Levelling the playing field: Sexism towards females in football

The World Cup of 2018 came to an end recently, as did the chanting, and unfortunately for England, it didn’t come home. Too soon?

Over the summer, bustling British pubs kept us “hydrated”, and encouraged us to belt out our old-time favourites, which transformed from patriarchal chants to slurred moans in the space of 90 minutes (give or take). Yet, despite the rise in female football supporters, there is still a jaw-dropping reaction when a female enters a pub, orders herself a pint and shouts at the screen when a game’s on. It is time to reiterate once and for all that yes, women like football too. Time to get over it.

I always enjoyed playing football at school. I felt empowered and confident running around the field; usually as a defender ready to tackle! The boys at school would tease me for wearing a West Ham shirt which had my surname on the back, but I didn’t care. It was a hand me down from my cousins and I happened to like the maroon and blue combination. Clearly, they were just jealous 😉

Despite my lack of interest in becoming a die-hard English football fan at the age of 10, it’s clear that Football conjures a balance of comradery and competitiveness (excluding hooliganism of course). It’s a game that everyone can partake in. After all, isn’t that what The World Cup is all about: bringing people from different cultures and communities together? How about different sexes?

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Google image: Women’s World Cup, France vs England 2018

Sexism in football

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that sexism towards females in football still exists. There are currently 137,021 male professional footballers in the world in comparison to 1,287 female professionals. According to The Guardian, gender inequality in football is higher than in politics, business and medicine which is reflected in pay. In England, female players in the FA Women’s Super League receive an average of £26,752 a year, compared to the men in the Premier League who are paid 99 times that figure at an average of £2.64m. Females remain under-represented and under -valued, thus striving for equality and inclusion in sport in general.

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I witnessed gender discrimination in sport working in the corporate sector, when asked to source male only staff to promote the release of a new football game at one of the largest gaming conventions. The company asked for three promo staff to manage the activation. They needed to have the following requirements:

  • Promo/ confident talking to the public
  • Interest in gaming and football
  • Oh, and one last thing – they needed to be male.

 I don’t know what shocked me more; the fact that a global gaming company could be so blatantly sexist and ignorant, in a time where gender equal movements are gaining more momentum each day. Or, that the client we were dealing with was female!

It’s not every day you’re given the opportunity to challenge a client and stand up to something you believe in. It was discriminating to ask for male only staff to represent a gender -neutral sport when we had put forward two strong female candidates who matched the skill set required. So, what did I do: I sent back an email full of stats on female participation in football. It was thrilling.

What I found

Data gathered by Kantar Media from January – March 2016 shows that there are 7.7 million female football fans in the UK. This has risen from 26% in July 2015 to 33% in 2016. Germany (39%), Spain (40%) and Italy (40%) remain leaders in female football supporters.

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Image: Kantar media

According to Sport England, the number of girls and women playing football week-on-week has risen from 29,900 to 1.84 million. This has been hugely fuelled by the This Girl Can campaign which launched in early 2017; encouraging women and girls to get involved with sport and overcome any fear of judgment. Research has shown 58% of girls have said they had overcome a lack of self-confidence as a result of playing football.

The FA’s head of women’s football, Baroness Sue Campbell, is determined to double women’s participation by 2020, expanding girls’ and women’s teams from 6,000 to 12,000. She quotes in the FA, “I strongly believe that this strategy will change perceptions and help remove the social barriers to participation whilst continuing to support the serious players on their pathway to the England team”.

There is still a way to go in increasing the number of female football players, but it is clear all around the world, that women and girls are feeling more confident to participate in football and companies like FA are doing what they can to support this.

What’s next for females in football?

Global organizations such as UN Women have partnered up with FIFA to drive forward gender equality; putting in place strategies to enforce diversity and equality in Football, aiming for 50/50 representation by 2030.

By empowering women in sport, positive role models are being created; stereotypes are being abolished; and women’s capabilities as leaders and decision-makers are being promoted. Participation in sport increases self-confidence and self-esteem, enabling a platform for free self-expression. It also provides a safe space for women and girls to build interpersonal networks and develop a sense of identity.

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It is clear that more can be done to level the playing fields. To name a few:

  • Leading sport organisations and worldwide football teams can create strategies that drive gender equality: increasing female representation on and off the pitch.
  • The Education sector (schools, colleges, universities etc) can encourage girls and women to take part in sport: creating more sport programmes which encourage participation and leadership. This will lead girls to develop higher self-esteem and confidence, which will also have a positive impact on their education and future employment.
  • Commercialism and advertising: female representation in marketing campaigns can be boosted by sports brands by increasing the promotion of female role models; to inspire and empower women and girls.

 

When it comes to the universal game of football, the ability to kick a ball with physical strength and strategic thinking should not be defined by gender, but by pure skill and passion. Let’s not forget what sport symbolises: unity; team work; competitiveness; and skill. It’s about time we abolish outdated societal excuses that state that women’s bodies are built differently; that they are less strong and able compared to a man. Women’s bodies ARE built differently, but that does not mean they cannot exert physical skill. Rather than stating the obvious, and holding women back from achieving, we must, like a team on a pitch, join together in order to achieve and succeed. All of us.

Like me, you too might get a kick out of standing up to what is right and fair.

Definition of sport (FYI):

‘An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual (male or female I’d like to add) or team competes against another or others for entertainment.’

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