It’s a Man’s World- Sexism in Football

I had a weird experience this weekend. It was a quick conversation, but it’s led me to feel really frustrated with sexism still existing in some aspects of the social sphere.

I met a guy, who mentioned he’s an Aston Villa fan. I tell him sorry, and that I support West Ham to which he responded:

‘Oh really? Whats the name of your ground and can you name any of the starting 11?’

Not a problem for me- I love football. I’ve been a West Ham season ticket holder for 6 years. I was able to name my preferred starting XI, and then listed the subs bench for good measure. I then asked him to name Aston Villa’s starting XI, and he didn’t make it past the defenders (to be fair I’d have accepted 11 synonyms for shite as an answer, so it shouldn’t have been that hard.)

But it really bothered me that I had to prove my worth, and he not only didn’t, but couldn’t. We live in a world where women are advancing in leaps and bounds in most areas. We’re breaking the glass ceiling and leveling the playing field (slowly but surely) at work. We have equal rights, we vote, and we sit in parliament but social activities and interests don’t seem to hold the same equality. Why, when we’ve advanced so far in the workplace and in the world is there still so much sexism in the world of British football and also other typically male social pastimes and interests?

I’m using football as an example as its the area where I’m constantly having to prove myself. If I tell someone I support West Ham, I almost always have to pull out my season ticket to validate my claim- and prove I’m not just a fan because Andy Carroll looks great in shorts and I’d climb that like a tree (even though he does and I would.)

When it comes to women in football, they are starting to take a more active role in football viewing. Although West Ham United were not able to provide me with data from this seasons current figures, the Barclays Premier League’s National Fan Survey states that 13% of West Ham’s attendees in the 2007-2008 season were female- 15% across all premier league teams. But depressingly, in the 2011-12 season 70% of all women that attended football matches are categorized by the Premier League as being “non-football fans.”

The women working in football are few and far between- Karren Brady (West Ham’s current vice-chairman and managing director of Birmingham at 23), and referee Sian Massey are two of the only names who come to mind. Sadly, Massey did not make headlines for being a strong female role model, but rather because her appointment led to broadcasters making sexist remarks about her for which they were then (rightly) fired.

Make no mistake- it is men’s football, it is a man’s game and I don’t object to that aspect of it at all. My objection is that I constantly have to justify and prove my interest in it, because this isn’t the first run-in I’ve had of this nature.

As season ticket holders, we sit in the same assigned seats every game. Often the people around us are people who have bought single game tickets. On one (memorable) occasion a guy I’d never seen before sat next to me and just after kick off turned to me and asked if this was my first football match.

I politely replied that I was a season ticket here for the past 4 years but that I’d never seen him before so no it wasn’t my first game, was it his?

Conversation died at that point but I actually felt bad for him, as I think in a misguided way, he was actually trying to be polite and friendly. However, if he had offered to explain the offside rule to me I’d have hit him in the face.

It’s not just fans; I arrived at West Ham- Spurs in May 2006 (the lasagna game) to find a man sitting in my assigned season ticket seat. I asked him to move, he refused, I asked the steward to move him who said “you don’t need to sit there, just go sit in one of those empty seats up there!” and pointed to a selection of seats with a shit view. It took me 20 minutes and finding four other stewards to get someone to move this idiot out of my seat, and I missed a goal in the process. I don’t believe in this instance a man would have been told to just sit someone else.

It’s not everyone, of course. There are some people in the footballing world who have been accepting. I’m lucky enough that the guy I sit next to (who over the years has become one of my closest friends) for some odd reason has genuinely never questioned my commitment to the team, the sport, and the rituals. This may be of course because he has the misfortune to sit next to me- I am a very loud, passionate, foul mouthed football supporter- and that’s hard to fake. I don’t hold back. I have had to apologise to kids sitting near me on more than one occasion.

His family, who have become excellent drinking buddies before and after (and during) games are the same- good people who just seem to have accepted me into their footballing world – although I am aware that, given some of the vile (and hilarious) subject matter they talk about around me, there is also the possibility that they either don’t know, or have forgotten, that I’m a woman.

But truthfully, that’s exactly what I want. With them I get to be an equal, and I appreciate that more than I could ever tell them. That’s all I’m asking for here- a chance to say “this is something I’m passionate about” and not be subjected to having to prove I belong there.

Yet even in writing this, I still felt the need to layout my credentials in the first paragraphs so I’d be taken seriously. I’m an alpha female who takes being called a bitch as a good thing, but really in some places it’s still a mans world. I’m just living in it.

Sadly sexism is still alive and kicking, folks. I’ll keep doing my best to kick it back.

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