Things I Learned About Sex and Gender At My First Football Game

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When I was little my parents used to take me to football games with them. I would sit between the bleachers on a pile of blankets and play with my dolls, read comics, or take naps. It was a bore – loud, long, and completely over my head. All I knew about football as a kid was that my dad would say “just ten more minutes” and that ten minutes would miraculously last an hour and I’d miss my cartoons.

I was excited this past weekend to go to my first football game as an adult. My first real football game. No High School level shenanigans here. Inevitably I ended up taking notes on my phone off and on, like the shameful blogger that I am, still somehow watching the entire game with complete and utter fascination.

 

See, I tend to surround myself with people who think and feel the way I do about most things in life. It’s a good way to keep ones blood pressure down. To make up for it, I read blogs, and news, and books of people who think differently than me. I have found that even this keeps me far removed from the true reality of misogyny and general anti-femininity. And good lord, is there a lot of it at a football game.

I learned a lot about sex and love between the hours of 3pm and 8pm last weekend. Here are the highlights.

1. Cheer your accomplishments, not the failure of others

Some masochist to place the fans of two different teams in the same stadium. At one point, when the team we were rooting for was behind, a small group of people behind us said something to the effect of their fans are pretty quiet now! I wanted to turn around and wag my finger in their face and say that they weren’t being very nice thank you very much and if they were trying to put themselves up for the douchbag awards those were being held out back. (Their team lost, presumably at least in part due to the bad karma of their shit talking. I am convinced.)

This advice can be used in all kinds of ways though. Cheer your accomplishments. Not the failure of others. If you are good enough, your good-enoughness should be self-evident. Talking down someone else isn’t going to make you appear better or more wonderful. It’s just going to make you sound like a douchebag. Granted, I think I may have missed the memo (in football, it’s okay to shit talk) but I’d prefer to do it quietly and not in a way that is going to enrage the nice people behind me.

2. Gender and Masculinity

Oh, the poor guys girlfriend standing in front of us. This girl was furious as her boyfriend continued to high five, jump up and down and butt-slap the man to his right, instead of engaging with her. She left early, mumbling something about waiting in the car, as he looked off in the opposite direction. Every time the opposing team did something good, he would stretch out his pelvis and thrust wildly at the field, telling them with some aggression to suck it. I also heard: eat a dick, thats gay, no homo.

Dicks, dicks everywhere.

In general, if you want to see a real mans man, a man who knows for sure 100% that he is not a woman, go to a football game. For the entire duration you will be convinced at all times that the men around you are MEN.

I learned in my men and masculinities course a few terms ago that a lot of homophobia is based in anti-feminitiy. In other words, we associate being gay in some ways with being less of a man. Men who are insecure about their masculinity or sexual orientation may use anti-gay or anti-women remarks to secure their identity.

Despite the dick jokes and the general thrusting, I was pleased to see a plethora of examples where men did it right. Hugging, high-fiving, general friendliness, smiling, sitting in close proximity to one another and showing a wide range of emotions that went beyond some of the douchebaggary I saw.

For a brief moment, here and there, everything really was quite gay.

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3. Peacocking and Room to Spare

That leads me to peacocking. Peacocking is when one presents themselves in a flashy way in order to attract the opposite sex. And good lord was there a lot of peacocking. Bring colors, flashing lights, head ornaments, necklaces, hats, shoes, shoelaces, face paint. You name it. This peacocking in particular wasn’t necessarily to attract other women, but to show that he or she had the most spirit for all of those sweaty men on the field. Remember in High School when you gave your class pin or your jacket to your sweetheart? These days, you buy a t-shirt or a jersey with another mans number on it and you wear it around while you dizzily scream their name. I can support this gesture.

What I learn here is, football is a safe space to get out a lot of energy. A lot of expression. And for men who often don’t feel comfortable or don’t have a space to let that kind of energy out, this is a cool way to do it. As a generally muted and calm person, I found it pretty alarming to be in such a loud and busy place. A few more trips and I might learn how to scream a little myself. (And if that screaming releases some tension and brings a laugh or two, whats the harm?)

Anyways, 

I laugh at this because it is such a strange, unusual atmosphere. While men did appear to feel more comfortable with their general anti-gayness, anti-womanness, and pro-he-man-ness, it was awesome to see dudes more comfortable with other dudes.

I also laugh at this because, somehow, I’m starting to get it. From sitting on the base of the bleachers and reading my comics to now, the more I participate in football culture, the more it starts to make sense. It’s wonderful to feel a part of something. To feel connected to the players, and to a fan base. To watch a game and so passionately feel hope. That your team will win. That all the right fantastically athletic and seemingly impossible moves will be made.

This is like Wizards Chess on acid.

Aside from the game being heart-pumpingly exciting, there is the community. To come together with friends or family once a week or so and cheer for something you all have in common. The snacks, the drinks, the television. Tossing a football in the parking lot or making bets on something that is mostly unpredictable but easy to judge just the same.

Despite a lot of the negativity of football culture (see: how men who are involved in sports are treated after abusing women) I think I have found some calm midrange. Where even if these things conflict, I can be both a woman, and a sports fan.

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  1. This is really interesting – I think it’s a massive shame that there are so many activities which are presented as ‘gendered’, and you’ve highlighted a fair few things that I’ve spotted elsewhere.

    I think I’d add (possibly to the ‘peacocking’ thing?) that often people use ‘knowledge of the sport’ as a way to highlight even more strongly that they are masculine. Because often ‘masculine’ is seen to tie closely to ‘knowledgeable about sport.’ When I watch football (soccer) in the pub during e.g. the World Cup, I’ve had a fair few guys chip in to try and educate me about the rules (I’m not a die-hard football fan, but I do know the rules!) or to explain to me what the players are called. Thanks, dudes, but I already know.

    Maybe I’m a raging optimist, but I think things like this are dying down a bit, and I agree very much with the end of your post – there can be a fantastic sense of community when you’re supporting a team, and of course enjoyment of anything like that never has to be gendered!

    1. Re: Football knowledge, I feel like a lot of men have told me that other guys know more about football than they do. That separation between feeling like you don’t know enough and wanting to tell everyone what you do know is really interesting. I agree that things are slowly sort of breaking down.

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