This weekend, during the South Africa v Wales series decider, I finally lost my temper with a mansplainer. It’s usually something I laugh off or ignore. I get it. Not all women like rugby – not all men do either, but hey, there’s no accounting for taste – so if some guy in the pub mistakes my frustration over the Sharks giving away a penalty try for an inability to understand the laws of the game, and proceeds to explain at length, despite my glazed look, I’m willing to laugh it off. I’ve even gotten used to being told to go back to the kitchen or to my soapies when I offer a rugby opinion online. Even if you’re more likely to get a Woolies ready meal than haute cuisine out of my kitchen, and I’ve never watched an episode of 7de Laan in my life.
But on Saturday night, I just clicked over (and honestly, I am generally slow to lose my temper). Halfway through the second half, this guy who had been sitting at the bar next to me, proceeded to stand in front of myself and another woman, who was also there alone to watch the game, and tell us in his most condescending tone how lovely it was to see how excited we were by the game, but that he watches enough rugby to know that actually, it’s really boring and more like watching the matrics take on the standard sevens, that’s how bad Wales is. You know, he’s entitled to that opinion, of course, but it is quite bold to assume that someone who is at the pub, on her own, decked out in Springbok supporter gear (and sporting an actual Springbok tattoo), just to watch the game, doesn’t really follow the sport. Which is what I politely told him, hoping he’d get the hint and leave us alone to carry on watching, but he persisted and insisted on really getting in our faces about it. That’s when I lost my temper and a few choice sarcastic opinions of my own were shared. He didn’t stay much longer after that, which is a good thing, given how boring the game apparently was.
Now, you may be writing this off as an angry feminist rant, and thinking that’s not even mansplaining – of course, he could have expressed that opinion to any one of the hundred men in the place who were equally excited about the game, but he chose not to….maybe he didn’t automatically assume they wouldn’t know anything about rugby, or maybe he thought he had a better chance of not getting smacked by us. Luckily this kind of thing is mostly an isolated incident, but it really got me thinking about the way we gatekeep this game we love. Because we are all guilty of it at times, myself included. I find myself wondering how someone can claim to be a player’s number one fan and then not even know that the reason he hasn’t been selected is because he’s injured, or how someone can love the Boks but not have any idea when the next game is.
Sometimes our gatekeeping is as innocuous as that, and sometimes it’s way worse. Never mind the comments telling women to go back to their soapies, if I see another snide remark aimed at a person of colour, telling them they should be watching soccer instead, I may actually lose my mind. Once upon a time, this game we love belonged to a very select group of people in South Africa. But those days are over. Now we can truly embrace a diverse set of players, in the sport that claims to be for everyone, so surely we should equally be ready to embrace a diverse set of fans. Some of those fans will be casual fans who absolutely love the game while it’s happening but don’t think about it for the rest of the week. Some of them will obsessively hoard every stat and piece of information about the teams and players they support. Some will fall in the middle of that continuum. Some will be men, some will be women, some will be black, white, brown, gay, straight, and everything in between. If we learnt anything from our World Cup winning team, it’s that we find strength in embracing our differences. So, let’s stop deciding who gets to be a fan and who doesn’t, and just encourage everyone to love rugby as much as we do.
And, for the love of everything that is sacred, please don’t stand between a woman and the game she’s yelling at, just to tell her how boring it actually is.