Why Do Men Feel So Threatened by Female Athletes?


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A sexist internet troll recently stated that he could beat any trained female athlete in a fight, and MMA professional Tara LaRosa accepted his challenge. The match was to be broadcast live via Facebook on January 6th, except for one small thing: the police and the State Athletic Commission showed up and shut it down. The internet troll still wants to make the bout happen, suggesting that it could perhaps take place in someone’s “backyard.”


Humiliating this ridiculous man sounds like fun, but does it set a dangerous precedent: Should women waste their time on misogynistic men when they could be concentrating on their actual opponents (other female athletes)?

Sadly, if you are a female athlete or a woman who loves sports, you have come into contact with many men like this in your lifetime. “The Battle of the Sexes” isn’t even all that much of a retro concept, what with John McEnroe idiotically claiming that Serena Williams would rank 700th in men’s tennis. The 701st-ranked male even felt the need to be even more idiotic by stating that while he is not in the best physical shape of his life, he could still beat her while she was pregnant.

Stephen Miller, a senior White House advisor who is helping to shape many policies that affect our everyday lives, once forced himself into the last moments of a girls’ track meet to show that men are faster than women. This is something that the White House does not deny; in fact, they confirmed it.

Why do these men feel the need to believe they are better than all women, especially at sports? 

I’ll never forget when a 65-year-old man who never watched soccer before in his life told me that he could play better than the US Women’s National team. He wasn’t even kidding. He was dead serious.

This level of delusion is common, according to professor of sports media Edward Kian, who told the New York Times, “Many of the guys who sucked at organized sports and stopped playing at younger ages wrongly believe they are better than high-level female athletes in those sports. You see and hear this in the gym regularly, and it is laughably pathetic.”

WNBA star Sue Bird has two Olympic Gold medals, but basic men constantly tell her that they could beat her at basketball.  Social media is rampant with male trolls who hate women’s sports, so much so that ESPNW disabled comments on their website.

As women’s football becomes more prominent, so does the vitriolic response from fragile men. After the Football Association’s Women’s Super League started this season in England with a derby pitting Everton Ladies against Liverpool Ladies, there were hundreds of men commenting on BBC Sport’s coverage of it. Their biggest complaint was that the BBC was giving any coverage to it at all. They insulted the quality of the women’s skills, all while never watching a single second of the game.

A popular Arsenal soccer blog had to post a list of reminders due to “unfortunate interactions” on all of their posts about the women’s team: “When you think you’re making a joke by saying something about women staying in the kitchen, you’re not funny. You’re a tired, boring old sexist and you can find somewhere else to share your so-called humour. We recommend you do us all a favour and make it the inside of an active volcano.” 

Unfortunately, FIFA paid the US men’s soccer team $9 million for losing in the Round 16 of the 2014 World Cup, while the women only got $2 million for winning the 2015 World Cup and men will not shy away from claiming that this is fair. The US women’s team had the most-watched game on television ever, but the male-dominated United States Soccer Federation still got the lawyers involved to fight against equal pay. 

Others will also point out that women shouldn't get paid the same as men because they can't beat a group of teenaged boys, or old fat men in wheelchairs, or a pack of roosters, or wild tomcats, or male mosquitoes. Oh, and add to the list those male outlet plug things. They would surely win against women too, okay? Because men RULE and they are soooo awesome and should always get paid more because girls have cooties! 

It’s maddening that our male coworkers, brothers, husbands, uncles, fathers, cousins, pastors, politicians, and bosses don’t think that women deserve equal pay, even when we are world champions.

But it shouldn’t even matter that the women are world champions and the men are not. It’s an insanely high bar, one that isn’t always achievable. People should be paid fairly and not based on their genitalia.

Why is that such a revolutionary idea?

Is it because men will become uncomfortable about their own lives and how they are being paid more than women are in their own fields? There are men who center their identity around supremacy over women and not having that terrifies them. The thought of a woman getting paid more than them or running faster than them is absolutely antithetical to everything they’ve ever been taught about life’s hierarchy.

Zoë Quinn, a gamer that was severely trolled for being a woman, spoke to New York magazine, and her experience could be applied to any profession. When reading the following quote, swap “games” with “football” or “basketball” or any other sport for that matter:

“When you have been told as a boy that games are for you, you have this deep sense of entitlement. Then they’re told they deserve fancy cars and hot women. When they don’t have that, they’re like, At least we have games. And then they see women saying, no, we’re here too. I’m a stand-in for other bullshit they’ve got going on. They are the hero of their own story, and when you think you’re the good guy, you can get away with doing anything.”

One could argue that they are just trolls and we should ignore them, but these types of people are in control of our government.

Studies show that people that voted for Trump (and the likes of Stephen Miller) did so because of a fear of diversity and equality. Former White House advisor Steve Bannon has spoken about the power of “rootless white males.” Journalist Joshua Green, who wrote a book about Bannon, told NPR:

“But the lesson [Bannon] took away from that was that these rootless white males who spend all their time online actually had what he told me was "monster power" to go out and [effect] change, and that they operated at a kind of sub-rosa level that most people didn't see. So when he moved over to Breitbart News a couple years later, one of his goals he told me was trying to track these people and radicalize them in a political sense, which is basically what wound up happening.” 

Sports are a reflection of the political landscape that helps to shape society. As the US women’s soccer team and other teams around the world fight for equal pay, it’s important that sane and rational human beings support them. 

Here’s how to resist by supporting female athletes: 

• Become a fan of Invicta Fighting Championships, a female MMA organization

• Comment positively on female athlete’s skills (and not their looks) on social media to drown out any hateful remarks.

• Support leaders of athletic federations that vow to pay men and women equally, or consider running yourself.

• Write about women’s sports.

• Follow EspnW and female athletes and journalists on Twitter.

• Play sports, no matter what your age is!

• Sign your daughters up for sports.

• Pitch in and handle the child-rearing activities while your female partner plays a sport.

• Become a coach or push for the hiring of female coaches for your local teams.

• Buy jerseys and other merchandise of female athletes.

• Donate to female athletes to fund their travel and training.

• Donate to Soccer Without Borders.

• Support the NWSL Players Association.

• Fight for equal funding in schools.

• Watch women’s sports on television or online and attend games in person.

• Men, if other men troll women’s sports, call them out on it instead of laughing.

• Take your daughters and sons to women’s sporting events.

• In the workplace, don’t only talk to men about sports, and only about male sports — women exist, too!

• At the work water cooler, ask everyone what they thought of the Thorns game against the Courage, and don’t even explain if they look confused. (They should know.)

Photo by Edwin Martinez via Wikimedia Commons

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Rachel Rose Gold covers soccer for SB Nation.  She loves Beyonce, cats, sports, and books.  She tweets at @RachelRoseGold1.

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