commenting over there than men. It took a long time but there finally came a point when women felt comfortable sharing their thoughts on the Red Sox publicly.
The next baseball-related community I joined was over at Surviving Grady. Because of changes on the blog, the comments from the heyday of the comments section there have all been lost, but it went from handfuls of comments on daily posts to, in some cases, thousands of comments on daily posts because we inadvertently created a community of like-minded Red Sox fans, both men and women (and, again, the female count matched the male count and the women seemed even more vocal over there). The comment section has changed at SG (thank largely in part to many of us becoming friends in real life and using Facebook for similar purposes) but it has a strong place in my heart not just because I met a lot of people I love but because it generated a lot of respect for women who love baseball.
I consider myself fortunate because it isn’t always (or, hell, USUALLY) this easy for women sports fans online. It’s difficult to get away from: Because men do make up the majority of sports fans, sites that want to generate traffic feel the need to appeal to them by showing skin or by mentioning in passing what they’d like to do to various sideline reporters while they’re also writing about sports. As far as Internet communities that discuss sports, there are very few that show any kind of welcome for women to contribute.
In order for a woman to join in many of these communities, she has to be willing to overlook the cheesecake photos, ignore the comments about which women are ‘doable” and pretend that she thinks jokes that use women’s body parts as insults to men are funny. Gee, who wouldn’t want to participate in that?
I will be forever baffled that I ended up over at WEEI.com. Even though I entered the competition, I didn’t really think I’d be chosen. Heck, what I wrote for an entry into the contest was all about being a woman blogger and sports fan and not being apologetic about it. But I won, and folks voted for me and I won again and I spent 6 months being told I was a fat, ugly pig who was jealous of Heidi Watney and didn’t know anything about baseball because my favorite player happened to be a tall, blond, handsome pitcher.
It should be pointed out that these comments came from readers not the folks who worked at WEEI.
Women are out there reading your articles and your blog posts and your message boards. If they aren’t becoming a part of the community there are many more reasons to look at than “they just don’t understand it like men do“.
I find the women who comment on my blog never seem to have trouble asserting their opinions and part of me often wonders if that has something to do with the blog being written by a woman. Although, in fairness, I also have received many emails from women fans who say they email me because they are “afraid” to comment and be seen as foolish. Again, I never get these messages from men. Whether folks would like to acknowledge it or just pretend it doesn’t exist, the stigma is there. Women need to prove that they are fans while it is just automatically assumed that men know what they’re talking about just because they’re men. This annoys me and, frankly, makes me not want to visit most sports-related websites even now. It’s also why I think Twitter has become such a wonderful place to find knowledgeable women sports fans. You aren’t bombarded with misogyny unless you look for it (and if it finds you, you can block it easily enough) and, I’ve found, for the most part people don’t seem to care about the gender of the person writing as long as they are interesting or entertaining. I can’t count how many times I’ve received a “You’re a woman?” message on Twitter from a new follower. Twitter makes it easy for those women nervous about the frat boy mentality on so many websites to share their opinions without feeling inferior. I’ve written it before and I mean it, I absolutely love Twitter.
As kind of an aside, I’m part of two fantasy baseball leagues this year: The one I’ve been a member of for years and a new one I started because some of my friends who had never played before wanted to try it and were looking for a “newbie-friendly” league. In the new league, there are 20 teams and only 3 of them belong to men (three of my friends who have played FB before but also thought the new league would be fun…and men who I know appreciate that women are capable of knowing as much about baseball as they are). My nine year-old niece is one of the members of this new league. She’s been bugging me for a couple of years now to join the league I was in and I thought this would be a good way for her to learn how it’s done. The night of the draft all she wanted was to make sure she got Jacoby Ellsbury. She was thrilled when her first pick came along and she got him. Absolutely thrilled. From there she decided on the rest of her team based on…statistics. She kept asking me things like where she could find how many games they played last season and how they were doing in Spring Training. It’s coming naturally to her, this appreciating a good-looking player but also getting into what makes a player a good player. I think we have the makings of what could eventually be a good fan. I only hope by the time she’s allowed to go online on her own she’s not made to feel like a lesser fan because she wasn’t born with a penis.