Kathleen Esmonde, Cheryl Cooky, and David Andrews recently conducted a study of women who identified as sports fans.* Specifically, they sought to examine the gendered meaning of sport fandom by interviewing 11 women. They were ages 22-65 and self-identified as White, middle class and educated.
The title of the article (and this post) suggests that to be a fan and to be a woman are not necessarily congruent in people's minds. That is, when people think of fans, they usually think of men, and thus, we must add the descriptor of "women" to the front of "sports fan" to differentiate. On the other hand, when researchers or other people discuss men who are sports fans, they usually just note "sports fans" without the gendered descriptor preceding it.
The participants in this study also noted this distinction. All self-described themselves as sports fans--something that needed to happen for them to participate in the study. That said, they also noted that they had identities or engaged in behaviors that did not align with that of the typical sports fan. For example, the women watched the games on television and were highly invested with the team--characteristics they associated with all fans. However, they did not have some characteristics of typical fans, such as previous sport experience or being a man. And, they did possess other characteristics that were not stereotypically associated with being a fan, such as being attracted to some of the players, turning off the games when their team was losing, or following the personal lives of the players. As a result, the women in the study sometimes felt a tension and that they lacked a high degree of overlap between their identities and behaviors, and those of the prototypical fan.
The women also reported that others noted these disconnects. In some cases, they would receive vulgar insults at sport events, such as being called a "blonde head C-word." In other cases, people ignore them at sport-related activities or sports bars, choosing instead to talk to their male partners about sports.
The authors concluded that these processes resulted in women being considered as "others" when it comes to sport fans--a point to which I previously alluded. They argued, "Women are "Others" because what it means to be a legitimate sports fan...is to be a man, particularly one who confirms to the...masculinized aspects of sporting cultures."
Importantly their findings show that there is no one way in which women engage in fandom. Women are not a homogeneous group. Instead, it is the identities we stereotypically associate with being a women or being a fan that affects individuals in sport and they access they have to sporting spaces. And, while there is considerable attention devoted to women as athletes or physical activity participants, more work is needed about other ways in which women can be involved in sport, such as through their fandom.
* Esmonde, K., Cooky, C., & Andrews, D. L. (2015). "It's supposed to be about the love of the game, not the love of Aaron Rodgers' eyes": Challenging the exclusion of women's sports fans. Sociology of Sport Journal, 32, 22-48.