Written by: James McHale @jamesmchale2607
With the Women’s World Cup now underway, the brightest stars in women’s football are showcasing their abilities to a global audience and despite the fact that women’s football is no longer merely a hobby for women, many around the world continue to belittle the achievement of these amazing athletes and patronise those who support them.
Despite more women than ever now playing the exhilarating game, sexism is on the up with more than twice as many women in football claiming to have been sexually harassed since they last collection of data 3 years ago. In addition to this, almost three times as many women claim to have been denied access to football based events based on gender grounds alone, according to research collected by Women in Football.
Over the course of the last week I’ve spent my time interviewing women about their experiences in the footballing world trying to understand the extent of the abuse they suffer. The women I’ve spoken to are as passionate as they come and come from all walks of life, coming from both here in Liverpool and in the United States. The one clear consistency is that all of these women have had their opinions dismissed purely because of their gender, regardless of what they actually had to say.
The first woman I spoke to, who wished to stay anonymous due to the huge amount of abuse she already receives online, comes all the way from Ohio and shared in detail how she still experiences gender-based abuse online despite living half a world away.
She told me: “The issues I have to deal with are primarily related to my gender […] I think every issue I’ve ever had has stemmed from me being a woman who also likes to watch people kick a ball around.”
This statement particularly resonates with me because this woman has a clear passion for the club that we all love, explaining that, “[supporting Liverpool] is just something kind of ethereal, I can’t quite explain coherently. I have a chronic illness and I went through a long period last year before I was diagnosed in which I was kind of just bed ridden. Even if everything else is going horribly wrong, you know the boys are there. You know they’re going to leave their hearts on the pitch… you know they’re going to do everything within their power to bring you those three points.”
Her experiences covey a sense of trust in the team, something we can all empathise with; we all know the feeling after a huge win, the feeling of invincibility that feeling stays with us for days, no matter how bad things may be in our personal lives. That was the one thing that got her through large parts of her illness, she knew that if she could see the boys give their all on the pitch, she too could pull through and fight her illness with the same passion and determination. There has been points in my life when I’ve been feeling awful but then the slightest bit of positive Liverpool news has managed to pick me up and make me feel absolutely brilliant, a feeling I’m sure many of you readers have experienced this too.
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The next woman I spoke to, Bina who lives in London (@MidgetGemBina), told me a story very similar to the last with much of the abuse she experiences coming from online. Bina notes that the men she meets at Anfield are generally quite receptive to her and are generally more than happy to have a chat about the football, explaining that, “I have actually experienced a majority of the abuse online, most blokes wouldn’t dare talk to my face like that.”
Despite Bina experiencing little abuse in person, Women in Sport report that 38.2% of women in football receive derogatory statements based on their ability due to their gender alone while 61.9% have been a victim of sexist ‘banter’ and jokes. The evidence is clear to see with Bina stating that, “when Sian Massey was a lineswoman, much of the verbal abuse she was getting was for simply being a woman.” We can all remember the backlash with the FA seemingly obvious to the firestorm both in the stadium and online, if homophobia and racism leads to stadium bans for supporters then why doesn’t sexism abuse receive comparable punishments? Bina is optimistic about the future of football though, despite the dire state of it right now, stating that, “sexism is something that hopefully will organically disappear as more women go to the game now, that sort of thing doesn’t just stop overnight.”
We shouldn’t need to see more women in the spotlight in order to eradicate sexism in football but she isn’t wrong, by seeing more women both on the pitch and in the television studios we are being exposed to the truth that women are just as passionate when talking about and playing football.
Heading back over the pond, this time to Tennessee, I spoke to huge Liverpool fan October (@OctoberAeowyn) about her experiences as a Liverpool fan. The one thing that has amazed me when I’ve spoken to these international football fans is their dedication to the club, waking up at ungodly hours just to get a glimpse of the club they love. You get the impression that this club is so much bigger than any of us local fans realise, with October telling me that, “if the match isn’t being broadcast in the States, I find a way to watch it because that, and social media, is my way of feeling like I’m a part of this thing that’s so much bigger than myself.”
October explaining that she lives for this club just as you and I do, planning her day around the team and making sure that she doesn’t miss a single match. Again, I was told how the experiences of women differ both online and in person with October’s gender not mattering on this side of the pond with her telling me: “In Liverpool it’s like I’ve been there my whole life and nobody seems to care that I’m a girl, we just all want to discuss the team we love so nothing but good experiences there.” Despite her amazing experiences in Liverpool, Germany, and Australia, October also tells me of her negative footballing experiences with twitter replies often being abusing.
Off the top of her head October told me how she receives comments such as; “you’re f*cking ugly”, “shouldn’t be involved in football twitter, you b*tches only do it for likes on your selfies”, “this is why women shouldn’t be involved in football”, as well as numerous kitchen or cooking ‘jokes’ that you see posted under nearly every viral post made by a woman. October told me about how instead of going to overcrowded and often overpriced bars to watch the games she instead prefers to stay at home and watch the matches with her dad. Isn’t that what supporting Liverpool is all about? Supporting Liverpool means spending time with the people closest to you and being able to speak freely about the club that you all love and follow, regardless of location or gender.
Online banter is one thing but when it becomes personal, as it often does for female football fans, it needs to be stopped and the problem with twitter is that such abuse almost always goes unpunished. We have the opportunity to do more as a fanbase and make this club more inclusive. We shouldn’t allow misogyny and sexism to thrive online and alienate fellow Liverpool fans just become they are women. I have been lucky enough this last year to work alongside some incredible women at TheRedmenTV whose expertise and commitment to both men’s and women’s football has left me speechless on numerous occasions. If you need any convincing, not that you should, please head over to @RMTVWomensPod and check out the amazing work Lauren and Amy are doing.
Article by James McHale @jamesmchale2607