02/06/2013

Football? But You're A Girl?

The title of this blog is a question that the majority of women working in the football industry have been presented with  during their career. There are two things fundamentally wrong with this question. Firstly, the term 'but' ahead of 'girl' implies that being a girl is a hindrance to working in football. Second, and more importantly, it considers the gender of the woman in question when making a judgement on their work; this in turn allows the constant undermining of women in football to occur. For example either: "but you're a girl, so you don't know what you're talking about" or "for a girl, that's actually quite good". 
But you're a girl? 
Imagine if these comments were made with regard to race, or sexuality; "But you're black, so you don't know what you're talking about" or "for an Asian, that's actually quite good" or even, "but you're gay so you're wrong." These comments would be deemed totally unacceptable, encroaching on intolerable. So why is sexism still brushed under the carpet? Why does the medieval belief, that women are incapable of working in football, still exist?

Racism is in the process of being tackled and homophobia looks to be next in the firing line with clubs beginning to take a more active stance to fight the issue. Groups such as Kick it Out and Show Racism the Red Card work extraordinarily hard to combat such issues. While Kick it Out certainly do have a stance on sexism in football, it is not yet as established as could be possible. So for women, sexism is still rife. 
A frightening example of how little focus there is with regard to fighting sexism is that sexist abuse or chanting at football matches is not yet illegal, while racist abuse or chanting is illegal. This has led to female broadcasters suffering discrimination which is often falsely labelled as 'banter'. To clarify, this behaviour is unequivocally NOT banter. Would racism be understood as banter? Would homophobia be understood as banter? As proven by the unambiguous stance the FA and those in football hold on these matters, no it would not be understood as banter. Sexism however, is constantly branded as this contested term and it is not yet unanimously considered as discrimination. 
While sexism is a product of society and not an intrinsic product of football, it tends to be more accepted in the football industry than out. While this may stem from the stereotypical view that football is "a man's game", it is incorrect to trace sexism back to this ridiculous claim - the growth of Women's football, shown by the introduction of the Super League, the Women's football show and even the reintroduction of the Women's FA cup being broadcast on television clearly contradicts the claim that football is for men, and men only.
It is worth noting that there are different types of sexism. One can experience a naïve, chauvinistic type of sexism which centralises around the idea that women simply do not know anything about football, do not know the offside rule and are in general, bimbo's with regards to football. 

Or one can experience a slightly more sinister type of sexism. One that focuses on degrading women, using derogatory terms with often sexually harassing undertones.  In some ways the former is easier to take than the latter. The former can be traced back to old fashioned values; there may not be malice intended, and generally the female can shrug it off as a naïve and uninformed comment with little importance. The latter however has the potential to be more scarring. Some comments made by 'professional males' are particularly unsavoury, sexually motivated and ultimately inappropriate. For example, making unnecessary references to a female's appearance. It is highly doubtable that a manager would comment on how attractive a male reporter is during an interview, yet women can expect to encounter this.
An area where sexism is particularly prolific in the football industry, is in the sector of media and journalism. Women playing football is becoming more accepted, more girls are beginning to play football from a younger age and the Olympics helped make people aware of not only the fact that women's football existed, but also of the raw talent belonging to the players involved in it. Female journalists however, appear to be treated with a lack of regard and respect. It is apparently acceptable to make derogatory comments in front of other colleagues, acceptable to make sexually suggestive remarks or gender motivated criticisms. Arguably, it is the acceptance of this outrageous audacity that will allow sexism to continue to exist.
A female working in the football industry expects to be the victim of sexism at some stage in their career. At a time where females make up one quarter of football crowds and one third of armchair fans, fighting sexism is of the utmost significance. 
It is time to associate sexism with racism and homophobia. It is time to brand it as discrimination which is emphatically intolerable. It is time to re-educate those with existing sexist beliefs just as has been done when combatting racism, to rid racist beliefs. 
It is important to appreciate that not every encounter in football is greeted with sexism, and that there are many women who are respected and whose opinions are widely regarded. This however, does not justify sexist behaviour. It is something that is in extreme need of investigating.


It is difficult breaking into sports journalism, but it is even harder being a female. My ability is constantly doubted, my appearance is always referenced. Even if I am being complimented for a piece of work, it can be with regard to my gender. As if, because I am a female, one would not expect me to be able to analyse a football match or evaluate a transfer or managerial move. 

5 comments:

  1. Hi Anna, isn't there a part of you that also wants to use your gender as a positive point of difference, ie. they'll think you don't know what you're talking about because of the way you look so when you step forth and give your opinion you'll blow them away! I don't fight sexism because it's too big a battle for me, I'd rather use it to my advantage!

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  2. I really liked this article. Being a female football fan is very hard. When people don't agree with your opinion, they usually say "You don't know anything, you're a girl" or "go make me a sandwich" or "you are only defending him because you have a crush on him". Even my dad sometimes introduces me as "This is my daughter, Kate. She is a fan of Bayern Munich because their players are good looking." What the heck, Dad. I am a fan because they play beautifully and they have captured my heart. They could be totally ugly and I would still love them. Anyway, just wanted to say that this is an excellent article. I loved your first two paragraphs. Spot on!

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  3. Excellent article, Anna. Spot on :-)

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  4. Interesting read that, thoroughly agree

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  5. Hi Anna,

    A very interesting blog I must say you seem very knowledgeable about football. I have to say there are many women commentating on sport even lineswomen in some instances do a better job than men. The lineswomen Sian Massey does an excellent job never makes a mistake, takes her time and makes the right call every time whereas linesman often make wrong decisions even Blackburn rovers women are doing well.

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