Punch Magazine understands that women don't care
about sports - they just want to secure a good husband.
A few weeks ago I went out to lunch with my husband when we were both bemused to find cricket on television at the restaurant. We got through our meal somehow, though we were both looking over the other's shoulder at big-screen TVs and trying to make sense of cricket; there was so much discussion of bowling and padding and wickets going on between the two of us that it's surprising we managed to put any food in our mouths.
My knowledge of cricket is limited to a vague recollection of a few pages from In a Sunburned Country where Bryson narrates the surreal discovery of Australian Cricket Radio. I struggled to remember anything other than tea-breaks and ovals to explain the odd things happening on the TV (the broadcast was in a language that I couldn't identify, let alone understand).
After this strange, awkward lunch I devised a kind of personal challenge. I want to see if I can figure out cricket without looking it up on Wikipedia or watching English broadcasts. To this end, I decided that the second book I would read on my Kindle was to be Mr. Punch's Book of Sports: The Humors of Cricket, Football, Tennis, Polo, Croquet, Hockey, Racing, &c. so that, through the humor of Punch, I might better understand cricket while also getting a laugh or two in at the society that produced the sport.
Unfortunately, now that I've read it, cricket makes less sense than it did before and I'm pissed at the Victorians.
About half of the book is directed at making fun of athletes and the sports obsessed; the remainder of the book was devoted to making fun of women who had the poor manners to pretend to be athletes in order to find a husband, who just don't understand sports, or who had the gall to actually be competent athletes.
I know that this book is supposed to be humor from another time. I know that it is compiled from a 19th century men's magazine. I know that I'm a woman in a different century looking behind the curtain into the boy's club and I shouldn't be surprised to find that it's rather a mess. But holy shit, the "battle of the sexes" jokes got old fast in this book. And what's even SADDER is that some of these jokes are still bandied about and thought of as having a basis in reality.
Let's get real for a second here - I'm something of a jock, even though I didn't realize it until my mid-twenties. I like to do push-ups, I like to hike, I like to lift very heavy things and intimidate the living hell out of my male co-workers with my badass biceps. I have a uterus, but that is IN NO WAY going to stop me from tackling you.
My little sister, who is cute and girly as hell, who wears pretty nail polish and who is obsessed with cupcakes, is the biggest football fan that I know. I've seen her jumping up and down on furniture during a grueling drive, screaming like a champ to support her team, and, oh yeah, being in the marching band for 3 years at USC (where she played a tenor sax that was about a third her size, and was a jock in her own right).
I may not like baseball, I may actively dislike basketball, and I may not understand the appeal of soccer, but I'm still a hell of a lot more into watching them than my gigantic, bearded, manly husband is, and I'm probably better at playing them too.
Yet, in spite of the fact that women play, watch, and enjoy sports on a daily basis, we STILL have to deal with condescending "don't worry your pretty little head about it, I'll explain it in small words with martinis and dancing" women's sports clinics offered as a service to us so that we have something to do other than worry about cocktail weenies on game day. And condescending bosses who didn't think you would want to be included in a lunch because it was a "sports thing". And condescending male friends who ditch you because they think of watching the game as "a guy thing" and didn't want you to be bored. And any dude who has ever been a condescending prick about sports because "girls don't like sports." We get to experience the dual joy of being excluded from an activity we appreciate as well as from all the nice socialization that surrounds that activity because we have vaginas that might be offended at the sight of cleats or something. It's idiotic.
So I guess the humor in a 114 year old book fell flat because a lot of it is based on sexist jokes that are still being told, and are still not funny or true, today. What I'm trying to say here is don't be sexist, sports people. It's just not cricket.
Ed. Hammerton, J.A. Mr. Punch's Book of Sports. The Educational Book Co. Ltd.
London: England. 1910.