Sack the misogyny: Women’s viewership of sports

Emma Rosenberg

“I bet you can’t name 10 players in the National Football League [NFL],” my guy friend said to me after I expressed that I had watched a Sunday night football game with my family. 

Why was he challenging me? Would he say this to his friend who is a male? I would never ask him to name 10 Taylor Swift songs if he said he likes “All Too Well.” Stereotypes presuming what different genders should enjoy and understand are harmful. Women who vocalize that they watch sports often receive excessive sexist comments from men, which takes away from their joy of viewing games and discourages women from watching sports due to their fear of judgment. 

According to USA Today, almost 50 percent of American women watch the NFL, proving female viewership is rising. Forbes business magazine reported that in 2002, only 14 percent of Super Bowl viewers were women; that number, however, shot up to 49 percent in 2020. So why is there a misogynistic stigma around women who support and enjoy sports?

Illustration by Carsen Goltz

One of the main reasons women who enjoy watching sports feel discredited is because of how the media portrays female sports fans. Glamour magazine, a publication with a female target audience, published an article written by a man, Scott Christian, entitled, “Here’s What Men Hope Will Happen When You Say You’re a Sports Fan.” The author of this article discusses how men do not like “stereotypical” female sports fans. Rather, women should change the way they act regarding sports viewership to appeal to men’s standards, which just perpetuates the sexist stereotype even more. Articles consisting of content that relay information about how female sports fans are supposed to “act”, or what their love of sports watching will get them, are harmful. They belittle women and invalidate them. In this case and many others, the media releases content that pleases the male eye, which simultaneously creates a false narrative that women only watch sports to impress men. 

Anna Mitchell, a student reporter for Shawnee Mission East High School’s paper, shared her experience of receiving unnecessary comments from men when she expressed that she was a fan of sports. As early as middle school, Mitchell recounted her male classmates challenging her legitimacy as a sports fan by pestering her with trivia questions. 

This trivial and accusatory mindset is flawed and unrealistic. Memorizing obscure trivia shouldn’t be required to prove you’re a sports fan,” Mitchell said. “Boys who practically gatekeep being an avid sports fan push girls away from even being excited to watch [sports]. What if we were to gatekeep their entertainment like shows or music? It wouldn’t be fair.” 

More recently, certain social media trends have circulated, allowing the sexist stereotype that women do not know sports as well as males do to perpetuate. This year on TikTok, a trend has surfaced where women try to guess the names of NFL teams based on their logos, and then proceed to get the names of the teams extremely wrong. The problem with trends and posts like this is that even if the videos are funny or entertaining, it leads male viewers to believe that women do not have any knowledge of the sport, when in reality, the videos only show a small percentage of the female population. To see a few women who can’t identify the logos of NFL teams and extrapolate that to all women is simply misleading and incorrect. 

Meg Arnowoitz, the Vice President of production and a 20-year employee of the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network [ESPN], explained her opinion on the importance of females watching sports in an interview at the Game Changers Conference. Arnowoitz stated that for women to be seen as valued viewers of sports, and people who matter in the sports industry, they have to “consume sports on their own.” She also stated that women should participate in the process of changing the sexist stigma around female sports fans. 

Having conversations about where we are going as an industry is healthy. It is our job as women to initiate change,” Arnowoitz said. 

Counteracting the stigma starts with men changing their misogynistic perspective toward women who watch sports. Rather than challenge a woman’s sports knowledge or claim that she is a ‘fake fan’, men can empower women and encourage participation in sports viewing. Most importantly, men can avoid sexist language and comments when communicating with female sports fans. Women play a crucial role in creating change as well. In order to conquer and challenge the stigma, it is important for girls to continue to watch sports and stand up for themselves when a man is being misogynistic. Even throwing viewing parties for their friends to share the fun and knowledge that comes from watching sports can help. Misogyny and sexism are pervasive amongst sports fans, but action from all genders can help combat this issue to create an inclusive environment.