Mansplaining: The Sexist Attitude Toward Female Sports Fans

With the NBA playoffs in full swing, I found myself experiencing something beyond the stress, joy and heartbreak that comes with being a sports fan — “mansplaining.”

It was a Wednesday evening, I was tired, my team was losing and my only outlet to vent was social media. I tweeted a rhetorical question about my team’s lack of defense: “So does defense not exist? #ClippersvsBlazers” to which I received a response from a Twitter user (who was also a stranger) delivering a simplified definition of “defense” in an attempt to be helpful in addition to insulting the team I supported. He kindly pointed out, “Oh I assure you it exists defense is when you try to stop the other team from scoring. It’s really hard and Clips can’t do it.”

At first, I thought my attempts at sarcasm just didn’t translate well on Twitter so I clicked his profile and began looking through his feed. This guy was obviously a huge basketball fan and he has some interesting analysis, I won’t deny that. And, much to my surprise, he seemed to understand sarcasm! Yet of all his obtrusive responses to random people online, mine was the only condescending reply. This could be for a number of reasons unrelated to gender, but I’m willing to bet that was a primary one.

In fact, it’s such a common occurrence that there’s even a word for it, “mansplaining” which is defined according to the Oxford English Dictionary as “to explain something to someone, typically a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” It was a runner-up for Oxford Dictionary’s “Word of the Year,” being beaten out by “vape,” and added onto their online dictionary in 2014.

Earlier this month, another Twitter user, @voldemortsbiceps, tweeted that she enjoys acting like she doesn’t understand something simple when a man is explaining something it to see how dumb he thinks she is. Her initial tweet received a mix of responses, some claiming she was a sociopath while others applauded it. The story took a hilarious turn, however, when a male responded saying “this, my dear, is called deception.” To which she replied by asking what he meant. It concluded with an explanation of the word deception, “praise” from the gentlemen saying that “it’s actually sophisticated stuff well done” and over 15,000 retweets. Obviously not all men ascribe to this demeaning attitude but it’s even more prominent when sports are involved.

Sports is typically seen as a “masculine” and primarily male dominated field, despite the incredible female leagues. As a female sports fan, I am always met with a look of surprise when I express my unyielding love for basketball. While men often compete about who is a bigger fan, them being a fan is never questioned. Unlike women, who are usually quizzed or tested on their knowledge, as if men are looking for proof.

The most recent case that gained headline news was Megan Brown, a fanatic baseball fan who tweeted her conversation with a guy she had met on a dating app that told her to “name the NL East teams in the next ten seconds no googling.” Brown heroically responded by naming all the teams (and a bonus one!) while simultaneously condemning him for questioning her loyalty remarking there’s a problem with men trying to catch “girls for not being real sports fans instead of taking their word for it.”

This is not only incredibly insulting, but also demonstrates how there seems to be an accepted attitude that women don’t have anything interesting to say when it comes to sports. Female sports fans are always at a disadvantage.

Women’s sports merchandise provides a more tangible example of this disadvantage. The limited designs for women are often more expensive: a red, longsleeve LA Clippers shirt for men costs around $22, whereas a comparable shirt for women with only slight differences like the collar costs around $35. Additionally, many of the merchandise for women in the LA Store are often pink colored instead of the official red, blue, black, gray and white team colors. With so many options to choose from, it’s disheartening that female fans have trouble finding something they enjoy wearing that represents their love for the team. Online, the Clippers store only has one design for women, “plus-size” customers that looks outdated and unflattering.

As a fan, it’s disappointing to see how little the NBA pays attention to their female fanbase. Everything is targeted to the male audience. Even commercials that are played during the game are appealing to a male audience, you would certainly never seen a Tampax commercial during a sports game.

And yet, as reported by the Washington Post in 2014, women make up an estimated 45% of the NFL’s 150 million American fans. Females helped the NFL revenue with a record $9.5 billion dollars and the numbers are projected to grow. Aside from the NFL, NASCAR is the only other sport where women make up almost half of the viewing demographic. However, there is still a large gap between male and female viewers in sports like basketball, soccer, baseball and hockey.

While I understand, for commercial purposes, appealing to a male audience may seem like it will rack in the most money, I believe sports organizations like the NBA would be surprised at how many female fans are equally passionate as their male fans and simply want the chance to show it without being questioned.
Caitlin Antonios is a second-year literary journalism major. She can be reached at cfantoni@uci.edu.