My personal blog on Scottish Women's Football
Like many people around the world, I have always enjoyed the American satirical newspaper The Onion, and one of its unusual pleasures is where its satire flirts around the border of reality. And the reason why it manages to do that, is simply because it takes insecurities/issues that exist and plays with it. Occasionally, we have a chuckle when newspapers are duped by it – famously, a Bangladeshi newspaper picked up a story where Neil Armstrong admits the Moon landings were faked.
And we may have all been duped by a new product called ‘The Lady Ball’. At the moment, I believe that this is a PR hoax of some sort based upon three factors: the inability to find a patent for their Eazi-Play technology, they don’t seem to be a registered company and their twitter account comes across far too trollish.
But there is a critical difference to conspiracy theories: whether you believe it is true to fake, the response and conclusion is the same.
Women face sexism in football. This may be obvious, but after the strides the sport made in 2015, you may think it has gone.
When I was at school in the 2000s, the girls played hockey and boys played football in hockey. I know how damaging that can be – I actually remember being shocked that men played hockey. I can’t imagine what that would be like if the whole media and society was against a girl growing, wanting to play a football.
As I write this (and then edit) I do feel like I’m regurgitating other people’s points and comments, because it is a discussion that keeps on happening.
I think what defines this generation in their twenties and below is that there is a much greater awareness of diversity – not just in gender, ethnicity, religion and sexuality, but sub-cultures. What I hope no child should have to go through whilst growing up is simple – that they feel being themselves is wrong. Women talking/playing football is perfectly acceptable simply because they are a human being.
We cannot get complacent with the expansion and development of female sports. Yes, we now have an avalanche of female sports stars that could fill the pages of War & Peace, but often they are ignored.
So back to the Lady Ball.
First things first, pink. There is nothing wrong with the colour pink being used in football, because men also wear pink. Where the horrificness comes in is this – women are not an army of pink. In my experience, the link between pink and women is just a massive urban legend that is forced down everyone’s throats. And what is worse, let us assume for a couple of seconds that every women loves the colour pink and all have pink bedrooms. A pink football is not going to change their minds unless you believe that they are some weird Doctor Who monster that goes about their lives searching for that particular colour.
But here is where the parody is something we need to talk about. The idea playing sport is unfemale – whatever that actually means.
Look at the Lady Ball website’s tag-line ‘Soft Touch! Eazi Play! Fashion Driven!’ Take one by one. Soft touch? Because women are delicate flowers that need to be protected… Except for Nicola Adams, Jade Jones, the England Women Cricket Team, the England Women Rugby World Champions – I could keep the list going.
Eazi Play! Because women can’t kick a football without it made easier. Except for Lucy Bronze, Eni Aluko, Fara Williams, Jo Love, J Murray, Steph Houghton, Simone Laudehr, Celia Sasic, Carli Lloyd… Again, a list I can keep expanding.
Fashion Driven! Because women can’t be beautiful and wear fashionable clothes without sport made easier for them. Except for Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Jessica Ennis-Hill – you get the point.
The site also talks about not ruining a manicure. If anyone watched the Women’s World Cup, you would have realised that some players do play football with their nails polished. Well, maybe not – after all you are watching their football skills.
There is a massive myth that has to be smashed. How a woman looks like does not matter, it is what they do that does. I am slightly uncomfortable here writing this because it is so easy to get preachy about ‘real beauty’ and talking about makeup, and coming across as a patronising and hypocritical person. What I am trying to simply say is that it is not unfeminine to sweat, it is not disgusting to play a competitive sport, and it does not suddenly make you ugly or not a woman. That is a stigma that needs to be broken down, and something the Sport England ‘This Girl Can’ campaign is trying to do.
And before anyone says, ah! So why is there are issues with the photographs the website uses? Because of one simple reason. It says women have to wear stupidly useless shoes for them to play sport because all they have in their brain is fashion. There are thousand of perfect female sportstars that surely could pose in that photograph.
Women have for far too long been talked to as second-class citizens for a really, really, really long time. And when it happens, it happens using clever language that sounds like it has come from the school of Sir Humphrey Appleby of hiding truths within a pile of verbal diarrhea.
The sexism that exists in the sport is subtle. It isn’t “women can’t play football” but “women need a pink ball to play football”. The first one is plainly stupid, but the second one can be twisted and manipulated to – “oh, I’m just trying to help women.” A recent example is Dr Eva Carneiro being described as a physio (because how can a woman be a doctor?) and a certain ex-Chelsea manager was not being taken to town for criticising her for not understanding football – whilst displaying he doesn’t know the rules of football.
And then you read about in the 1960s where Football Associations refused sponsorship in Women’s Football because they wanted to protect the purity of the game. On the surface, that can sound agreeable, but what it really meant was it stopped the growth of the sport financially – so it was not a threat to the men’s game.
Read this, and guess the year.
“If one of the objects of those who boast that they are engaged in the emancipation of women is to produce a team of ladies–capable exponents of Association football, it cannot be said that they have so far succeeded.”
That was about a British Ladies Football Club game, written in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette on the 14th May 1895.
In a real, terrifying way, this (if the language was modernised) is something that you would still see in the modern news.
I remember tweeting about the Canada-England game played just before the Women’s World Cup. Someone replied saying that was the most boring game ever, and he would never watch a women’s football match again. My reaction (and one to his credit, he agreed with) was that was because it was a football match. Football matches can be dull 0-0s and mad exciting 3-3 draws, or 7-4 wins. Because that is football. There is no difference between men’s football and women’s football. Both can be dull and exciting, both can display incredible skills and hilarious howlers.
Maybe it is time we stop describing players such as Lucy Bronze as a female footballer, and just as a footballer. Because at the end of the day, that is what she is.
What do you think? How do you think we break down this sexism? How is that we make sure a girl being born in 2016, grows up never discouraged into not playing football.