Kolupanowich: Is While The Men Watch really offensive?

By: Tim Kolupanowich, Executive Editor
@TimKolupan_

The news that the CBC would be teaming up with the website While The Men Watch to produce a specific-to-women broadcast of the Stanley Cup final was hit with immediate backlash, much of it negative. Adam Proteau of The Hockey News called it “disrespectful.” Steve Lepore of Puck The Media called it “unacceptable.” Julie Veilleux called it “sexist,” “degrading,” and “dehumanizing” on Puck Daddy on Yahoo! Sports.

But should it really be considered offensive, or is that just the initial knee-jerk reaction to a broadcast so out of the ordinary?

While The Men Watch is a website that features female-centric stories and broadcasts. It is run by Lena Sutherland and Jules Mancuso in an attempt to create sports commentary specifically for women after they became frustrated with the addiction to sports from the men in their lives. From their website:

WhileTheMenWatch is a first of its kind, live sports talk-show for women.  An overnight sensation, hailed as Sex in the City meets ESPNWhileTheMenWatch reaches thousands of women (and some lucky men) every month.  This viral online broadcast was an instant hit with its soft-launch and during the Super Bowl, attracted over 2000 listeners.

Hosted by real-life girlfriends in New York and Toronto, the female-friendly commentary keeps women entertained during football, hockey, basketball, baseball games and more.  The lively discussion follows sports from a woman’s point of view including everything from interpreting the rules of the game to coaches in need of a makeover.

Both hosts have sports-related backgrounds. Sutherland is an Emmy winning producer and marathon runner and Mancuso is a holistic nutritionist who has treated champion boxers and runners.

The objective of their website basically boils down to two distinct parts. The first is explaining the rules and aspects of the game in a simple, easy to understand manner for those who haven’t been watching for very long.

The second is where the Sex and the City aspect comes in and where the majority of the criticisms begin. Their broadcast and articles often center around stereotypical girl-talk issues like beauty and sex. A few examples of articles that can be found on their website are “Love Me Like Lundqvist: 5 Sex Game for Hockey Season Pt 1” (Where they describe faceoff dots as “the part of the ice that looks like nipples.”), “Bow to the Brow: 10 Things His Eyebrows Say about Him,” and “Sex on Game Day: Does He Lock it Up or Love You Down?” These articles, which are probably better suited for Cosmopolitan Magazine than the world of sports, are definitely silly, but are they really degrading?

Caity Kauffman is the producer for Hockey Unfiltered on Sirius/XM radio and Director of Media Relations for the Florida Jr. Blades hockey club and understands the need to simplify the game, but doesn’t feel they have executed their plan properly. “To me, it felt like a guidebook to pretending how to watch the game and impress your boyfriend, not as much to truly understand the rules,” Kauffman said.

She points to one article, “7 Phrases to Yell Out if You Don’t Follow Hockey,” as an example of a piece that attempted to explain the game and completely fails in its purpose. This piece gives women phrases to say randomly, so they can pretend to know what is happening instead of explaining the rules so they can actually know what is happening. Kauffman breaks down one of the phrases: “Attack!” Her commentary is in parenthesis.

We have no idea when this is appropriate (Aren’t you supposed to be simplifying the game? I know the writers know one could use this on the forecheck. Why pretend like you don’t know? Because it’s funny?), but it’s so much fun to yell (This is true.). Just use it when his team starts to run out of steam, but only if there is no dog in the house at the time (Again. This isn’t simplifying. Does your audience know what this means?).

The good intentions of While The Men Watch are there, but Kauffman proves they don’t necessarily fulfill their goal and inadvertently pigeonhole women with their writing style. She believes it is possible to write about sports and other passions without putting your private, intimate life in the spotlight, citing Katie Baker, a reporter for Grantland, who intelligently analyzes hockey and blogs about weddings.

“It’s not my cup of tea, but there’s nothing inherently offensive with writing an off-beat, funny story about players who could use an appearance tune-up,” said one female reporter who covers the NHL and answered queries under the condition of anonymity. “That said, it’s a bit bothersome that these women (and by default, CBC) think relying on gender stereotypes will attract more women to hockey.”

Both the reporter and Kauffman are fine with the fact these superficial articles exist and they understand this is what some women prefer to read, they just want to keep Cosmo and ESPN as separate entities. “If you want to be a group of girls who writes such content, fine,” said the reporter. “But isn’t the goal of a sports broadcast to attract sports-minded people and not belittle them?”Kauffman agrees While The Men Watch can do a better job with their goal to explain sports in an easy-to-understand manner, even if it does appeal to a small, niche market that enjoys bringing the two separate worlds together

“While I’m not opposed to the female-centered sports blog…the tone of While The Men Watch pushes me away,” Kauffman said. She has an interest in clothes and fashion like most women, but keeps that and her interest in sports separate. “I love clothes, shoes and manage my Pinterest like a high-rolling hedgefund…but there’s a reason I keep my NBC Sports Talk app on a different page from my iPad-delivered Glamour magazine.”

These ice girls from the Tulsa Oilers show that, even in 2012, women have to nearly bare all in order to obtain even the simplest role in the sporting world. (Les_Stockton, Flickr)

Both Kauffman and the reporter are trying to carve respectable careers in a field that has been traditionally dominated by men, a feat that is already quite difficult. Attempting to search for information on women in sports leads to a high amount of articles like “10 Sexiest Female Sports Reporters.” While The Men Watch, with their focus on sex and ditzy attitude (Their article “Lin’s Ladies: Top 10 Celebrity Girlfriends for Jeremy Lin” searches for the best possible mate for the star New York Knicks rookie based on who would combine with him to form the best couple nickname, attempting to force the issue so hard at times, they fail to be clever with facepalm-inducing entries like Rihanna + Jeremy Lin = Linhanna.), does little to help women garner serious respect in the sporting world.

The main roles women still play at many sporting events are that of ice girls and cheerleaders with no second thought given to their intellect as they strut about in their skintight uniforms that leave little to the imagination, as if they really need to wear what basically amounts to a bikini in order to scrape the ice. The website features pictures of the Kardashians, couples in bed and plenty of long legs and the writing is so simplistic it’s as though the writers themselves believe their target market has difficulty comprehending anything above a fourth grade level.

“Women don’t need to be talked down to in order to learn to appreciate hockey,” said the reporter. “They should be taught by women who understand the sport and, as such, can get them excited about it.” What she finds degrading is While The Men Watch, and as an extension the CBC, seems to believe Sutherland and Mancuso speak for and represent all women. Kauffman doesn’t feel it’s necessarily degrading, understanding the appeal of the site to some even if it doesn’t particularly fit her preferences, but does find one aspect repressive. “I don’t love the title ‘While The Men Watch.’ Might as well make the secondary title ‘…We’ll be in the Kitchen.’ The theme is empowerment, but the title feels oppressive. It is a male-centered title to a female-centered blog.”

Empowerment? Of everything that’s been said about While The Men Watch, empowerment is certainly new, but Kauffman feels they deserve some credit. “Props to the women who made WTMW happen. If you love what you do, rock on,” she said. “It’s witty and bold. I can respect that. We could use more bold women in the world.”

So is While The Men Watch a little silly? Definitely. Is it degrading and sexist? That’s entirely up to the individual you ask. But one thing that has to be admitted, whether or not you agree with the product, is that these women are doing something new that they are excited about and take pride in and that should earn them a bit more respect than they’ve been getting.

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