An Audience of Athletes: The Rise and Fall of Feminist Sports
May 22, 2019 11:20 AM   Subscribe

Ooh. I'd never heard of this!
posted by ChuraChura at 12:24 PM on May 22, 2019

That article immediately reminded me that I remember that magazine from when I was a kid in the 1970s. What an amazing endeavor, and the observation at the end that a lot of men's magazines for sports can be spectator-based while women's sports magazines are more about participating in sports makes me think that there could be a market for women's sports magazines for women spectators of women's sports if there were more women's sports broadcast in the way that men's sports are.
posted by xingcat at 12:29 PM on May 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

This mag would absolutely slay on covering the NWHL unionization, instead of the fragments we're currently getting.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 12:43 PM on May 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

Fascinating, if a bit sad. Thanks for sharing!

xingcat, I wonder if the lack of coverage of and support for women's sports has lead to fewer women considering sports as a professional endeavor, which makes the sports more open and "amateur" feeling, (though not in the skills displayed by the players), which is in turn reflected in the structure of the magazines. "This is a fun sport, you can play, too!" is not said about professional football, baseball or basketball in the U.S. for men.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:55 PM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

"This is a fun sport, you can play, too!" is not said about professional football, baseball or basketball in the U.S. for men.

Which is a shame. I'm terrible at sports, but I'd much rather play than watch, and I think I'm a better/happier person after playing than after watching.
posted by elizilla at 1:14 PM on May 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

I gave my girlfriend a subscription to Women's Sports and Fitness before Conde Nast bought it. At that point it was effectively destroyed as far as I could determine. It felt like it went from a magazine about fitness and athletics to a magazine about what makeup to wear at the gym. I'm sure I'm slightly exaggerating, but we cancelled almost immediately.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:26 PM on May 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

I was frustrated the article didn't link to the photo of Stephanie Hightower going over the hurdle. A search found this one.
posted by Lexica at 2:13 PM on May 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

The Athletic has had extensive coverage of women’s hockey, both the games and also the recent closure of the CWHL. Also, they’ve just announced they will have a staffer with every WNBA team this season. Seems like a good faith effort. Worth a look if you are interested.
posted by thenormshow at 2:40 PM on May 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

I found Women's Sports & Fitness in my college library in 1991 -- bless whichever Virginia Tech librarian made sure to add it to the periodicals -- and was an avid subscriber through the remainder of its life and its murder by Conde Nast.

It's safe to say that without that periodical, I would have never thought, "Why can't I go canoeing through the Okeefenokee during alligator mating season? Why can't I train for a marathon? Why can't I try open-water distance swimming? Why can't I shoot class IV rapids with a good group of girlfriends? Why can't I kayak in [fill in a west coast bay of your choice here]?" That magazine inspired me to do things.

It was so amazing, in the early 1990s, to find a publication that focused on physical activity as a source of joy and engagement in the wider world; to find a publication that did not reduce your body to a collection of "problem areas" but instead encouraged you to take pleasure in pushing it in whatever way made the endorphins surge. There was a real mind-body connection there -- a woman in charge of her physical body was in charge of her whole self -- that I've been able to carry through adulthood.

I would love for girls and young women to have something similar today.
posted by sobell at 3:00 PM on May 22, 2019 [23 favorites]

sobell (or anyone else who wants to chime in): imagining a world where magazines like, say, Outside just as often made women its subjects (photographic or narrative) and authors as it made men, do you think that it could have done what a publication like Women's Sports & Fitness did for you?

If not, how would you say the edge a publication focused on women might have on that front works?
posted by wildblueyonder at 5:20 PM on May 22, 2019

Outside has had many opportunities to do great work in this area but they’ve had a real hard time of it with some ridiculous misses.

I was also a subscriber to Women’s Sports & Fitness during the time period when it flipped. It really was startling how bad it was. I feel like there was an article along the lines of “hot model reporter goes glamping and omg! Shoes! Bugs!” It got thinner and thinner. It became like a pamphlet pushing misogyny. Hey ladies! Why don’t you shoot yourselves?

I’d love an oral history of WTF with that.
posted by amanda at 5:58 AM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

wildblueyonder, I keep the May 2017 issue of Outside around the house precisely because it was one that focused on putting women front and center. I find my eight-year-old daughter reading it a lot.

(Also notable: The men who wrote in, really angry, about a single issue focusing on women. Heaven forfend women not be relegated to bikini shots at the front of the book or the occasional Pam Houston essay!)

To its credit, the magazine has been widening its coverage; the editorial direction in the past few years has forced readers to confront the politicized realities of outdoor recreation and one of those realities is that the outdoors is not the sole province of white men. I feel like it's a hell of a balancing act between the editorial direction and what the advertisers are asking for.

At this point, I'm not sure a magazine is the answer for teen girls and younger women. They don't live in a glossy magazine world like we did in the 20th century. They live online and there are lots of girls and women on Instagram who can show them, Yes, you can do this too. It's beautiful.

The question I'm still looking to answer is how to make sure my daughter has something more than one magazine issue to read until she's old enough to be allowed online without my direct supervision.
posted by sobell at 10:35 PM on May 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Washington Trails Association's magazine does a great job of having women in the photos that accompany their articles. I already enjoy hiking, but I definitely feel hiker-er after flipping through it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:37 AM on May 24, 2019

Wow, this was a really interesting read.

I wanted to pull out this quote from the author, because I've had so many similar experiences when delving into history: "I could not believe that something like this had existed, because nothing like it exists even today, 40-plus years later."
posted by mixedmetaphors at 10:30 AM on May 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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