The women’s Euros got underway yesterday, with home nation Netherlands beating Norway 1-0 in front of a Dutch record of 21,732 fans. I was just about to write about this tournament, but then I remembered what always happens when I write about women’s football, as I have now for nearly 17 years. And then I saw the reaction by some to a female Doctor Who. And then I read that this week the BBC are releasing the wages of their top employees and it is expected to show that women earn less than men for doing the same jobs.
If you’re a regular reader of our noble, 20-year-old website, you’ll know that from time to time we dip our pinko liberal PC-gone-mad, achingly hip toes into feminist political waters, and indeed are happy to do so. It seems important that we do because the Daily Star is currently running this headline.
‘Women’s Euros 2017 babes: The stunning players gunning for glory this summer.’
And this is followed by photos of said ‘stunners’, or women, as we more traditionally know them.
While this sort of garbage exists it needs counterbalancing. And it’s not a one-off; it is a whole culture which creates, propagates and consumes this sexist drivel. So why wouldn’t we be part of that opposition here?
Gender politics matters, but every time I do political pieces, there is always a vocal minority who complain about its presence on a football website. And right across all media, little angers an audience more than a feminist dialectic about sexism. The ‘F’ word is peculiarly divisive. There seems to be an army of trolls who hunt such pieces down and take joy in casting abuse at the writer and the subject matter. To me, this is plain weird because feminism is just about respect, equality and fairness, and why would anyone be against those things?
Even just raising the issue of women’s teams being called ‘ladies’ riled people, as my piece in April showed all too well in the comments it attracted.
‘Stick to the football, lads’ someone will always seemingly unselfconsciously say, even though at least one of us isn’t a lad, and we do stick to the football, it’s just that football exists and happens in a societal context and is thus indivisible from the political.
As Carol Hanisch said in 1970, “the Personal is Political,” and it rightly became something of a slogan at the time. How we live, what we believe, or do not believe. How we express those beliefs, how we behave and the choices we make, all have political ramifications. That’s why I raised the issue about women’s teams having ‘Ladies’ as a suffix when we don’t call men’s teams ‘Gentlemen’. These things matter because they’re a detail in the picture. They’re the dots of colour in the pointillist painting of life, indivisible from the whole.
If you think this is all so much fanciful mind w*nk, the Republic of Ireland women’s team recently threatened to go on strike if they didn’t get improved resources and compensation from the FAI for lost earnings while on international duty, match fees of 300 euros, bonuses of 150 euros for a win and 75 euros for a draw, gym membership for the squad and the provision of team clothing. Yes, they dared to want their FA to buy them football kit. Y’know. Like the men. Players said the Football Association of Ireland treated them “like dirt on its shoe”.
They eventually won their dispute. But we can see that these issues of sexism and inequality are everywhere and need challenging.
The other common criticism I get for raising gender issues is that I may be doing so as an affectation. I recall a few years ago being told by one reader that I only wrote a positive piece about women’s football in order to get off with women!
Others seem to think it is all faux or phoney, or even worse, pompous hectoring from members of the ‘liberal elite’. even though they have no idea that I’m a Teesside scumbag who buys litre bottles of Glens Vodka (one for the Scots, there.)
This is simply a way to discredit or put down dissent towards the established norm. As the Republic of Ireland players discovered, without dissent towards the status quo, change will not happen. The power will remain in the same hands. The money too.
Nick Ames’ excellent piece this weekend discussed the problems with gender and sexual politics in relation to football, with Swedish international player and activist Nilla Fischer.
When someone, be they a footballer, or anyone else, is getting messages which says ‘diversity is all good but lesbians, gay men and other perverts are not worthy of living. You should die’,
we can’t just stick fingers in our ears and say ‘la la la can’t hear you’, just because we want to get the ball out and talk about 3-5-2 v 3-1-3-1-2. To do so would be shirking our duty as citizens of a liberal, and at least notional, democracy.
Here and now is exactly the right context for both defending and supporting someone such as Nilla Fischer, in exactly the same way you would expect if this was about race and not ‘stunners’.
Women’s football isn’t better or worse than men’s football; it is just different. We don’t have to put either gender down, or vaunt one over the other, but that is all too often exactly what happens. And yes that is a political point, but where else should it be made if not on a website about football?
So next time I write about women’s football and I point out again, as I have done many times over the years, that when people define the quality of women’s football against a notional default male standard, it is unacceptable sexism, don’t get upset. We’re all on a learning curve. This is part of a struggle towards fairness and equality, not some sort of exercise in hipper-than-thou self-aggrandisement. Change is happening, even despite Daily Star headlines, but it is a long road to walk.
So don’t come here and tell us politics and sport don’t mix. You are wrong. Not only do they mix, they are inextricably bound together, and pretending we can talk about football without ever mentioning politics is delusion, ignorance or worse, mendacious.
…but hey, what about those stunnerz, huh?