- Sportista: Female Fandom in the United States by Andrei S. Markovits, Emily K. Albertson
In recent years scholars have become more attentive to exploring not only how sport is produced but also consumed. Unfortunately, research concerning fans’ engagement with and consumption of sport has maintained a narrow focus on male enthusiasts. This book, with its focus “on women’s experiences in their constant contestation to attain equal inclusion in our extant sports space” (p. 3), seeks to redress the gendered gaps in scholarship on fandom. Importantly, the book has the potential to offer us insight into the ways we relate to those around us as fans of sport, as well as the relationships we create there. In addition, and of significance, is an interrogation of the meanings we attach to sport and the sport spaces we inhabit as fans. Given the dearth of literature on the topic of female fandom it was with great enthusiasm and anticipation that I began the book.
Unfortunately just as female sports fans are “othered” beyond this book they are also, ironically, marginalized in this text, too. The narrative consists of six chapters and a focused discussion on female fandom does not begin until the book’s fourth chapter. To their credit the authors do attempt to contextualize women in sport beyond the singular role of being a fan. With that said, however, the first two chapters digress to the point of pulling the book’s focus too far afield from its core aim: female fans of sport. In chapter two for example, “Women in Men’s Worlds,” the authors “conduct a broader examination of the common processes of exclusion and suppression of females within male-dominated areas” (p. 38). Spaces under review include science, ROTC programs, business, and chess. Undoubtedly there is something to be gained from a larger scan of the instances in which women enter male-controlled “arenas.” The fact that men’s performance in these pursuits is the constant around which women are judged (and usually ultimately dismissed as less than) is, sadly, not new information, nor does it help the authors move an analysis of female fandom forward.
Women are “othered” in Sportista through a constant analysis of what they are not—men. Difference defines this book (making Michael Kimmel’s blurb on the back cover that much more puzzling) and is clearly articulated in many of the text’s foundational [End Page 172] questions such as, “In what way have men and women remained so different in terms of their following of sports?” or “How and why do women continue to ‘speak’ sports so differently from men?” (p. 3). Beginning with the book’s first pages women and men are treated as categorically different from each other with exhaustive detail provided of the myriad ways and places in which this difference is seen and plays itself out. Moreover, women and men, respectively are conceptualized as monolithic groups and thus differences between and among them get lost amid broader assumptions about women as a class and men as a class. In terms of sport knowledge and credibility the authors conclude: “Once again, the point is crystal clear: Men know women’s sports a lot better than women do, and they obviously know men’s sports a lot better as well” (p. 154). The book’s preoccupation with difference serves, as this example (and many others) illustrates, to push women and their experiences out of focus. Instead men, and to some extent women’s relationships to men with regard to fandom, hold the center.
It is in the book’s final pages where female sport fans speak for themselves and thus this section holds the most promise in understanding how “sportistas” construct meanings around their fandom. Unfortunately, the book cannot narrate away from an earlier thread—men’s impressions of female fans of sport. Moreover, the thirty-three women interviewed were an incredibly narrow sample of all white, college-educated women of middle- and upper-class standing. The...