Dear the FA,
I recently stumbled across your document, Considerations for Increasing Participation in Women and Girls Football whilst scrolling through my Twitter feed. At a glance, I thought it was a joke. It certainly reads like a joke, so I stand by my first impression.
Unfortunately, upon closer investigation and after some fervent Google searches it became apparent that this ridiculous piece of writing is very, depressingly real. You may have noticed the strength and emotive nature of the words I am choosing to use. That’s in response to the inherent sexism of yours.
It would be very easy for me to simply let my fingers fly across my keyboard and rant for several pages about the anger your initiative has caused for many of my fellow female footballers, but that would be to do our pursuit of equality a disservice. I am far better off to structure my argument and organise my thoughts. The purpose of that is twofold; it allows us to actually improve an idea that was born, I am sure, with good intentions. It also protects me from being called an ever-complaining feminist.
The first section of your plan is called “Advertising the Session”. This is where the joke part comes into play. There’s a bullet point about placing advertisements in “places where women go”, like coffee shops. The sexism in that statement is so deeply engrained that I acknowledge it might be difficult to see, but I assure you it’s there. It’s hiding in the triviality of its implications and in the complete categorisation of women that you would never see in a document for men.
Then, the document moderates itself ever so slightly for a few points, just enough to give the reader hope, before it slams back into its sexist ways with the bullet point, “the word ‘sport’ and its traditional image can trigger negative images for many women”. Please explain where you conjured that notion from and explain what you mean by it if you get a moment, but in the meantime I’ll give you my understanding. Sport is a men’s domain, that many women are too fragile to handle the, wait for it, connotative power of. I am willing to acknowledge that it’s unlikely you meant it like that but I urge you to realise the sexism implicit in that statement. As such, I’ll say something I feel compelled to say to my classmates, friends and fellow Twitter users almost daily: just because it’s not intended doesn’t lessen its effect.
There are better parts interspersed throughout the document but every time it seems to be on the brink of saving itself, it throws itself back off the precipice of actual equality and into the abyss of stereotypes. Suggestions like allowing coffee breaks, or time for participants to tweet are so shrouded by gender constructs it’s actually difficult for me to articulate it. As a girl who plays football, it makes me feel weak, incapable and, to quote from a young girl who has written to you in the UK, “brainless”.
All of that is bad enough but then there is the pinnacle of all sexist implication, the shining example of what gender constructs look like and how absurd they really are; a whole page filled with pink and purple sports gear. Don’t worry, I totally get where you’re coming from there-unless it’s pink or purple we won’t buy it, and if we don’t have pretty clothes (like nice-smelling, colourful bibs perhaps) we won’t play. Of course.
Really, there is far too much casual sexism in the whole initiative for me to pack into my cohesive, structured, feminist-hater-avoiding letter. There’s the attempt at dismissing the claim that women don’t know the offside rule. By the way, that really shouldn’t front your advertising campaign because saying it is publicising a truly ridiculous idea that should never be mentioned. There is the constant referencing of women’s needs to be on social media, the belittling of women’s physical abilities and the suggestion of fears of big, scary footballs. Ultimately however, there is one, huge backwards step for equality in the game.
I know that there will be people who think that this is a trivial issue and that it is only one document. I can’t agree with that. Even though this is one particularly visible example, it’s just a snapshot of the sort of thing women footballers deal with day in, day out. The effect of it, I assure you, is not minimal. It may be subtle, but it is powerful and it extends beyond the football pitch. As we saw with FIFA’s Live Your Goals efforts in Jordan recently, football has the power to empower young girls and break down barriers.
Through the beautiful game, we can take strides towards women being viewed as capable, strong and equal individuals. Football can be a tool to build a society where we can say, truthfully, that little girls can do whatever they want to do. When we keep placing them in the grips of gender constructs, trying to make concessions for them and telling them what they want, we stop ourselves from reaching that society. Little girls are just little people and I can tell you as someone who not too long ago was a young girl stepping onto the pitch for the first time, we do not appreciate being told what we cannot do.
Please keep fighting for the women’s game, please keep working to get girls involved but please remember this as you do: it takes more than the weight of the football or the colour of the bibs to stop me from doing what I love.
Helena Wiseman-A female footballer
NB: Images from: Considerations for Increasing Participation in Women and Girls Football at: http://www.sussexfa.com/~/media/countysites/sussexfa/documents/players/attracting-new-girls-and-women-into-football.ashx
Categories: English/UK Football
A lover of the game since the age of 4. Living and playing for club and school in Auckland and loving every second on the pitch (apart from the end of a losing match).