Gender Focus Panel: While the Men Watch

by | June 2, 2012
filed under Can-Con, Pop Culture

While the Men WatchThis past week the CBC ignited a teeny firestorm when it announced Hockey Night in Canada would be partnering with “While the Men Watch” – an audiocast and website hosted by two women friends and billed as “a first of its kind, live sports talk-show for women.”

According to the site:

“The female-friendly commentary keeps women entertained during football, hockey, basketball, baseball games and more.  The lively discussion follows sports from a woman’s point of view including everything from interpreting the rules of the game to coaches in need of a makeover.”

Co-host and co-creator Lena Sutherland appeared on CBC’s The Current earlier this week to defend the show, stating: “Well we recognize that it’s not for everyone. We’re having fun with it. It’s meant to be entertainment. All in good fun.” She made it clear she and co-host Jules Mancuso are not trying to replace or emulate female sportscasters, but that this is “an alternative option”. Canadian women’s hockey legends Cassie Campbell-Pascal and Sami Jo Small also appeared on the show to say they didn’t see the harm, but hockey blogger Julie Veilleux and some hockey fans who were interviewed say “While the Men Watch” is far from harmless.

“While I agree that it is entertainment I think that the way it’s executed is a little bit problematic….some examples like ‘Things Not to Say to Your Man After His Team Loses in the Finals’…they’re saying you can’t really refuse sex to your partner, basically. You need to take one for the team,” said Veilleux. She continued:

“What I think is that a lot of female fans are kind of tired of being put in that same box all the time and it really does feel like CBC or Hockey Night in Canada is treating all the female fans differently…it’s really hard not to feel that way when it’s called While the Men Watch, while they say themselves, you know, it’s the female perspective.”

OpenFile blogger Saira Peesker calls it  “brutal”, “unwatchable” and “taxpayer-funded sexism”. But what do Gender Focus contributors think about this? Check in with the panel after the jump.

Jessica Critcher:

I should probably start this off with a disclaimer that I don’t care for sports. I’ll root for the Steelers during football season so as to not be disowned by my family, and I root for Boston teams so I don’t get my car keyed,  but honestly I could take or leave professional sports. This isn’t because I’m a woman—it’s not like my ovaries are secreting some hormone that blocks my brain from understanding the rules and makes me roll my eyes. In fact, some of the biggest sports fans I know are women. Just try and have a telephone conversation with my mother during a Steelers game.

That is what rubbed me the wrong way about “While the Men Watch.” It implies that women can’t just like sports for the same reasons men do. They apparently enjoy other things, like zany background action or the sexiness of the athletes. It doesn’t really paint a flattering picture of male sports fans, either. The trope that men are glued to the game, ignoring their significant others, is useful for reinforcing a gender binary. Men like the rules and strategy while women pick imaginary “boyfriends.” Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus—right?

In addition to undermining our potential to enjoy the game, this thinking  implies that women are only allowed to have a connection to sports through heteronormative relationships and sexuality. To me the title “While the Men Watch” is code for, “Women are watching sports, but don’t worry, men are still watching sports too, like they’re supposed to, and this won’t in any way interfere with the established status quo.” This doesn’t seem to be about giving women their own voice in sports matters, but rather giving women their own tiny margin of acceptable participation. I guess the idea that women can legitimately enjoy watching or even—gasp—playing sports is still too extreme for people to process. Let me know when they air a show where we don’t know or care what “The Men” are doing.

Sarah Jensen:

Hey girlfriends! Are you ready for a sports show so sassy it’ll knock your Jimmy Choos right off?

Yeah, me neither.

While the Men Watch is “a new way to watch hockey”– and an old way to reinforce gender stereotypes.

I’m sure that there are some women who will love it (like that nice crazy lady who lives inside my television, dancing around while swifferring her house), and I’m honestly glad they’ll have a way of watching sports that won’t alienate them. I think a lot of women feel discouraged from watching many sports because they’re considered primarily masculine activities.

There are also many women, however, who will find it as empowering as if Cosmo introduced a sports section in their magazine.

Heather Klem:

While I understand the marketing angle of CBC sports partnering with “While the Men Watch”, this show would not exist if it weren’t for gender stereotyping.I am fascinated that companies see this as a demographic to target: girlfriends or wives of presumably male sports watchers who are bored and wholly uneducated in matters of athletics. Dubbing it “female friendly commentary” makes the assumption that standard sports talk is, as a default, not geared towards women. I am absolutely bummed that there aren’t more female faces on ESPN, but I wouldn’t say I believe the general tone or discussion of games to panders to men. I would say I marginally qualify as a sports fan; I enjoy attending games, but never once have I considered a game being more entertaining if a duo of women were giving me their “Feminized” play-by-plays with a side dish of appearance appraisal? No thanks. Sex and the City meets ESPN? The sole act of using this as a comparison shows the reinforcement of the assumption that sports is a man’s interest and females need something to keep them occupied, while still helping them relate to their significant other. I would venture to say that it sounds reminiscent of “My husband’s at work, I should clean, cook, sew, ____ (insert achingly antiquated version of being a female, the submissive partner in the marriage).” Perhaps I’m the minority, but when I go to games with my male and female friends we’re there as a collective group and there isn’t a division of interest or engagement with the games.

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