Coming to Cambridge from living in Liverpool was a definite culture change for a variety of reasons, but it surprised me that it even manifested itself in sport. As an avid Liverpool fan and having grown up in a city that stops dead whenever Liverpool or Everton play, finding fellow football fans has been an ongoing pursuit in a university where the question ‘who do you support?’ is usually met with a blank stare or a rugby team I have never heard of. In a sport typically dominated by men, with their wages astronomically higher than their female counterparts, a woman’s voice is hard to come by. As such, when I have found fellow women football fans, I have noticed that they usually feel the need to justify their fan status, in a way that my male football loving friends would not.
This need for justification was particularly noticeable during the World Cup. A large proportion of people who had not shown as much interest in football in the past, became captivated by England’s route to the semi-final. While it was amazing to see so many of my friends engage in a sport that I love to watch so much, it was frustrating to hear from many of my female friends that their newly found football allegiance was questioned and challenged as being ‘just to fit in with the crowd.’ My male friends who had never shown much interest in football in the past were never questioned and allowed to just jump on the football bandwagon that the nation was enjoying.
Something else which I heard being said again and again during those few weeks was that girls who were interested in the World Cup were trying to ‘gain male attention.’ I was shocked – my female friends were literally being sexualized as they watched the games. Such patronizing comments discourage female participation, something which we cannot afford to do in a country where only 15% of teenage girls meet the recommended exercise levels per week.
This football culture made me question my own experiences as a football fan. It called to mind the countless times that I have expressed an interest or opinion about football and have been given a surprised look or have had to back up my opinion; something that men would not be forced to do. Granted, there are areas of my football knowledge that are lacking, having never played football myself. I know that this is equally true for many male fans of the game and yet I find that their love of the sport is never questioned in the same way as mine. While many fellow fans I have spoken to have treated me exactly the same as they would any other, the most usual remark to my contribution to a discussion about the latest results is more likely to finish with ‘Wow, you actually know quite a lot about football’ and sometimes, in an even more condescending manner, with the added the qualification ‘for a girl’.
These comments are, more often than not, said in a harmless manner and are maybe even said to show appreciation for my contribution to the discussion. However I have a question for anyone who has made similar comments in the past: would you ever tell a male fan that they ‘actually’ know quite a lot about football? Or perhaps indeed, any sport? Although intended to be harmless, these comments often come across as condescending and reaffirm a belief that women can only be good at something ‘as a man would be’ or good at something ‘for a woman’. In most areas of society, these sexist attitudes are being challenged, but I truly believe that the sporting world still has a noticeable problem. This manifests itself on a general level in the pay gap throughout sport, but also in everyday sporting conversations, such as the ones that I regularly have.
We still see a serious lack of female football presenters, and women’s involvement in football has still not been ‘normalized’ at all in our society. I regularly listen to football podcasts and while I do greatly enjoy them, they are heavily male-orientated and will always feature adverts geared towards men.
I once read a statistic stating that women need to feel 100% sure that they are qualified for a job to apply for it whereas men only need to be 60% sure. This statistic, although perhaps not mathematically sound, resonated with me strongly and I can think back to many times in my life where I have not applied to something because I have not been 100% sure that I am able to do it. In the build-up to Freshers’ week, I saw countless advertisements being posted on our college Freshers’ page, including one posted by Finn Ranson, Cam FM Sports editor, about the opportunity to get involved in a football podcast show. As an avid listener to these types of shows in general, I was curious but still rather hesitant to get involved. This statistic recently popped into my mind and I decided to enquire about getting involved in the show, even though radio was completely out of my comfort zone.
I sit now writing this article, having just got back from my first recording session of the show. After weeks of nerves and asking my friends and family whether it was the right thing for me to be doing, I can honestly say that I am so glad I put myself out there and that I actually did really enjoy recording the show! I hope that having a female voice on the radio talking about football will help girls to get engaged and involved, even if it is just a small step in the direction of normalizing female participation in sporting discussions. I truly believe that anyone can have an opinion on sport in general, whether they are a professional player or just appreciate the game itself and that they should never be subjected to abuse. There is absolutely no need for gender to come into play when assessing whether someone is ‘qualified’ enough to play or talk about a sport.
If you are interested in learning more about football and do want to listen to other people’s and women’s opinions about this wonderful sport (but more importantly see if I actually know anything about football) tune in to CamFM at 6PM on Mondays for the At Full Time Show.
Eniola Aluko (source: wikimedia)