Last weekend I spent two days walking my boobs around a convention center. Or so it felt.
I want to write about being a woman at a sports convention. I had a lot of feelings about it. Many I can't put into words. I don't know where to begin. I guess boobs is as good a place as any to start.
I wasn't the only pair of boobs walking the floor that day. There were a healthy number of women walking the convention floor, wearing red scoop-necked shirts that screamed REDS. Many carried backpacks filled with memorabilia, one had flown in from California to tell Danny Graves that she never held his departing gesture against him. Many pushed strollers. Some carried seats from the demolished Riverfront Stadium for their husbands, who carried baseball bats in tubes. (I could write another entire essay about people carrying around baseball bats in tubes.) There were also the Mrs.-es. They wore shirts that said Mrs. Votto, or Mrs. Bruce. Most of the Mrs.-es were on the arms of other men, presumably their husbands, sometimes pushing a stroller, always with their hair in place. Because the wife of Joey Votto would never leave the house with her hair out of place. (No, seriously: before I get too far into this, I have to mention how well put together everyone looked. I'm obviously not spending enough time getting ready in the morning.)
And then there were the rest of us. Childless, manless.
I dressed in a uniform I was comfortable in but that wasn't too feminine: royal blue jeans and motorcycle boots, Cincinnati raglan shirt. I hid my hair (oh the historical implications of a woman hiding her hair!) under a gray tweed baseball cap. I haven't done this in years: tomboy it up, tried to blend in. Stuff a load of baseball cards into my backpack so I can hang out with the boys. Pass.
With one difference: I felt obligated to apply lipstick before I had my picture taken. I did not do this to seduce baseball players, players I couldn't even bring myself to put my arm around, instead hovering slightly above and behind them, letting them put their arms wherever they wanted to but too afraid to put mine anywhere because oh my god that's a giant famous baseball player standing there next to me. Because I was not there to seduce them; I was there to have my picture taken with someone I admired on and off the field, because I enjoyed watching them out on that patch of green. Because they were a part of a team I loved and cheered for and groaned over and reveled in.
* * *
Photographs are, admittedly, something we put out there to seduce the rest of the world, or at least to memorialize our potentional for seduction. And sometimes we invite attention we didn't expect.
The day after Redsfest ended, I posted a photograph on Twitter of myself standing with three relief pitchers, amused by the fact that our photo had been bombed by the adorable kid of one of the pitchers. Soon after posting the photograph, I was contacted by someone who told me he liked my look and would be happy to get me into one of the baseball-themed t-shirts he produces. I realized as our conversation progressed that he was talking to the lipstick-wearing girl in the tight-fitting raglan shirt smirking at the camera without a husband or a baby in sight exactly the way that people assume a woman like that expects to be talked to, especially one who has just posted a photo of herself on the internet: Compliment her looks! Ask her if she works out! (I laughed at that one for a good ten minutes from prone position on the couch. Does lifting a chocolate chip cookie to my mouth count? Angles!)
To be fair, he was completely kind in our exchange. And this kindness, truly, is part of a greater conversation on how men are raised to be kind and flattering and complimentary towards women, while it's this very same behavior that can make many women feel uncomfortable and, in the wrong context, even threatened. Sometimes we welcome the flattery, and other times it leaves us shaking with fear. In no way am I scolding this particular dude who was not in the least bit threatening. I'm just using him as a vehicle to get to my greater point of how my experience at the convention was colored by my gender.
As disarmed as I was by the conversation, I knew it wasn't his fault. Or the fault of the guy sitting behind one of the baseball memorabilia tables that he felt the need to compliment my hat as I stood there admiring the design of the Topps Heritage cards. Or Eric Davis's fault for calling me "cutie pie,"or my fault for smiling and gushing about it on Twitter when he did. It wasn't my fault, or anyone's really, for assuming that all the women standing in line wearing lipstick wanted to be kissed by Brandon Phillips. Or for noticing how it was mostly women who wanted their picture taken with Corky Miller, mostly women who wanted to hug Sam LeCure. (Though it's pretty obvious that the beards at Redsfest - Cingrani, Miller, Hoover, LeCure - essentially acted as beards for women who love baseball. With the bearded ones, it was somehow just as socially acceptable for women to coo and ogle and fan themselves with convention floor maps as it was for us to stand there listening to them talk about how excited they are for the year ahead, which players they're most afraid to face from the pitcher's mound, how they keep fit between the end of the season and spring training, what they think of new manager Bryan Price.)
It wasn't the behavior of a single individual that made it weird to be a woman at a sports convention; it was part of a greater culture. It's the expected behavior toward a pair of boobs walking the floor at a convention center without a man or a baby or a backpack laden with sports memorabilia, wearing red lipstick. No one has formed the mechanisms yet for dealing with the unexpected phenomenon of a woman at a sports convention. Not even other women. Presumptions are made: She must be a Mrs. Votto; she must be here with her kid.
They don't know how to deal with it any better than we do. It's embedded in my own insecurities and defense mechanisms and feelings of competitiveness: I feel so out of place. I'm not like these other women.
When the truth is this: there's a certain amount of privilege to experiencing a sports convention - and spectator sports in general - as a woman. I've already addressed how we get to appreciate things about baseball that men don't. We're asked philosophical questions. We're some of the first chosen when we volunteer for a game of toss & catch with our favorite pitcher. (The moment I realized I was essentially being pitching coached by Sam LeCure in the art of throwing a ping-pong ball so he could catch it with a lint roller - "nice and easy, underhand, like this..." - was pretty wonderful.) We're offered a sweeter laugh from the players when we crack bad jokes about standing on platforms to make ourselves taller in pictures. Our cameras are given flirtatious lickety-split smiles from Billy Hamilton. We're okay to take selfies and get hugs. We have a bathroom all to ourselves. We're allowed to let ourselves soften when we see a newly-signed player sitting there by himself, everyone else too afraid to talk to him, and even though we don't have a lot to say, we talk to him, about how overwhelming this must all be, about how he likes Cincinnati so far, about how overwhelming this is for us too.
