An occurrence that happens daily, happens too often, and yet somehow, it’s also a subject that many would prefer not to address.
The reasons for that may vary. For some, there might be a sense of discomfort. For others, they may want to have a discussion but don't know where to start. And then there are some who avoid the topic of sexism altogether out of sheer ignorance. But whatever the reason may be, it is time for the lid on sexism, particularly in football, to be blown wide open.
Before we start on that though, we as a collective need to understand two things: what does sexism in football exactly look like and why does it happen? If we don’t understand a problem at its core or why it happens, there would be no way for us to try and solve it.
So, first things first, what is sexism?
Sexism usually involves discrimination or unfair treatment that’s, mostly, particularly aimed towards women. But a definition that stood out to me is the one taken from Britannica:
"Sexism can be a belief that one sex is superior to or more valuable than another sex. It imposes limits on what men and boys can and should do and what women and girls can and should do"
(Although, let’s be real, when it comes to the world of football, men and boys have pretty much been limitless in what they’ve been able to do, and in some cases, get away with. It's the women and the girls who have been imposed with limits).
From what I’ve seen over the years as a young woman working in sports, from my time as a former sales representative working for various NFL and MLS teams, to my current experience as a contributor covering English football, sexism towards women can come in many different forms.
From insensitive comments made by male colleagues that are thought by them to be harmless, to vulgar language or threats that are made both in person or online. From unwanted attention and concerns of safety while attending actual matches, to inappropriate headlines regarding women footballers such as a recent one by The Sun regarding Chelsea Women’s Erin Cuthbert. And let’s not forget the politics surrounding men’s professional sports. Clubs hiring managers or signing players with a history of violence or ill will towards
women, or even attempting to cover up sexual allegations, especially if a high-profile name or a star talent is involved.
And let’s not even mention the pay discrepancy between men’s football and women’s. That could be its own separate blog post.
Unfortunately, this is not an exhaustive list, there are many more examples of sexism in football that could easily be added. But what each of these examples clearly show in their own different ways is the overall failure in football to protect women and hold men accountable.
So why does this all happen?
Well truthfully, it’s because both football and society have been allowed to get away with it. Money, power, politics, ignorance, a lack of awareness and education, are all contributors for sexism being a major issue in the current world of football. What happens at the elite top level will most certainly trickle down to affect the behavior and lifestyles of the average individual. After all, leadership is supposed to set an example.
But by no means does this leave the rest of us with no choice but to accept things for the way they are. In fact, quite the opposite.
Which leads us into why sexism matters in football and why it needs to be fought against. Why is it so important for each of us to demand change and create accountability for those who deserve it?
Once again, for multiple reasons. There are more simple ones such as the trending tagline “football is for everyone” that English footballers and their clubs have recently been promoting. If we want to make that statement true, then “everyone” does and should include women, amongst many other oppressed groups that have the right to play or enjoy the game such as people of color, LGBT, and the disabled.
There are also not so simple reasons that require taking a look at the bigger picture. English football likes to consider itself the standard when it comes to talent, prestige, and quality, and while it has been successful in proving that, why can’t it also set the standard for having zero tolerance when it comes to social issues surrounding football, such as sexism?
With power and prestige comes responsibility, and how do we think football has been handling that responsibility as of lately?
We also need to think about the younger generation and what messages the current game is sending them. Youth is extremely impressionable, and whatever they are taught in their classrooms, their homes, their academy training sessions, especially in regards to how to treat others, they will surely apply what they have learned once they reach a certain age. The future of society partially lies with them and do we really want them to carry on the torch of upholding archaic principles that mainly only benefit a certain gender of a certain race?
And last, but certainly not least, we must all take a stand for the ones who have been affected by sexism, but may not have had the courage or the support that was needed to speak up. Speaking out about sensitive issues is nowhere near as easy as the senseless and argumentative Twitter trolls make it seem. There’s a different kind of strength that’s required in order to speak out about something personal, and most of those that have been affected need help in shouldering that strength.
The time to remain comfortable or ignorant with the current social norms is over. Sexism is an issue that absolutely affects football, but it is also an issue that is much greater than it.
By Tristan Davis