Navigating football fandom as a feminist: a Q&A with Jen of ‘Roethlisberger Castration Society’ zine

I have complicated feelings towards football.  I often find myself so turned off by the uber-macho, hyper-aggressive culture surrounding football that when I do sit down and watch it, I am often surprised by how much enjoy the game itself.  Stripped of all of the bombast and noxious attitudes and hero worship, the sport itself is almost elegant in the way it employs a handful of elements in an infinite number of combinations.   I know I would be more inclined to be a football fan if I didn’t feel like so much about the culture surrounding the sport was offensive to me as a feminist.

It’s that conflict – that of “football fan” and “feminist” – that gave rise to one of my favorite zines of the previous year.  My pal Jen Twigg put out a zine called “Roethlisberger Castration Society,” in which she explored the tension between her love of the pigskin and her belief in gender and sexual equity for all.  I will admit that when I first picked up the zine, I had a good laugh at the title, but as I read it, I was struck by how sincere Jen was in her love of football and her desire to see it become a more egalitarian culture with room for fans of all kinds.  She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her zine for the readers of this blog, so read on for her thoughts about navigating the often-conflicted territory between being a feminist and a football fan:

1. You named your zine “Roethlisberger Castration Society.” How did you come up with that title?  Do you ever get any pushback from fans about that?

I actually came up with “Roethlisberger Castration Society” when I was trying to think of a good name for my team in the Feminist Fantasy Football League. It’s common in fantasy leagues to name your team using a clever play-on words with a team or player’s name in it — for example, other teams of mine are named Unitas By Fate and Perfect Strahangers. I wanted something a bit more political for the feminist league, though, and people were still fuming about Roethlisberger being outed as an assaulter who only got a slap on the wrist, so it just came to me.

It’s hard to gauge what kind of pushback I actually receive from the zine name, because no one has ever contacted me to say that they had a problem with it! It has a way of polarizing perusers at zine fests; many people come over, pick it up, and/or buy it just because they were drawn to the outlandish name, but i’ve also noticed people pick it up, absorb what the title says, and put it back down quickly. Invoking the concept of castration in retaliation for assault is definitely something I did on purpose to make people (specifically cis dudes) uncomfortable.

2. What inspired you to write the zine in the first place?

I’ve been not just a football fan, but a fan of and participant in various other sports for most of my life. As I came into feminist/political consciousness in my late teens & early twenties, I found that I often had a hard time reconciling that awareness with continuing to enjoy male-dominated professional sports that seemed to celebrate and excuse shitty macho behavior as long as a particular athlete continued to perform. It was the same with most media (something I noticed particularly as a media scholar); once I opened up the part of my brain that examines and criticizes popular television shows, films, and such, I’ve never been able to turn it off. Don’t get me wrong, I still watch stuff like My Super Sweet Sixteen and I don’t feel guilty about it, but I am also always thinking about the ways in which female and POC characters are depicted, how audiences might be affected, and so forth. And in watching sports, I enjoy them immensely while still noticing all the fucked up things about sports and fan culture. So, I started to write about it.

Courtesy of Stranger Danger Distro

3. It feels like we are always hearing about some intersection between sexual assault and football, whether it’s Roethlisberger or Steubenville or now the girl who reportedly committed suicide after she was harassed by Notre Dame players.  All of this is happening within the culture that has sprung up around a sport you enjoy.  How do you reconcile your fandom with the fact that the sport’s culture is fostering some pretty nasty strains of misogyny?  (Or rather than fostering it, perhaps amplifying what is already present in our culture?)

It’s disgusting and disheartening, and it makes me sad every time I hear about something new. Football in particular fosters an environment that gives free/extremely lightened passes to, and even privileges, athletes’ bad behavior as long as they are performing their role as a cog in the capitalist machine that makes the huge entity of the NFL (or the NCAA) chug onward. But you’re also right in saying that these behaviors are only being amplified from an underlying dominant misogynistic culture. They may be heightened and more publicized in pro sports, but you can find them in every facet of our society (not to be grim!).

For example, punk is also full of macho assholes who assault women and get away with all kinds of things, but I’m still in bands and I still go to shows because there are a lot of parts of punk that are NOT those macho assholes, and it’s a really valuable community to me. Similarly, there are a lot of good things about football, things that I value, and I’d rather talk about this stuff in hoping to make a change than to stop being a fan altogether. That may be a bit self-serving, since I want to keep enjoying football, but this is something there’s no easy answer for so I just try to be honest about my intentions.

4. What do you think about the “good guys” of the sport – guys like the Vikings’ Chris Kluwe and the Ravens’ Brendon Ayanbadejo?

Decent humans in pro sports give me real hope for change! I’m specifically talking about people in positions of power within the system of pro football who are able to use that position to speak out or take a stand about really important things, even when it means risking bad press and controversy. Chris Kluwe and Brendon Ayanbadejo are perfect examples, but I also wrote in my zine about Deangelo Williams, who helped kickstart the NFL’s fundraising campaign for breast cancer research every October in memory of his four aunts, as well as former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s $1 million domation to Georgetown University to open a LGBTQ center on campus, the first of its kind at any Catholic university. When we talk about small shifts that can change the course of a behemoth over time, this is what we mean — looking towards a more inclusive NFL where players can be openly gay free of stigma, the NFL using its massive media presence for some form of good, etc.

5.  Also, I’ve heard a bit about feminist fantasy football from some of the other ladies up in Chicago. Are you in that league?  Tell me a bit about it if you are!

I absolutely LOVE feminist fantasy football! I’ve never been part of anything like it before. This is a space where political women who also love football can form a community together. We’ve gotten together a few times as a group to hang out and watch games, but our main interactions are in smaller friend groups, and online in the shit-talk boxes of our weekly fantasy games. It’s refreshing to get to talk about something you love with other people who “get it”, and to have a connection to so many other rad women. And in our league, NOBODY drafts Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger Castration Society #1 is available for $2 at Stranger Danger Distro.  A second issue is in the works and will include some writing by yours truly!  You can also find out more about Jen’s band, the Ambulars, at the band’s tumblr.

3 responses to “Navigating football fandom as a feminist: a Q&A with Jen of ‘Roethlisberger Castration Society’ zine

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  2. I feel the same way about watching football (soccer) here in the UK. I play a game with myself: about once a year I’ll watch a match, and I’ll keep watching football until a footballer, or someone in football, make the front page for doing something depressing. Then I give up. Last year I watched a couple of matches before a commentator made the front page for forgetting to turn off his mike before making sexist comments about a female linesman (that there shouldn’t be any and her presence was an affront to the honour of the sport). This year I watched half a match before one of the footballers kicked the ballboy in the ribs because he didn’t give the ball back fast enough. He kicked a child in the ribs! Honestly, I despair.

    • Yeah… A 17 year old millionaires son specifically employed by the opposition club and renowned for holding up games through throwing himself over the ball and preventing access in the dying minutes of a critical game…..

      Fuck the ball boy. He should have been kicked earlier.

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