Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sportista: New book looks at female sports fandom

If you had to describe female sports fans, what would you say about them? How do they consume sports? How do they talk about sports? How are they “treated” by the traditionally male sports culture? What are the media outlets that serve their interests? 

Not sure where to begin answering these question? No worries. A new book is here to offer some answers. 

Andrei Markovitsand Emily Albertson from the University of Michigan wrote a book titled Sportista: Female Fandom in the United States, which attempts to fill the knowledge gap about women fans, or in other words, women as consumers of sports. 

The introduction starts with the observation that the democratic and participatory nature of sports fandom, though inclusive on a number of levels, has systematically excluded women. The particular focus of the book is on “sportistas,” whom the authors describe women who are “immensely passionate and knowledgeable about sports” (p. 5). 

The book lives up to the promise of beginning to fill the gap about female fandom. But it does much more than that. It carefully contextualizes the experiences of female fans within gendered relations and norms that shape the US sports culture and continue to position women as inferior to men in their sports-related experiences. 

This context also provides a glimpse into women as athletes, media subjects and sports journalists to draw parallels as well as distinctions between their experiences and the experiences of women as fans. These experiences, while not mutually exclusive, might not overlap.  

In fact, one of the most important agendas of the books seems to be to delineate doing sports and that of following sports with a particular attention to how these behaviors are gendered.

To get to what I would consider the most intriguing discussion of the book, you have to be patient and wait until the very last chapter in which the authors discuss the promises of sports media outlets targeted towards women, more specifically espnW. Here, they introduce another distinction when they say: “To cater to the female athlete is not to necessarily to cater to the female sports fan; ‘women sports fans’ are, as we know, not necessarily ‘women’s sports fans’” (p. 222).

If there is one thing you want to get out of this book is this one: sportistas, hard-core female fans, are out there. They have to constantly prove themselves, they lack credibility, their knowledge is questioned and--or perhaps because--they are perceived as threats to the male domain of sports. But they are there and their experiences are important to examine. Despite the challenges that sportistas face, the authors write: "Being a sportista offers much-valued social currency and provides distinction that is immensely positive and pleasing" (p. 218).

We are yet to learn more about the female fans. Sportista is a great start.

The primarily scholarly work, spiced up with the authors’ personal anecdotes, makes for an enjoyable read that questions assumptions not only about the female sports fan, but ultimately the very organization of sports in the United States.

-- Dunja Antunovic

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