Written by Alyssa Rosenberg
After Gisele got— I think understandably—upset about the Patriots’ inability to catch some key passes during the Super Bowl, the Giants Brandon Jacobs, who would you think would gleefully agree with her, wants her to know that “She just needs to continue to stay cute and shut up.” Because ladies couldn’t possibly have a valid opinion about sports, or investment in the game of football other than to be totally supportive arm candy for their dream quarterback husbands, amirite? But it’s all part of a larger culture that sends hugely confusing messages about how women are supposed to talk—or not talk—about sports.
Take the role of the sideline reporter. I don’t think it’s a problem for sideline reporters to be attractive—being physically attractive doesn’t inherently mean you can’t be intelligent, and television reporting of all kinds is one of the few professions where men have to meet at least some of the same physical beauty standards as women. But I think that sports networks and teams have created an environment where even intelligent female sideline reporters are treated as if they’re merely eye candy because there are enough cases where it’s impossible to imagine what other criteria a reporter was hired for other than her looks. And hiring in a way that suggests that appearance is the most important criteria gives the impression that either there aren’t qualified and attractive women available who can do things other than take rides on outfield trains and ask soft questions, or that even if said women exist, it doesn’t make sense to hire them to deliver the character fluff that is the designated role for women in sports commentary. If you’re hired (or expected) to be entertaining first and substantive as a bonus, people may react badly when you turn out to have ideas, or feel weirdly entitled to prioritize your role as an object of desire.
That kind of structural message means that within the context of sports, it’s apparently perfectly appropriate for men to behave in ways that women would be excoriated for. In a recent interview, Erin Andrews talked about dealing with harassment from “fans” and detractors alike. When the Cleveland Plain Dealer asked her “On the college campuses, in particular, how do you handle the goofus—or 10—who yells, ‘Erin, will you marry me?’” She said, “Unfortunately, it gets a lot nastier than that. It’s why I would never bring my father or a boyfriend to the game. I’ve had security guards who followed me and said, “It’s bad that you have to listen to this.” I tell them, “I don’t. I have earpieces.’” If a female fan got all gushy over an announcer or player, it would be taken as a sign of their unseriousness—there’s even Baseball Boyfriend , an app that lets women store picks in a “Little Black Book,” and instead of trades and pickups, treats players you shed as your “exes.” But apparently you can sexually harass Erin Andrews and still retain the impression that you’re totally focused on the substance of the game.
And this is how we get to Gisele. She couldn’t possibly be upset about the game because she’s come to care about football, in addition to caring that her husband is upset. She’s just a dumb broad who’s ventured out of the spot that’s designated for her: looking cute in the owners’ box. I wish I could say that Brandon Jacobs was an isolated sexist and a weirdly sore winner. But his comments about Gisele are in line with the primary role designated for women in sports commentary: look good, and don’t have inconvenient opinions.
This post was originally published by ThinkProgress.
Photo of Lindsay Czarniak from Keith Allison via flickr