As my colleague Jeremy Stahl makes clear, Tuesday night’s World Cup match between the United States and Germany was a riveting game of soccer. Sports analysts at FiveThirtyEight predicted this would be the greatest women’s soccer matchup of all time—no pressure, ladies!—and it didn’t disappoint, with both teams bringing some serious hustle despite having to play on artificial turf.
My boyfriend and I secured a central location at a very crowded sports bar in Brooklyn to watch the USWNT, which meant overhearing people’s conversations during the game. About halfway through, I realized that in all the happy chatter, one thing often overheard during women’s games was missing: defensiveness. No one seemed to feel the need to justify watching a women’s sport or even acknowledge the sexism that always flares up in general sports fandom every time the Women’s World Cup comes around. They were talking about the game with the same ease and enthusiasm when watching men play a sport.
It is not usually this way. Even during the previous USWNT game, a man sitting next to me tried to guilt-trip me for paying more attention to the U.S.–China game than the Colombia–Argentina Copa America quarterfinal that was playing at the same time. It was irritating but not surprising. Men who imply that fans of women’s teams don’t really understand sports or that watching women play is some kind of charity act is a constant problem in women’s sports. It’s the same story, over and over: Dude says women’s sports suck, fans of women’s sports push back, sexist dude smirks about how defensive the women are, and now the topic is yet again whether women really deserve equality instead of talking about, you know, the game.
This year’s most public example of this vicious cycle came courtesy of Sports Illustrated writer Andy Benoit, who got a lot of backlash when he tweeted that women’s sports are boring. Sexist haters love to fling around the word boring, both because it’s hard to argue back against a subjective assessment and it implies that anyone who watches the game is doing so out of some kind of political duty instead of pleasure. The rejoinders to him were good, don’t get me wrong. Will Leitch did a fine job breaking apart why boring is a superficial accusation. Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers used this as an opportunity to crack some clever sports jokes.
But I’m sick of defending the entertainment value of women’s soccer. It’s like trying to argue that it feels good to have sun on your skin or that ice cream tastes good. This is just the sports-world version of men who call women “crazy” in order to shame women out of having perfectly normal feelings that happen to inconvenience the men. Men who try to control what others find fun clearly just have hangups about women. It’s time we stop trying to argue them out of their hangups and just laugh at them instead.
Watching the game without any hint of those guys around was really fun. Just relaxing and watching the women kick butt without having to catalog it as further evidence that wrong guys are wrong was such a relief. I would like to have more game-watching opportunities like that, please.