By Julie Dicaro
Rating: 4 Stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.11
Genre: Sports Nonfiction
Publication Date: March 16th 2021
Format Read: Libby Audiobook
Goodreads Summary: Shrill meets Brotopia in this personal and researched look at women’s rights and issues through the lens of sports, from an award-winning sports journalist and women’s advocate
In a society that is digging deep into the misogyny underlying our traditions and media, the world of sports is especially fertile ground. From casual sexism, like condescending coverage of women’s pro sports, to more serious issues, like athletes who abuse their partners and face only minimal consequences, this area of our culture is home to a vast swath of gender issues that apply to all of us–whether or not our work and leisure time revolve around what happens on the field.
No one is better equipped to examine sports through this feminist lens than sports journalist Julie DiCaro. Throughout her experiences covering professional sports for more than a decade, DiCaro has been outspoken about the exploitation of the female body, the covert and overt sexism women face in the workplace, and the male-driven toxicity in sports fandom. Now through candid interviews, personal anecdotes, and deep research, she’s tackling these thorny issues and exploring what America can do to give women a fair and competitive playing field in sports and beyond.
Covering everything from the abusive online environment at Barstool Sports to the sexist treatment of Serena Williams and professional women’s teams fighting for equal pay and treatment, and looking back at pioneering women who first took on the patriarchy in sports media, Sidelined will illuminate the ways sports present a microcosm of life as a woman in America–and the power in fighting back.
When I heard that this book was coming out, I was pretty excited to read it. I’m a lifelong athlete and writer, so sports journalism is something that has always appealed to me. It’s super clear that there are less women in sports media than there are men. I was interested to hear what Dicaro’s take on being one of the few women in the room was.
The book started out by diving into the history of women in sports media, starting with the days when they were not even allowed in the locker rooms after games. It’s well known that locker room interviews are some of the best in sports, and so it was shocking to me that there was a time (fairly recently) that women weren’t even allowed to do their job. From a history perspective, Dicaro did an incredible job of laying out exactly how this gap between men and women in sports media has been allowed to exist. It opened my eyes to situations with concrete anecdotes that made the book fun to read.
From there, Dicaro spent a long time discussing sexual assault, #MeToo, and sexual harassment which sports reporters face at their jobs every day. She discussed equal pay, Barstool sports, and the general toxic masculinity she experienced. Everything she wrote about was groundbreaking due to the fact that most women don’t feel safe or confident enough to speak up about what’s happening. Even the women Dicaro interviewed for her book would decline to have their names included- they were willing to speak only under the comfort of anonymity.
At some points in this book, I thought that what she was saying was a little long winded. The book most definitely could have been a longform article and that would have covered everything that she had to say. However, I think the fact that this is in book form is really cool from a social perspective. First off, who knows whether she would have been censored or allowed to publish in a mainstream sports outlet. Likely not, since she was attacking them. Second, articles generate vast amounts of buzz for a week or two and then are forgotten. Books have staying power that articles just do not. For that reason, I think her story had to be a book. But that doesn’t change the fact that it does feel a little bit repetitive at times.
The other issue I had with this book is that Dicaro speaks as if women’s sports don’t exist for nearly the entire book. She talks about locker room issues and game coverage as if no women’s leagues even exist. Then, in the last chapter, she includes everything she has to say about women’s sports. If we are ever going to productively move forward with making women’s sports just as important as men’s sports, we can’t relegate them to an afterthought chapter. Dicaro basically says as much in her women’s sports chapter, but then she does the same thing she is saying we can’t do! I understand the the toxic misogyny she was discussing is a lot more present in men’s sports, but in that case she should have clarified that she was talking about men’s sports, not just assumed that “sports” inherently meant men’s.
Other than that, I thought the book was incredibly well done and well researched. She truly allowed me to feel what it is like for a woman working in a predominantly male field. Hopefully some of the work that she did to expose the inner workings of sports media will allow it to become a more accepting place to be a non-man in the years to come.