Tailgating While Feminist: A New Scarlet Letter (Part 1)
By: Ansley Hayes
I’m not one for large hordes of screaming people dead set on drinking their weight in Keystone Light before noon. It’s a big surprise, then, that when I was in school I didn’t go to a single football game. The closest I came to school spirit during undergrad was keeping track of the football schedule and kickoff times so I knew when it was safe to go to Kroger. But after my younger sister was seduced by the siren song of 92,746 people screaming in unison and became a member of the Spike Squad, I gave UGA football a second chance. With my sister as my guide, I stumbled into the intoxicating world of Saturday in Athens. I never knew that football meant public drinking, or that the people-watching opportunities would be so mesmerizing.
Fast-forward two years and I ventured out of my house to tailgate on my own. I don’t own a lot of red clothes so getting dressed to tailgate was a challenge. When I was dressing for the first three home games, I looked longingly at my Georgia Feminist shirt nestled all cozy in my dresser. I put it on before the Tennessee game and walked around my house sipping a mimosa for a few minutes before I sighed and changed into a plain black top. “After all, it is kind of hot outside and the shirt has long-sleeves, I’ll wear it when it gets colder,” I thought. I’m not afraid of the backlash that comes with visibly identifying as a feminist, I told myself, I’m just dressing for the weather.
The next Saturday, an out of town friend told me she was on campus tailgating for the Vandy game. I dressed carefully in black tights, my fabulous red snakeskin boots, and black cutoffs. I stared for a moment at the plain black shirt I wore to the last home game, thinking I could pair it with a red scarf or something. I paced around my apartment sipping the last dregs of my coffee, wondering what would happen if I walked outside with a polarizing part of my identity emblazoned on my body.
The football fan hive mentality that grips Athens on game days makes tailgating a potentially hostile experience for anyone deemed an other. In the past I’ve been heckled and gawked at for having visible facial piercings and not looking like a typical Georgia fan. After a moment of deliberation, curiosity beat out my anxiety. I slipped the Georgia Feminist shirt on and gave thanks to the Satisfactory Shopcat for making such a cozy garment. I looked in the mirror one more time. At first glance I looked like any other football fan, but I worried about how strangers would treat me as a visible feminist in a public space. Under the anxiety and fear nestled firmly in my gut, I hoped that my willingness to stand up for equality in a space where such dialogue is absent would start a conversation or two. I’ve always been willing to make a spectacle in the name of progress. Feeling confident, I chugged the rest of my mimosa and walked outside, ready to disappear into a sea of red and black.
I decided to walk my dog around the block as a test run, to see what kind of commentary (if any) awaited me should I go downtown proclaiming my feminist politics for all of Dawgnation to bear witness. I live in the middle of Five Points, so I knew there would be a lot of folks outside. I took a deep breath and walked out, pup in tow. I was outside for less than a minute when a whistle pierced the chilled air followed by a whoop and a holler and a loud, baritone howl: “Go Dawgs, sic’ em, whoop whoop.”
I am just like them, I reasoned. I live and learn and work at UGA. I have a right to wander unencumbered amongst other fans, to smell the fried food and whiskey fumes, to hear the soft thwap of bean bag against cornhole board, to discreetly drink in public. Isn’t everyone friends on game day as long as they’re wearing the same colors?
I walked between Earth Fare and the Bottle Shop, and past the Royal Peasant. My heart was beating harder than normal, and I was acutely aware of a nervousness and awareness of my body that I haven’t experienced since seventh grade P.E. class. I rounded the corner and headed down Lumpkin toward campus. My dog stopped to pee and when we continued on, a man with an “I need tickets” sign was staring at me with a half smile on his face. “Is your dog a feminist too?” he asked. I was caught off guard, because of all the possible scenarios I envisioned, questioning my dog’s ideology was not one of them. I stammered a little as I said “Um, yes! Yes, he believes in gender equality.” The ticket man laughed, and waved my way as he sprinted across traffic to a frantic family on the other side of the street.
I walked through the Yoforia parking lot and past Jittery Joes. I was almost home when I passed two of my neighbors walking with a group of people. We passed on the sidewalk and I made eye contact with a neighbor who often talks to me when I’m working in my garden. She averted her eyes, stared at my shirt and walked past me without saying anything. My anxiety spiked again, and I noticed I was sweating in my long sleeves. I was mentally prepared for outright hostility from drunk strangers, but caught off guard and a little hurt by subtle disapproval from formerly friendly acquaintances. I swallowed my discomfort and walked on, feeling galvanized by the stares and suddenly more comfortable that I’d felt all morning. I dropped my dog off at home and started the long walk down Lumpkin to Sanford Stadium.
What awaits Ansley during the rest of her Feminist Tailgating adventure? Stay tuned for the next chapter, wherein our feminist field reporter tackles Myers Quad, North Campus, and downtown.