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Commentary

Toeing the line between fangirl and fanatic

Mike Richards- blurring the line between fangirl & fanatic for women since 2005

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.

About Jenn

Former sports hack, current web geek, forever sports fanatic. I had a nasty habit in middle school of beating up boys who taunted me. You can find me on Twitter at @jrosebud, or read non-hockey musings at therebelstate.net.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “Toeing the line between fangirl and fanatic

  1. First of all, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being ‘girly’ or being sexually attracted to players or any of that, and completely stand by your right to be that style of fan and still have your commitment and intelligence respected.

    However, it is not true that “commenting on men’s looks is as much a part of being female as having breasts” or that this type of fanaticism is “inherently female”. It’s how you feel. It may well be how lots of women feel. But it’s not natural, necessary, or innate to our gender, and there are women who feel differently. How about we won’t stereotype you if you don’t deny our existence?

    Posted by E | June 4, 2012, 4:11 pm
    • I don’t mean to deny the existence of female fans who *don’t* care about how players look. “Inherently female” probably isn’t the best phrase for that. Perhaps I could have chosen a better phrasing than that (it was the first one that popped into my head). I guess what I mean to say is that just because some people expect that kind of behavior, it shouldn’t be the *only* kind of behavior expected of female fans.

      Posted by Jenn | June 4, 2012, 4:17 pm
  2. I agree with so much of what you’ve said here, and I’ve said a lot of these things myself. Sure, talking about who the hottest guy on a team is doesn’t make you an authority on hockey (looking at you, @whilemenwatch) but it doesn’t make you NOT an expert on hockey either. They’re two different ways of watching sports.

    In some ways I think I’m lucky to be in Australia. Although hardly anyone watches hockey, loving sports is such a big part of our culture that in most spaces it’s completely acceptable to talk about the attractiveness of players in a conversation about which team’s going to win what this year. But the fact is, even I still occasionally find people assuming I don’t actually know much about it.

    I do have to nitpick on one small point, though: for some of us, being attracted to men isn’t a part of being female at all. I know you didn’t mean to suggest that lesbians aren’t real women, and there’s arguably still a grain of truth in your statement – I’m a lesbian and on several occasions during the Caps’ playoffs run I’ve bemoaned the fact that Braden Holtby has to wear a mask because I really love his face. But it’s a point that kinda stuck out at me, especially since this whole “While the Men Watch” fracas started. I’ve tried watching both the show and the twitter feed, just for the sake of being an informed critic of it, but I simply can’t pay attention for long enough because everything about it is so aggressively heterosexual that I can’t stand it.

    But it’s probably worth noting, too, that even women who aren’t attracted to men get hit with the assumption that they only watch sports for the hot guys.

    Posted by chelseaxavier | June 4, 2012, 4:17 pm
    • Thank you for your thoughts! I do realize I’m going to get killed on the point that being attracted to men is part of being female. It’s not exactly what I meant (I really should think about these things better!). But your last sentence is dead on and really more in the spirit of what I meant. It’s like, why is the first thing men assume is that we’re in it to ogle? That seems to be the “female” trait we get assigned, whether it’s true or not, and it’s kind of sad when people can’t seem to look past that.

      Posted by Jenn | June 4, 2012, 4:25 pm
      • Exactly! I didn’t want to rake you over the coals for it, because I know you meant it in good faith, and it really is something that affects all female sport fans. It used to be that when people made comments about women only watching sports for the eye-candy, I’d reply with “But I’m a lesbian!” But the answer should really just be “You can be attracted to athletes and still be a knowledgeable sports fan.” Declaring my sexuality like that sometimes just gets me a guest pass to the boys’ club, as if my views are somehow more legitimate because I’m not into guys, and that simply isn’t true.

        It’s just all this “While the Men Watch” stuff has really been grating on me. Both the assumption about what women like, as if ‘women’ is a single category of people who all like the same stuff, and the sheer degree level of heterosexual suggestiveness on the show. I don’t think men are disgusting or anything, but I’m just not built to handle that much talk about their junk!

        Posted by chelseaxavier | June 4, 2012, 4:33 pm
  3. I’ll admit, it’s still not second nature for me to just accept the “he’s so dreamy” side of female and gay fans, in part because I don’t really make a distinction between them and male fans. Also, the majority of people with whom I’ve watched hockey/sports throughout my life weren’t prone to making those observations or comments. But my game-watching crowd has, in recent years, grown to include more females and gay men, so naturally, I hear it more. I understand that it’s part of your physiological makeup, I do. And it may sound shitty to say that I’m working to get more used to it, but I am. I also may throw an eye roll out to my friends for making such comments, but only to those that know I am just giving them a hard time, and not taking anything away from their appreciation of the game itself. If you know me, you know that I am more than outspoken about not treating female/gay fans and athletes as second class citizens, and I honestly believe everything I preach. But like everyone, sometimes it takes a little while to break old habits.
    All that said, very good post, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

    Posted by Hackett | June 4, 2012, 6:55 pm
    • Thanks, Ryan. I do realize the “he’s so dreamy” side of fandom is still a foreign one. I myself tried to ignore that side because those were the people we used to make fun of from the press box. And then I realized I had some of those tendencies. It was a weird paradox. And so I’ve come to embrace that a little more openly these days.

      I definitely would have no problem if you rolled your eyes at me. My own friends, who I’ve been watching games with and debating things like the merits of the spread offense in football with for years, do the same thing. I know where they’re coming from. It’s similar to what you describe above. I’m good with it. I just wish more people would take your position. :)

      Thanks again for reading!

      Posted by Jenn | June 4, 2012, 7:10 pm
  4. Great post Jenn. You are absolutely correct that there is a double standard when it comes to men and women watching sports. I have enough female friends who are big fans of sports that I know that women can be knowledgeable and still like the looks of the athletes. I fully admit to being the same way with women’s sports. I watch them because I like the sports, but the eye candy is a nice benefit!

    Anyway, that was a rambling way of saying that it’s a shame that the stereotype that knowledge and appreciation of looks are mutually exclusive exists. But I am not in the majority with my train of thought. Personally, I have no problem if a woman wants to just watch sports for the men and has no interest in being knowledgeable about the game at all. That’s their cup of tea and they are entitled to it!

    Posted by Tyler | June 8, 2012, 8:16 am

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