Rebecca Joyce Kissane and Sarah WinslowNov 5, 2021
Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports
Today we are joined by Rebecca Joyce Kissane, Professor of Sociology at Lafayette College, and Sarah Winslow, Professor of Sociology at Clemson University, who together are the authors of Whose Game?: Gender and Power in Fantasy Sports (Temple University Press, 2020). In our conversation, we discussed why people play fantasy sports, how men and women experience fantasy sports differently, and what possibilities might exist for real transformation of the masculinist sports world.
Whose Game is an incisive analysis of the classed and gendered politics of fantasy sports. Kissane and Winslow take fantasy sport seriously and unpack the ways in which fantasy sports reify and reproduce the class and gendered relations of power in social networks, workplaces and families. They argue that fantasy sports privilege behaviours typically coded male such as competitiveness, the pursuit of dominance, and the need for control. They examine how those elements of fantasy gameplay shape men’s and women’s experiences of playing fantasy sports.
Kissane and Winslow develop the concept of jock statsculinity, as a mediated form of fantasy sports masculinity that challenges more normative notions of hegemonic masculinity. Through fantasy sports, a wider range of men can participate in traditionally masculinity activities, including competition and banter, without regard to their physical capabilities. Fantasy sports thus open normative masculinity to a wider range of people than hegemonic masculinity. At the same time, Kissane and Winslow stress that not all men have equal access to jock statsculinity – white, professional men are much more likely to take part in it.
Women who want to participate in the fantasy sports world learn to navigate the space as a powerfully masculine and hetero normative space. Fantasy sports ostensibly offer women an opportunity to compete with men on a level playing field, but those spaces and the common behaviours there are coded as male. Women who play fantasy sports may face harassment, but they almost always experience marginalization and belittlement. Nevertheless, for many women, fantasy provides a way to win some of the social benefits of masculinity and/or transgress them.
Fantasy sports offer both men and women new opportunities to build connections with their relatives, co-workers, and people with similar interests, but in the realm of fantasy sport, both men and women prioritize building relationships with other men. At the same time, as Kissane and Winslow point out, even though they occupy a privileged position in the fantasy sports world social structure, men also suffer from their engagement with jock statsculinity. Men report much higher rates of emotional impact from fantasy sport. Many men spend considerable amounts of time – perhaps too much time away from their loved ones - setting their line-ups and researching matchups.
Whose Game is a wide-ranging analysis and discussion of many of the key issues facing both male and female fantasy sports fans from two leading sports sociologists. Their work will be of general interest to sports fans, but particularly useful for people teaching about sports sociology, gender and politics.
Keith Rathbone is a Senior Lecturer at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. He researches twentieth-century French social and cultural history.