Can you be an outward fangirl and still be taken seriously as a fanatic?
It’s a question I’ve wrestled with for a long time, heightened by the debate spawned by the CBC’s controversial “While the Women Watch” partnership. It’s made people talk about the perception of women in sport, women as fans (hey, we’re not all stupid and drooling over men), and reminded many of us who are female fans of sport that the “ogle first, ask about the game later” perception of us is still very much a crutch the media and male sports folks lean on.
This is not to say the “he’s so hot” aspect of hockey fandom is a bad one. It’s not my place to tell people how they should be fans. I would be the first to admit that my favorite team, the Los Angeles Kings, is full of beautiful men (namely Mike Richards and Dustin Penner). And I’d venture to say a lot of hardcore female hockey fans, like me, fall in that overlapping area between the Fangirl circle and the Fanatic circle on the hockey fan Venn Diagram.
What does bother me, though, is that I can say a fangirl-like sentiment — “Richie’s a really beautiful man, and I could look at him all day” — and many male fans will stop listening right there. People will hear that and think it’s expected, it’s oh, well, you’re a girl so of course you like looking at the players’ looks.
If you didn’t know my history, my genuine love for and knowledge of hockey, you’d just dismiss me as just another fangirl.
This is bullshit.
Commenting on men’s looks is as much a part of being female as having breasts. Hell, men objectify female athletes. But we don’t question their knowledge of sports when they do that. Why the double-standard?
Why should I feel bad about expressing something that is inherently female? Why should I feel the need to justify that I’m a legit fan by immediately following up that comment with something about said player’s skillset on the ice?
A lot of this conflict stems from my past as a sportswriter. I wanted to be taken seriously. I wanted to prove I belonged with the boys. I didn’t want to be dismissed as some chick who was just there to look at the boys.
So I suppressed any fangirl-like tendencies for years. I’d shut my mouth, act tough, look the other way when the guys on the copy desk were poring over the photo wires and discussing which women’s college basketball coaches were hot or not. Occasionally, a female friend of mine who was a designer on the sports desk and I would look at pictures that would run in the next day’s paper and say, “oh wow, he’s really cute.” But would we pore over the photo wires like the guys did? No way. We’d get crucified for that.
In the process, I felt like I denied a very girly — and fun — part of myself.
It’s a little different now. I’m out of mainstream media and I’ve become a lot more comfortable being, well, a girl. I feel like I’ve met more awesome and knowledgable female hockey fans and seen more strong, well-respected females in hockey media, and that in itself is empowering.
I recently had a conversation with a gay friend of mine who isn’t a sports fan at all. I told him that hockey players are really an underrated source of hotness. We Googled pictures. We laughed. (He agrees with me about Mike Richards.) It was a ton of fun. It was a very rare chance to have that kind of conversation and know I wouldn’t be judged. It’s also a conversation that a few years ago, I would be really ashamed to admit having.
Will I ever fully embrace both sides of the line? I’m not sure. Some days, I have faith in humanity and think strangers won’t judge me, but then we get slapped with things like While the Men Watch and question ourselves all over again.