Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Unintentionally and Maddeningly Sexist

Last Sunday, we, like many couples, spent the day watching football. Notice I wrote couples. We still tend to think of sports as something a man watches alone, just him, his pork rinds, his beer, and his favourite recliner, or else with a bunch of buddies and half a dozen pepperoni pizzas. But those days are evaporating. Families do things together now, including watch football, and the NFL is the first to take note. They are actively courting female viewers and female fans because - shock! - that's a huge demographic, isn't it? If you want to keep expanding, you'd better not ignore the woman holding the remote. So they're making jerseys in smaller sizes, and making the players wear pink during breast cancer awareness month, and pretending to be mad when players hit their wives.

Football was never my thing, but it's one of Sean's favourite sports, and Sean is a sport junkie. He has no idea what's going on in the world unless I tell him, but he scours the internet for every written word about games played competitively. We don't watch a lot of TV, but he uses every spare moment to watch highlights on his phone or on his tablet. So I make an effort to watch the big games with him, and to bring him to see some of these games in person, a splurge he never considered before we met. And this year, to further bridge the gap, I joined a football pool.

Which means that last weekend, the conference championships, was a really big weekend for us. If you watched that first nail-biter of a game, Seattle vs Green Bay, well, I don't have to tell you how awful it was to watch. Sean and I both had our money on the Seahawks so of course they were down 16-zip at the half and didn't start playing football until the last 5 minutes of the game when they somehow came back but left too much time on the clock, allowing the Packers to tie it up and force it into overtime. Seattle rallied with a touch down to win the game, but not before wringing out just gallons of sweat from all the viewers at home.

Later that night, after the Patriots had deftly defeated the Colts, we got into bed to check out our standings in the the pool. Since I'd put my bets on all the right horses, I'd had an excellent week, topping off a pretty excellent season. Out of 186,077 players in our league, I somehow have managed to come out in the 99th percentile. 99th percentile, bitches! And I owe it all to Sean, who taught me everything I know about football, and who has struggled to remain somewhere between the 25th and 35th percentile throughout the season himself. Ouch. Why am I so goddamned good at this? I have no idea. I read what I can and I have no allegiance to players or teams. In fact, I drive Sean bonkers with my player assessments. He knows how good a guy is, what his stats are, how he played last year, and the year before that. I know if he's done a spread for GQ or dated Jessica Simpson. And I'm the one in the 99th percentile.

So the next day, Sean goes to work and inevitably ends up discussing the games with a male coworker who also was watching them enthusiastically. Sean was able to regurgitate to him some stats he'd read about the game - that the Packers had had a 96.1% chance of winning with 5:04 left in the fourth quarter (leading 19-7). They discussed the historic, unprecedented game in minute detail, and the season more generally, and the upcoming SuperBowl with glee. In fact, over the course of the conversation, the only thing that curiously did not get a mention was that Sean's very own wife had a super-stellar football pool record.

I've worked hard at that stupid pool, making picks every single week, and I'm proud of my record, which is way too good to be due to just chance, or beginner's luck, so when Sean failed to give me my props, I called him on it. He insisted that he'd just "forgotten" but I know damn well that if it was Sean's brother who had that kind of record, or his father, or his friend, or best of all, himself, he'd be boasting to everyone and might even consider reprinting his business cards. But his wife? She didn't get a mention. In fact, his wife doesn't come up when he discusses football with any other men, period. But forget about me? Forget about that 99th percentile? The guy who remembered that the Seahawks had just a 3.9% chance of winning that game? I don't think so.

But he assured me he didn't forget about me completely. In fact, during that same day of work, while heating up his lunch of leftovers, a female coworker commented on how good it smelled and he proudly told her that I'd made him a very nice meal the night before (during the first half of the Patriots game in fact) and that he was glad to have the remnants for lunch. So he remembers to tell people (or female subordinates, at least) I'm good in the kitchen, just not that I'm also really good at picking winners.

I told him that was a pretty sexist thing to do, and of course he balked. I will be the first tell you that Sean doesn't hate women, or want to keep them down. He's actually a pretty forward-thinking guy and doesn't mind when I out-earn him or out-run him or out-think him. But apparently there's a limit.

He thinks it's not sexist unless it's overt, but that's the worst kind of thinking there is. In fact, the worst kind of sexism is the kind you can't quite put your finger on, but happens all the time, to good people unintentionally keeping women "in their place", and that includes complimenting them on gender-stereotyped things, like cooking, and not on unstereotypical things, like football pools. This is called "benevolent sexism" and is a pretty dangerous thing considering people don't even realize when they're guilty of it.

So I'm calling out my sweet, sensitive, equality-for-all husband. It's not harmless just because it isn't intentional. And maybe individually these things don't mean much, but all of these slights add up culturally to a huge discrepancy that still exists today, in 2015. It's way too easy to reinforce a stereotype, and if Sean is any kind of barometer, it's hard to get someone from the dominant group to confront his own biases. We're all defensive about these things, but as citizens of this time period, and this shrinking earth, I think it's our job to be vigilant and aware.

1 comment:

kenju said...

I hate football.