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Viewpoint: Sportistas, not sex objects

BY MAURA LEVINE

Published November 7, 2012

Every once in a while you come across a “tomboy” who loves to watch sports, shout with the guys and follow the stats of her favorite team. She dons her favorite player’s jersey and wouldn’t miss game day for the world. But these women seem a rarity. In the new book “Sportista: Female Fandom in the United States,” Political Science Prof. Andrei S. Markovits and Michigan Law student Emily Albertson address this phenomenon.

They delve into the intricacies of the “sportista” and what makes her tick. They reveal the reasons for her behavior with empirical research. In the field of sports, women are not accepted as equals to men — they're marginalized and presented differently. This issue faces all women on campus every time the game is on, whether they’re on or off the field.

Across our campus, men and women care about sports in different ways. When asked in a classroom setting to write an index card with all the German soccer players they can remember who played in the World Cup, the male students always knew more than the women across the board. Men pondered this question diligently, taking care and effort to write their answers as thoroughly as possible. Women, on the other hand, didn’t know as much and simply didn’t care. They blew through the exercise, turning the card in quickly after jotting down a single name.

While performing this study and other similar ones in Ann Arbor, Markovits came across a few female students who stuck out — women who looked at sports in a different light and seemed to care just as much as the men about their answers. Markovits began to ask these “sportistas” about their experiences and found several common traits.

Women who gathered initial interest and maintained interest in sports had pressure from adults, peers or their own self-perceptions to keep playing and watching their favorite games and teams. They generally had fathers who positively influenced them to care about, watch or play sports.

Unfortunately, men do not accept these women or give them credibility. When participating in a conversation with men about sports, a knowledgeable woman is scorned. It’s unfathomable in American society that a woman could possibly know as much about sports as a man simply because it isn’t the “norm.” When men come across a woman with extensive sports knowledge and passion, they often think, “You shouldn’t know this!” and write her off without a second thought.

A sports-savvy woman is disregarded unless she’s Erin Andrews or Bonnie Bernstein. These women, among several others, are celebrated and respected female sportscasters. They gained credibility, however, through beauty and sex appeal. Markovits and Albertson argue that female athletes and sportscasters have been sexualized across the globe. Female athletes frequently appear naked in Playboy and female sportscasters are often viewed only for their dazzling appearance rather than for their reporting capabilities. While some may argue that the sexual hype helps women get their name out before eventually being seen as legitimate athletes, that doesn’t mean it isn’t degrading. Women shouldn’t have to be sexualized to be popular and celebrated. Male athletes don’t have to appear fully naked in a magazine to be held in high esteem for their efforts on or off the field.

Here at the University, our female sports are not nearly as distinguished as their male counterparts. Women's basketball games don’t draw the same crowd as the men's, and we’re always talking about our star football players instead of our female Olympians.

Like everywhere else in the world, women athletes are seen as either sexy or undesirable and female sports fans are written off as posers. While it’s true that, on average, women don’t take as much of an interest in sports as men, we should respect the “sportista” athletes and fans, on campus and across the world, and recognize their interests and achievements sans the sexual objectification.

Maura Levine is an LSA sophomore.