Upon hearing that I’m from Manchester, some people ask a common follow up question: “Red or Blue?” Admittedly, this usually comes from men, but every so often a woman will engage with me in a conversation about football.
The answer is Red, and before I moved away from home I would visit Old Trafford with my dad or my auntie a few times a year. It’s a valid point that a football ground – especially United’s Stretford End on derby day – isn’t the place for a ten-year-old girl, but the optimist in me hopes that’s tied to age rather than a gender issue.
On Saturday banners appeared in the crowd at a game in France. One depicts a man above a downwards arrow with the word “stade” (stadium), while the other has a woman with the word “cuisine” (kitchen) and a left-facing arrow. The signs have one, clear message: football stands are not a place for women.
Unfortunately this isn’t an isolated incident. In a 2015 survey conducted by The Football Supporter’s Federation, 25 per cent of UK women had heard sexist comments from fans at a match, and 35.5 per cent had been told, by a presumably surprised man, that they knew a lot about football “for a girl”. While nearly a third of women reported that these comments made them “feel sorry” for the sexist, a disparaging 10 per cent thought that sexism is to be expected and is a part of the match day experience.
The crowd becomes more male, and sexist attitudes are perpetuated – a problem for an industry that already faces huge diversity issues
Sexism towards female fans has knock-on effects. Women do not want to put themselves in an environment where they are ridiculed or harassed (8.5 per cent of women in the FSF survey said they had received unwanted physical attention at games). The crowd then becomes more male, and sexist attitudes are perpetuated. A problem for an industry that already faces huge diversity issues. Is there any wonder why girls and women are less likely to engage in sport – as spectators or participants – when sporting environments are so hostile towards their presence?
In response to the banners, Lille have announced that next Saturday’s game against Lorient will be free to attend for women, sending a counter-message right back to the fans. Jean Michel Aulas, the club president, tweeted, “the club will get tough and will file a complaint against the creator of this banner.”
Supporting a team is one of the rare occasions people come together for a united cause – singling out women, particularly using the sexist trope of “getting back to the kitchen”, fragments and weakens that support. There should be no place for sexism in the football stands.