On the Gender Gap in Fandom
Mary Weider is 104 years old. She was born in 1911, and came to America in 1926, the same year she went to her first Detroit Tigers game. For a bit of perspective, the team was founded in 1901, meaning it was still a relatively young franchise when Mary saw the Tigers take the field for the first time (not much older than the Rockies and Marlins are today).
Mary still goes to games. She is famous for her “I’m 104 Years Old and I Love My Tigers” signs. Just last year she threw out the first pitch at a game, and the age of 103. This year she’s up for the MLB Tigers Fan of the Year award.
Mary Weider is what a baseball fan looks like.
One of the hallmark arguments gatekeeper fans like to trot out when trying to claim someone is a “lesser” fan is the length of time they’ve been watching the game. While Mary’s 78-year record is hard to beat, most of us can only hope to call ourselves fans that long. I myself have only been a Tigers fan for 6 years. I started to watch the games with my then-boyfriend as a way to spend time together, and found myself falling head over heels in love… with the game. I flirted with the fandom in my youth, during the Jays 1992 and 1993 seasons (and still have the shirts to prove it, if anyone needs receipts), but the baseball strike of 1994 was too much for my short 11 year old attention span to overcome.
So, 6 years of dedicated, borderline insane fandom. I paid $800US for a World Series ticket in 2012. Probably spent close to $2500 to spend under 48 hours in the Windsor-Detroit area (while injured and ill) to see the Tigers get swept in 4 games. I have seen the Tigers play in Minneapolis, Washington, Chicago, and Kansas City. I start planning vacations when the new season schedule gets released. I probably have the only car in Manitoba with an old English D decal on the back. I have a Tigers tattoo.
I am what a baseball fan looks like.
When the New York Times Arts magazine reviewed the new Fox series Pitch this past week, they asked the question “How will Pitch cater to the hard-core baseball fan expecting authenticity while still appealing to women?” As if the two are somehow mutually exclusive.
Baseball fans on Twitter naturally retaliated to this absurd question with the hashtag #WhatABaseballFanLooksLike, in an attempt to remind the New York Times Arts mag that women and hard-core fans were, in fact, the same thing, and Pitch will likely have no problem appealing to both. (This remains to be seen, but I will be posting a review when the first episode airs this week)
This is a problem female fans deal with relentlessly. We’re told we aren’t true fans, aren’t savvy enough about the game, are only in it for the cute players, and couldn’t possibly understand the nuances. Every day female sports fans, female sports writers, and women who work in the field are bombarded with negativity about our fandom. In a sport that is dominated by men in ever facet, from the players to managers to trainers, women are told we can’t even be real fans.
But we aren’t listening. We’re talking over the backlash.
According to an analysis done by social analytics platform Klear on behalf of the website FanZeal, 38.6% of all comments made on social media about MLB teams are made by women. Women watch baseball. Women tweet about baseball. (Some of us even blog about it because we are too opinionated for 140 characters or less). Women. Love. Baseball.
So when NYT Arts asks, “Can Pitch appeal to fans AND women” it’s overlooking one very important truth: it only has to do one, to do both.
— Lakia Holmes (@Lakia_Holmes) September 16, 2016
— Satara Dickey (@sataraLdickey) September 16, 2016
— Laura (@shirhallelujah) September 16, 2016
— NatsDugoutLibrarian (@NatsLibrarian) September 16, 2016
There are so many wonderful examples. Check out the #WhatABaseballFanLooksLike hashtag on Twitter and let it warm your heart. Or fill you with misogynist rage. I dunno, you do you.