During the height of my most ardent feminist days, I gave up watching the Super Bowl. Voluntarily.
This was Super Bowl XIX in 1985, the 49ers vs. the Dolphins. Joe Montana vs. Dan Marino. Hyped as a classic showdown between the two brightest young quarterbacks in the NFL.
And I was going to miss it. All of it.
My family was shocked. “I don’t believe it,” said my stepfather, who learned rather quickly after marrying my mother that I lived for Super Bowl Sunday, and essentially had since the age of 10. “You’re not going to see the game at all?”
No, I told him, not at all.
I had been invited by members of my NOW consciousness-raising group (hey, I was in this thing all the way) for a anti-Super Bowl party that featured a vegetarian meal, followed by conversation and anything else totally unrelated to football. There might have been some “women’s music” playing in the background, but my memory fails me on that one. Thank God there were adult beverages.
But there was no television. There was no way to check the score. There would be no talk of football at all. It was all about feminism and our heightened consciousness about our status as women, etc., etc.
At the age of 24, I accepted this dinner invitation because I wanted to feel adult and civilized, more sophisticated and refined than the chili-and-chicken wings marketing boorishness of the Super Bowl. The stupid beer-and-babes commercials were as rampant then as they are now, and I thought that by tuning out, I’d finally be outgrowing all that.
The guests were all wonderful people, and I enjoyed their company. For a while. But after an hour or so of this, and still feeling famished because there was no meat to eat, I started getting fidgety and anxious. Who’s winning? What’s the score? It’s gotta be a great game I’m missing. Montana. Marino. Gah!
I was screaming, starving on the inside, and not just for food. But in this group setting I pretended to be untroubled.
It was all about keeping up feminist appearances. And it was damn near killing me.
That Super Bowl wasn’t much of a game, unless you were a 49ers fan. Montana carved up the Dolphins for three touchdown passes in a 38-16 win. My disappointment at missing the game, no matter the verdict, was surpassed only by the misery of Miami fans.
What I didn’t sense until years later is that on this occasion, which I thought would be a major step toward outgrowing my tomboy adoration for “male” pursuits, I may well have started on the road toward outgrowing a very narrow brand of feminism that I ultimately did leave behind.
A world without football, without the Super Bowl, was no world I wanted to live in. But so much of what I had been peddled by my feminist “sisters” was that there are tradeoffs here, if you genuinely wanted to be one of them and be true to your gender. There were distinct choices to be made.
Maybe I wasn’t hanging out with the right people or hearing the right things, but I didn’t want to believe that “irreconcilable differences” applied here. I couldn’t divorce myself from such primal desires in order to be regarded as progressive woman of my time.
Establishment feminism has never been comfortable with the enjoyment of such primitive activities as football, with its routine violence that goes against everything they’ve been fighting for.
In his classic book “The Joy of Sports,” Michael Novak grasps the essence of what women’s groups and other leftist social movements of the 1960s and 1970s were protesting. The origins were in a revulsion toward the American military, empire and the Vietnam War, but football has remained a convenient domestic proxy:
“Football is a celebration of a not innocent and not rational and not liberal human condition. . . . Football gives lie to those who believe that the human being is fundamentally rational, liberal, peaceful, sweetly cooperative. In football, the dream of many a first-grade teacher for her darling little boys is shattered.”
And yet we love it so. Now more than ever. Despite, as I wrote on this blog not long ago, the contemporary handwringing of sports feminists who have declared football the enemy, not just of women’s sports, but of women.
As the Super Bowl has become to many less about football and more about the spectacle, the commercials, risqué halftime shows and patriotic F-14 flyovers, it pulls in far more viewers than football diehards like myself.
Including mainstream women. Nearly half of all Super Bowl viewers are women, and as Kristi Dosh writes on espnW, recent polling and census data reveals that a similar percentage of women call themselves regular football fans.
With a history of brilliant branding, marketing and advertising behind it, the NFL is catering to these women, and especially their sense of fashion.
Present-day feminism remains on the warpath with an organization calling itself “Miss Representation,” vowing to root out portrayals of women in Super Bowl commercials that are “demeaningly sexualized or entirely absent from the screen.”
Well, at least they’re not denouncing football altogether. As another earnest eradicator commented on an AAUW blog:
“This Sunday, I will be parked in front of the television to watch the game. And while the players on the field are fighting for a touchdown, I’ll be working toward the goal of telling advertisers and businesses that sexism won’t sell.”
You go girl.
Now do you see why I said goodbye to all this?
I don’t care much for sexist advertising, but I don’t think it’s the hindrance to women’s advancement in society that The Sisterhood wants us to believe it is.
Besides, there’s the matter of my traditional Super Bowl chili feed. I used to make something called Male Chauvinist Chili in my slow cooker, to fully exorcise the demon of that missed Super Bowl more than 25 years ago. But heavy doses of ground beef, bacon and sausage at the same time aren’t exactly what I need to eat these days.
I’ve toned down the recipe to favor lean ground beef, while kicking it up a few notches in Tex-Mex fashion, to enjoy our spicy pagan holiday without pulverizing my heart.
And hope that Madonna doesn’t have a wardrobe malfunction at halftime.