By: Kimberly Southwick
A peer of mine once told me that any girl who likes football obviously “has Daddy issues.” A comment like that sticks with you. And hurts. My genuine love for a sport: narrowly defined and thereby defeated. Why are women not supposed to naturally enjoy watching sports—and in particular, football? Is it because men play football and women don’t? Couldn’t it be said, then, that only men with Mommy issues enjoy watching cheerleaders perform? Gendered depictions of sports fans, especially those that perpetuate women as sports-haters/ruiners and men who don’t like sports as sissies, are old-fashioned and should not be reinforced on television.
More specifically, I would like to take on Verizon’s #FOMOF advertisements. I read a great blogpost recently on Negley’s Nook called, “FOMOF Commercials Include Women, But Still Force Blame on Them”, which discuss the Verizon ads that run frequently on Sundays about “Fear of Missing out on Football”* She points out that regardless of the newest Verizon #FOMOF commercial’s featuring a woman (who has to attend a baby shower during game time,) the problem associated with the first two similar commercials (which feature men who choose to do what a woman in their lives want them to do rather than watch the game) still remains—women are depicted as what might lie between a sports fan (man or woman) and his/her gameday. Women are the ruiners in these commercials, which advertise NFL Mobile by Verizon’s ability to allow its consumers to take the game with them and therefore get the best of both worlds– apple picking with your wife and the game, for instance.
Women who love sports do understand that, yes, it is something like a baby shower that might remove them from their typical gameday experience, but the consistent blame placed on women for these offenses isn’t fair and does nothing positive for modern perspectives on gender. I’m offended by any commercial that maintains the stereotypes of a woman as what is in the way of anyone’s happiness. What can Verizon’s NFL Mobile do to right its wrong? Negley points out that the company’s best move here might be to feature a “manly man” who, on gameday, wants to go shopping, while his football-loving girlfriend wants to watch the game. Perpetuating gender roles might make for an amusing advertisement, but any gendered #FOMOF ads only reinforces negative stereotypes— even by turning the stereotypes around, as Negley suggests, viewers would most likely remain amused, but the dig would still be present. Role reversals often lead to the deepening of ingrained stereotypes rather than an exploration of them in a forward-thinking way worthy of 2013 and its complex notions of gender. A man who would rather shop than watch the game, no matter how “manly” he appears, is being asked to play the role that a woman would typically play in a gendered scenario—women stereotypically love shopping. And, in my imagination, this woman would also be a “reversed” woman—she would go to Nordstrom (or wherever our man-character wanted to shop) with black warpaint under her eyes, wearing a Peyton Manning jersey**, commenting on whether or not her boyfriend looks good in the button-ups he’s trying on, trying to hide her annoyance at missing the game. In fact, the commercial would probably end with the man looking in a mirror, turning to his girlfriend, saying, “Does this make me look fat?” and her rolling her eyes and clenching her fists.
Verizon NFL Mobile’s finger-pointing ads don’t negatively typecast only women, though. They’re bad for men who don’t necessarily like sports, who might enjoy apple picking on a Sunday afternoon over watching the game. I have often been told, after a fellow male fan or football lover realizes my devotion to the Philadelphia Eagles, that I will “make a man really happy someday” or something to that effect. My husband doesn’t like sports. He always jokes about how he bought a television and got cable when we first starting dating so that I would have a place in town to watch the game–and thereby could spend more time with him, despite his not-really-caring-as-much-as-me about football. The fact that I have a spot on my Dad’s couch already booked most Sunday afternoons is something that he has to deal with regularly. He’ll join us on occasion—he wouldn’t deny being a fan, he just doesn’t necessarily need to go out of his way on gameday like I choose to. Or there’s my story about the time I convinced an ex of mine in college to go with me to a sports bar to watch the Eagles play. He brought Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger and read the whole time. Now, while I’ve used the second example as a funny anecdote, the reactions to it are varied. My least favorite reaction involves something like, “What was wrong with him!” rather than someone merely thinking our differences were amusing. And finally, there’s my best friend Ian, who told my Dad once that he didn’t like football, to which my Dad responded “Well what do you like then? Prince?” as though, as a man, you either liked football or Prince, and that was that***. These men aren’t any less men than those who do enjoy football, despite what common backward-thinking gender stereotypes would assure someone. And my husband and I make each other happy– we have similarities, and we have differences. We both understand the sport and its intricacies, but only I care who comes out the victor on Sunday afternoons.
Sports are gendered. There is no getting around the fact that the only women in the NFL are on the sidelines—the cheerleaders, the broadcasters, the coaches’ wives, and maybe in 2014 we’ll have a female game official. Teenage girls might play “Powder Puff” football; men play professional football. Earlier this year for the first time in the history of the sport, a woman tried out (though didn’t make) for a professional team. Football is still gendered, and despite the fact, some women still love it. Perhaps it’s more acute to start a conversation around the fact that women and men watch sports differently, the same way that we generally experience the world differently due to the fact that we have different types of brains—not because it is a psychological error for a woman to like football.
If Geoff and I have children, it will be their mother who teaches them how to throw a decent spiral is and why going for it on fourth down isn’t something most coaches want to risk early in a game and backed up in their own territory. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If we have a son who prefers apple picking with Dad on Sundays to watching the game with Mom, that’s okay with me, too. Can we stop blaming women for making fans miss out on watching a game? Women should be allowed to care about sports without consequence or commentary like, “You like sports! You’re good wife material then because men like sports, too!” And men should be able to maintain their masculinity without preferring football to anything they would otherwise do on a Sunday afternoon—shoot hoops, go for a hike, hold band practice, shop, or rock out to Prince.
*Negley points out, politely, that the hashtag then should really be #FOMOOF—but since there are larger issues at stake here, she and I will both let that one go, #amiright?
**Don’t get me wrong– I wear my Vick jersey on Sundays. But usually with a sparkly black tutu over jeggings. I’m stylish.
***Perhaps ironically, considering how often Ian and I tell this story, my Dad’s favorite recent Superbowl halftime performance? Prince.