When somebody tells you: “I don’t understand why I should be feminist, women already have reached equality!”, ask them if they watched the FIFA World Cup in Russia this year.
We all know how polarizing football as a topic can be in a group of both men and women: usually most of men love it, while only a few women can stand it, but how is this possible? Why there is such a clear cut in between the genders regarding their love for this sport? Is it possible for this to change?
Sport is supposed to bring people together, but the most popular among them has become the bulwark of our decadent patriarchal society: football asks women to ‘step aside’ and be simple observers of an all-male game. For this reason, we must acknowledge that there will never be a real winner in a World Cup if part of the national population, the female one, does not feel included in this game and therefore dislikes it, since, as Publius Syrus’ used to say, we can find victory only where there is unity (‘Ibi semper est vicoria, ubi concordia’) .
Giving them the role of the protagonists, it’s no surprise that football has always been followed more closely by men. In fact, even though sometimes it sounds like it’s written in our female genes that us women shouldn’t like this sport, there’s a more logical explanation for our hate of it which is that you cannot pretend to be enjoying a party where you have never been truly invited. Girls don’t dislike football, they simply hate the marginal role that this sport forces them to play.
If you are female and not overly ambitious, football allows you to cheer for your team. If you aim a bit higher, you can even be a ‘wag’, the girlfriend or wife of a successful player. But that’s it. This is the reality of the world of football – so distant from the real world that it is often hard to understand.
Nowadays little girls are – hopefully – raised to believe that they are equal to men, even though society does not always allow them to be as free as men: some girls now train to be soldiers and others study to be IT engineers. On the other hand, some men choose to become fashion designers, kindergarten teachers or nurses, following career paths that we traditionally seen more suitable for women. In both cases these people face discrimination on daily basis because we are used to link qualities such as weakness or sensitivity to the female gender and others, such as strength and independence, to masculinity. According to this reasoning, men are the protagonists and women are simple supporters.
In many fields, society is changing its stance on this, by recognizing that such gender stereotypes are not truthful, we are finally allowing ourselves to be free to do whatever we want and whatever we are good at.
Meanwhile – even though we see women becoming CEOs and men being house-husbands – football has stayed the same during these years of change and still portrays women who oftentimes also have successful careers as mere supporters of their partners, plain ‘wags’. In football, women are still ‘weak’ and men are still the ‘strong’ protagonists.
This year, for example, we talked a lot about the Italian national team being excluded from the World Cup in Russia, but not a single word was uttered about the female national team that wrote history by qualifying for the 2019 World Cup in France after 20 years of not taking part in it.
The difference between female and male football players, anyway, is not just about how much their stories are covered by the media, but also about how much they are paid. In the U.S., for example, the female national team is paid nearly four times less than the male national team according to Forbes . Simply put, male football players are rich and famous, female kickers aren’t.
In the movie ‘Bend it like Beckham’, Jess, a young Indian girl fights with her traditionalist family to peruse her dream of becoming a professional football player and while in the end she succeeds, we never got the sequel in which Jess does not become as big as Beckham or as get paid the same as him, even though she can ‘bend’ it like him – simply because she is female. This is the reason modern girls don’t like football: they don’t like to be left out. Modern girls don’t like to sit and watch men playing. Modern girls cannot support a sport that is a snapshot of how misogynistic society used to be and at times still is.
France, the winner of the FIFA World Cup this year, is known for its revolutionists and one of them was Olympe de Gouges, the writer of the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen’ in which she affirms: ‘Regardless of what barriers confront you, it is in your power to free yourselves; you have only to want to’ . This gives us the answer to the last question we asked ourselves in the beginning: is it a change possible? Yes, a change is always possible if you really want it and it has already occurred in our society as we have seen. However, for now, it looks like the world of football is not ready for a change since female national teams keep being far less important than the male ones and the gender pay gap is so relevant.
Many jokes have been made on how the French have finally won in Russia -even though this time it was only a sport competition- decades after Napoleon’s losing campaign, but if there is still no ‘liberté’ for women to be successful football players and the only option they have is to cheer for the male team, I believe that Olympe would have considered this more as another defeat in Russia both for French values and human rights.