DISCRIMINATION WITHIN WOMEN’S FOOTBALL IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

by Will J.

When researching what topic area to pick for my blog post, it was easy. Selecting gender discrimination within football (soccer) was an obvious choice for two reasons; firstly, my stereotypical love for football as an Englishman, and secondly; an opportunity to discuss a topic that maybe some, or many of you, may not be accustom with. This blog post will specifically look at the discrimination that women receive as female football participants.

A stereotype for many people to make would be that the majority of English males play football, and as a male who has lived in England all my life, I can confirm that it is an accurate stereotype. Football is by far the most popular and widespread sport in the UK.

So where do females fit in? Football is also the most popular team sport for women in England. There are 252,000 women who participate in football at least once a month, however this is only 1.2% of the women in the country. Putting this into comparison to that of males, for every twelve males who participate, only one female takes part, with only 5.6% of all club members being women (Women’s Sport & Fitness Foundation, 2012).

Discrimination of women who participate in football occurs often through stereotyping females who participate as “butch lesbians”. This discrimination is often forged through previous gender roles. During the 40’s and 50’s women were portrayed as being fragile and were expected to fulfill the role of homemaker, whilst the male was out at work. Relating these gender roles and stereotypes to sport, women’s bodies in the 1900’s were regarded as “delicate”, and because of their muscle build, beauty and expectation of genteelness, they were advised to refrain from participating in physical activity as it was believe this would lead to ill health and it was seen as un-lady like. However, this perspective is also still reflected in this day and age by some people.

As football is regarded as a masculine sport, similarly to when females wear their hair short, or dress in the fashion of men, and in this case play sport, women who play are stereotypically regarded as being lesbian (Caudwell, 1999). Female footballers are specifically discriminated against because of the notion that football is predominantly heterosexually masculine, and still holds a very male outlook. Therefore, women who participate are portray as masculine and homosexual, creating a butch lesbian stereotype. The lack of media and general popularity of women’s football may also be linked to the image of women’s football being a ‘lesbian sport’. This image is also a deterrent for young girls and their parents who may not want to be (or their daughters to be) associated with this image. It has also been suggested that keeping the status quo of having women’s football seen as a taboo and as a ‘lesbian sport’, is a way of keeping professional players from ‘coming out’, and maintaining the ideology of heterosexual male participation (Wagg, 2004).

Further Reading:

Caudwell, J. (November 01, 1999). Women’s Football in the United Kingdom: Theorizing Gender and Unpacking the Butch Lesbian Image. Journal of Sport & Social Issues, 23(4), 390-402.

Wagg, S. (2004). British football and social exclusion. London: Routledge.

Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation. (October 2012). Football Factsheet: football is the most popular team sport for women. Thefa.com. Retrieved March 14th, 2014, from http://www.thefa.com

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2 responses

  1. Great post Will,

    Being from Canada, and not knowing much about soccer I find this interesting. I commonly think of watching women’s soccer glorified in the women’s world cup and at the olympics. But this is on a giant elite stage. It is interesting to know and learn about this negative stereotype in the grass route amateur levels. What an eye opener. I thought maybe soccer was one of those sports where this was not a factor. I say this thinking of hockey here in Canada. Our elite teams are glorified and given lots attention, but participation in the grass roots is low, and the same perceptions are common. Its too bad that this negative stereotype follows certain women’s sports. Hopefully these perceptions change.

    Andrew Connors

  2. hey Will

    I find this a really interesting post – I’m hoping my comment isn’t going to sound exactly like Andrew’s, but I have a similar viewpoint as him. To be frank, I don’t know a lot about football/soccer. I played on a girl’s team until the end of grade eight, but I have never really followed soccer In Canada or anywhere else – except for the Olympics (sometimes). After a quick Google search of a Canadian women’s soccer team, and a women’s soccer team in the UK, I’ve come to the conclusion that they “appear” to be similar. Maybe I am just really unaware of what stereotypes we hold here in Canada of women who play soccer, but I don’t feel like we hold the same as what are found in the UK (“Butch Lesbians”) – at least not to the same extent. When I say this, I don’t mean to come across like “Canada is better than England”, but perhaps one reason for this different view on women soccer players is that we have further embraced “strong is the new sexy” (like we discussed in class). Either way, it is really unfortunate that playing soccer is associated with being a lesbian, wherever it may be. I’m sure this turns many females away from playing a sport they would love to experience.

    Lori McGuigan

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