I have been a sports fan for as long as I can remember. Both of my parents are huge basketball fans; my mom even played Division I basketball in college. It was going to be in my genes to love basketball. When my family moved to the Washington, D.C. area about a year before I was born, my dad decided we had to “adopt” a local college basketball team to root for. That team became George Washington University, and I became an avid fan of them since I was an infant.
Being a female sports fan isn’t always as simple as being a male sports fan. I have been lucky enough to not have had many direct encounters with men doubting my sports comprehension, but I have had friends doubted and quizzed about their sports knowledge simply because they claim to be a female sports fan. Growing up as a young female sports fan, I too felt the societal pressures to act my gender. Around middle school I suddenly felt self-conscious about loving basketball, and no longer wanted to attend games. I still loved the sport, but I didn’t want to admit that to myself or my family, because I felt that as a girl I shouldn’t want to spend my weekends attending sports games. After years of this, I decided it didn’t matter what society thought of me—and frankly who besides me was all that concerned about my sports attendance anyway? I went back to watching the game I loved and would proudly tell anyone that, “yeah, I’m a basketball fan.”
Why has society decided that sports are for men, not women? People of any gender can love sports. But society doesn’t just change on it’s own. So, I’ve got some tips for how to deal if you too are a female sports fan, and if you want to raise the next generation of female sports fans.
Encourage a Passion From a Young Age
My parents were happy to enroll me in whatever I wanted to do as a young girl, and I tried everything from ballet to gymnastics to softball to basketball. No one told me that some of those things were girlier than others. Likewise, my family didn’t try to force me into basketball simply because it was their favorite sport. They encouraged me to try it, and when I liked playing, they kept signing me up. Through playing, basketball became a passion of mine. My mom then encouraged me to play with the boys at recess in order to improve my skills. I got great joy out of playing just as hard as the boys in my third grade class.
I miss that young un-self-consciousness. At age 8, I liked being different. I knew that playing basketball at recess wasn’t what most of the girls were doing, but I liked defying gender norms and shocking the boys with my skill. I still remember with pride one of them saying, astounded, “if your team wins, Rebecca should definitely be the MVP.” Before kids hit puberty, it’s much easier for girls and boys to play on an equal level. So, encourage your daughters if they show an interest in sports. Give them the confidence to believe that they too can play with the boys. Encourage them to not be self-conscious about their love. Puberty will still come and gender pressures will still become influential, but at least it’s a good start.
Become a Fan of Female Sports
What better way to encourage your daughters’ love of sports than to show them accomplished women playing sports? Growing up, I attended both male and female basketball games, and loved both equally. The women on the court inspired me. I wanted to be as talented as them one day. When I was little, I didn’t dream that people would appreciate female sports so much less. It saddens me that people watch and love them much less than male sports. But as a female sports fan, we can make a difference. We can inspire our daughters through showing them incredible women athletes.
The women’s game in many sports is often more technical—women tend to rely more on skill than on strength. But this is incredibly cool! When watching women’s basketball, you get to see the game played in the way it was meant to. You can watch with awe as the women perform incredible skills to carry the ball across the court and get it in the basket. And through watching, you can inspire your daughters to imitate the same skills when they play.
In my opinion, the attitude around female sports fans is inherently tied to the attitude around female sports in general. So why not support your fellow women? If more and more people watch women’s sports, it will slowly gain the popularity and respect that men’s sports has.
Own Being a Female Sports Fan
It’s so easy to be intimidated by male sports fans. And it’s common to feel that liking sports isn’t a women’s place. But it’s the 21st century! Women can do and like anything a man does. So don’t shy away from your love of sports, and certainly don’t encourage your daughter away from it. Let your daughter see you cheering on your favorite game, and she too will think it's okay to love sports. Don’t back down when guys question your sports knowledge. Also, don’t feel bad if you’re not “enough of a fan.” Even if you don’t watch every game of your favorite team, you can still call yourself a sports fan. No one can take that label away from you. So, female sports fans, wear your fandom with pride. You get to decide what you like.
It’s not always easy to be a fan of something typically dominated by men. But if you’re a female sports fan, it’s important to be proud of that. Support your fellow women athletes and encourage your daughters to love whatever they want to love. After all, crushing the patriarchy comes with baby steps.