You aren’t what you wear

Sartorial choices on Game Day show us how far we have to go on the issue of gender equity

By Lauren Richardson, Columnist

MOUNT BERRY, Ga. – Football game days on college campuses give fans opportunity to express their passion and loyalty. One key component of this expression is what they wear.

But there are unwritten rules for what should and should not be worn. Males are free to wear whatever they please, be it a sports coat or no shirt at all. Face paint optional. Their masculinity isn’t called into question on the basis of these fashion choices. A male could even wear a dress to a game and it would likely be seen as a comical but acceptable form of expression, only adding to the spectacle. “Oh, he is such a clown.”


Females are held to a very different standard. No matter what it is that they choose to wear, these choices must be, in the end, feminine. Women are expected to emphasize their femininity by adding a pound of makeup and showing some skin. Whether they choose to wear a dress or a jersey, it must be clear that she is, in fact, a “she.”

A related problem is that women are rarely acknowledged as “true” fans. Their role on game day is to be supportive, but not fanatical, not even knowledgeable. In short, not someone who could actually enjoy watching football for its own sake. Of course, women are supposed to choose a side, but they aren’t expected to know anything about the players or even how the game is played.

I recognize that typically there are women at the game more for the overall social experience than for the competition on the field. But there are also a great many who truly love to watch football as fans of the game, and this isn’t aberrant behavior. Somehow, society has deemed it impossible for a woman to be as big of a football fan as a man.

If a woman wears a team sweatshirt or jersey, the common reaction of a male is something like, “Do you even know the second-string quarterback from 1987 to 1991?” An incorrect answer relegates her to “bandwagon” fan status. If she can name the benchwarmer from a bygone era, it is guaranteed that her response will be seen as merely a lucky guess. If a male answers correctly, it means that of course, he is a real, knowledgeable, committed fan.

It is this kind of thinking that pervades sports.

Women aren’t paid fairly because they don’t “have enough fans and don’t bring in enough money.” This is, of course, nonsense; the U.S. women’s national soccer team packs stadia, brings home World Cups, and even draws higher viewership than do the men.

Though we have made progress in breaking the glass ceiling in other areas, in the realm of sports, women at big games are reduced to eye candy and visual accessories. Think cheerleaders and Erin Andrews.

Another manifestation of this gender gap is what we see on social media, and for this, women, we might point at the mirror (and NOT take a photo).

Too often, for too many, Game Day isn’t centered on experiencing the game; it’s become a giant photo competition to see who can get the most attention from their photos. It begins with one female fan getting “dolled up” (just think about that term for a second) for a game and posting a selfie to Instagram. Commence a jealous frenzy, and let the envy games begin.

If our goal is merely to impress people, we will be seen as less credible as fans, and rightly so.

Imagine a ban on smartphones at the games. Heaven forbid that people would have to watch the game without distraction, without documenting their appearance. Of course, this scenario would make it more possible to dismiss the idea that female college students are only there to be seen.

Where many injustices with respect to gender are based on the prejudices of the opposite sex, false perceptions about just who is a real fan have been propagated by both men and women.

Maybe it’s time to put down the phone and put on the face paint.

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