‘Football is Football, no matter who kicks the ball! – Gareth Southgate.
The England men’s football manager, Gareth Southgate has been quoted as saying “football is football, no matter who kicks the ball”. And with the victorious England Women’s Team win on Sunday of the Women’s Euro’s, I thought of that quote!
I didn’t even realise that women’s football existed until a few years ago, and I was surprised when I found out it had existed for years. I now know that television stations did show women’s football games – but in the middle of the night, on some obscure channel that no one watched and no one had ever heard of! A bit like, years ago, when they only showed films about domestic abuse in the middle of the night on channels no one knew about or watched!
I vividly remember waiting up till about 2am in the morning to watch the film ‘The Burning Bed’ – a true story of a woman that was experiencing domestic abuse and her struggle to escape. The film starred Farrah Fawcett Majors, which anyone under a certain age probably won’t remember but I had just happened to stumble across the listing for this film in the TV Times magazine. Showing my age now!
I wanted my abusive ex-husband to watch it with me. I wanted him to maybe see what he was doing to me was wrong. I was so tired but I sat up and I made him watch it with me. And at the end, a helpline number came up on the screen and he looked at me and said – “Are you going to write that number down then”? He laughed and said “Do you think anyone cares Sharon? If they did, it would be on the TV at a normal time”. I guess the same could be said about Women’s Football – at least up until now.
Surely this Women’s football tournament must herald a new dawn for not just women, but also for football? The last time England hosted the women’s tournament was in 2005. The tournament consisted of just 8 teams! and many of the games were attended by far less than 1,000 people. Back then, the then UEFA President Lennart Johansson stated that the ticket companies could make good use of “sweaty, lovely looking girls on the ground, with the rainy weather” in order to sell tickets! I wish I could say that there were no misogynistic, racist and sexist comments this time round but of course, in the patriarchal society in which we live, there were. And there were lots. Even Gary Lineker, the former England player tweeted and then quickly deleted a post saying “The Lionesses have only gone and done it, and Kelly is England’s heroine, bra none”. When challenged, he said it was just a play on words. Why mention her bra at all!?? I was angry when watching Chloe Kelly get a yellow card for taking her top off when she scored the winning goal. As she said “In men’s football, they would be doing exactly the same so, as a woman, why can’t we?
Despite England’s win, sold out stadiums and growing support for women’s football, it is estimated that two thirds of women in football have experienced gender based discrimination and over 70% of women in football have reported that they have experienced sexist abuse, with no action being taken is 68% of cases.
But we know, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The misogynistic culture around football doesn’t end at the stadiums does it? Although it is too soon to see the true impact of Sundays England win, all of us that work in the domestic abuse sector will be holding a collective breath to see if referrals to our organisations go up. Whilst we know that the impact on England’s men’s team winning or losing has an enormous impact on incidents of domestic abuse, the impact on a women’s team winning is not known, simply because it hasn’t happened before in a major tournament. A 2014 study found that domestic abuse incidents in the North-West of England increased by 38% when England’s men lost a match compared to when they didn’t play and that is only the reported incidents! In fact, it doesn’t matter whether they lose or win. When England’s men win, there was still an increase of 26% reported domestic abuse incidents. I have seen an appalling amount of abusive, sexist and misogynistic posts online, by men, during this tournament, who I assume have a belief that there is no place for women in the sport of football. I hate football but I am not abusive about it or the gender of the men’s teams!
Although we have come so far, there is still much to do to even out the gender inequality. Apart from the game itself, the use of language is also important. Have you noticed that the Women’s Euro’s are referred to as the Women’s Euro’s? Yet the Men’s Euro’s are simply referred to as ‘The Euro’s! The women are referred to as ‘girls’. So why aren’t the men referred to as ‘boys’? Football – Domestic Abuse, it is all relative!
But for now, we should celebrate a great victory which has put smiles on hundreds of thousands of people’s faces, men and women.
I will end this blog with a message one of my past clients sent me on Sunday evening…
“I just sat here with 4 little girls ranging from 4 to 10 years old watching the football and all the girls were shouting at the TV – and we have gone and won and I looked at all 4 of these little girls (only one of which is mine), who are all survivors of domestic abuse and I thought – What a day for these young girls to see women being strong and being role models they can look up to. You don’t have to be man to get what you want! ”.
Let’s continue doing what we need to do to make domestic abuse socially unacceptable. Because after all, domestic abuse is domestic abuse, no matter the gender of the victim or perpetrator!