Our small talk is acceptable. Because we are women, because we wear lipstick. We get away with a lot more because we have ponytails. Because we are unexpected.
III. What Turns Us On
I think I finally get why some men say they can't understand women. I'm trying to explain how I feel about being a woman at a sports convention and I can't even make sense of it. It's weird! People expect you to want to marry Joey Votto! or It's great! The players are so nice to you and you get picked first for games!
The simplest explanations we give for our feelings as women are also sometimes the most contradictory. We ourselves are contradictions. We don't do much to dispell the myth that we're at the game to ogle the players, because, to be honest, maybe sometimes we are. We talk about how we would never want to seduce a baseball player, but love to talk about our crushes on them (though everyone knows that a crush is a just crush because there's no intent behind it). We don't do ourselves any favors by applying lipstick before we meet our favorite pitcher. Lipstick, I once read, is meant to mimic the flush of blood to the lips when a woman is sexually aroused. Because sometimes we probably are. But sometimes we just want to look good in pictures.
Even when we are getting off on something, it's not necessarily by the physical presence of a man. For some of us it could be the idea that we're standing in a room with a bunch of people (regardless of sex!) who are semi-immortalized on pieces of cardboard, making us part of some niche moment in history. For some of us it could be that we're all collectively gathered together in a common spirit of love for a team, for a city, for potential and hope. For some it could be getting a picture of your two favorite beards in the same room, or finding a hat your size in the $10 bin. For some of us it could be the excitement of meeting someone we've long admired, realizing that nearly thirty years after we used to watch him in the outfield, even though Riverfront is a decade gone, we're still both here on earth and we both have memories of that time and here he is signing our baseball card. For some of us it's Chris Heisey. For some of us a lipstick is just a lipstick. For some, it could very easily be the simple beauty of the whole thing.
That might be what turns me on.
IV. A Different Kind of Buzz
I learned recently that Lorde based her song "Royals" on a 1976 National Geographic photograph she saw of Kansas City Royals player George Brett being offered a multitude of baseballs by fans to be signed. For those of you who don't spend as much time as I do listening to car radio, the lyrics of the song go:
We can never be Royals
It don't run in our blood
That kind of lux just ain't for us,
we crave a different kind of buzz
I get this so much. The fact that the origins of the song lie in baseball makes it even more appropriate to what I'm trying to say.
Part of me wonders if the whole reason I feel so awkward, so desparate to prove myself at baseball games and conventions as a "true fan," the whole reason I try so hard to learn how to keep score, that I worry so much whether or not I have the right card in my hand to be signed, is that these sports things weren't intended for grown women. Of course there are women who are true fans who know the game inside and out. Of course there are female sportswriters. And of course there are women who grew up with baseball. But really I'm none of those. I wasn't Doris Kearns Goodwin: my dad hated baseball, still does. I had to come to it on my own, as a fully grown woman with breasts and lipstick and hormones and still a love for the mathematics and artistry of baseball in the way Tom Seaver described it to Roger Angell:
Pitching is a beautiful thing. It's an art -- it's a work of art when it's done right. It's like a ballet or the theatre. [...] When you do it, when you can sense sometimes that it's been done right, it's an extraordinary feeling. It's the most beautiful thing in sports.
Or as Eve Babitz writes in Slow Days, Fast Company:
The baseball field below was gorgeous. It was the first I'd ever seen, but I'm sure other people must think it's a beautiful one. The grass all mowed in patterns like Japanese sand gardens and the dirt all sculpted in swirling bas-relief. "It's so beautiful," I gushed.
I find baseball, like Eve Babitz and Tom Seaver, simply beautiful. When I finally came to baseball, and it appeared to me that there was room for me only as a Mrs. Votto or a peanut shucking statistician with a hot dog paunch and a sunburn, I didn't know where to place myself. (Though I'm working on that hot dog paunch.)
And so I'm left wanting to make a place for myself in this world as a grown-up woman who has suddenly become really interested baseball the same way Lorde describes wanting to be a Royal: I crave a different kind of buzz. It don't run in my blood, but I'm injecting it anyway. Because I find the whole thing beautiful and enjoy the proximity to beauty.
V. "For the sake of feminism and for the sake of baseball."
I suppose I wrote this whole thing for a purpose and maybe that purpose is this:
The entire problem might come down to a word I relied far too heavily on in what I've written up to now, a word even Lorde relies on in her song: the collective "we." The assumption is that we as women have everything in common, when, really, we're all just a bunch of "I"s - even those like me who have yet to figure out what "I" means among a mess of "we"s - enjoying an impermanent "we" for the sake of team spirit. For the sake of feminism and for the sake of baseball.
Let some women be the Mrs. Vottos. Let some women wear scoop-necked shirts. Let some be Fox Sports Ohio girls. Let others shove their babies into the arms of a patiently waiting Jay Bruce, let some carry heavy backpacks laden with signed baseballs. Let some know statistics. Let some keep score. Let some now be the ones entering the batting cage. Let some be the ones who find beauty in the way the dirt is raked between the bases, the way the setting sun hits the outfield wall.
Let us each have our own reason for being there too.
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.