There’s this dynamic when it comes to tackling sexism in society. Where efforts are led by men, they make sexism out to be this abstract, context-free force that men somehow have had no part in perpetuating. These men also believe that they, specifically, have the solution to such a vexing problem, and managed to come up with the solution without consulting any women.
Where better to see this dynamic than the Football Association.
A document produced by the FA on encouraging girls and young women to get involved in football was recently publicized. The document, which the FA insists was compiled after “research and feedback,” offers some truly awful tips that infantilizes women and casts their particular concerns as shallow and aesthetic. Some of those tips include advertising “in places where girls go” such as coffee shops and toilets (the only two places girls congregate, after all), making sure girls playing football have “colorful bibs” that “smell nice,” and incorporating breaks in play to allow girls to check their phones and scroll through Twitter.
The BBC spoke to an educator who came across the document and decided to use it as part of a writing lesson for her students, many of whom are, in fact, girls who play football. “I was absolutely horrified, and actually laughed out loud at some of the suggestions,” said Carol Hughes, deputy head of Lumley Junior School in Chester. “I took it to another teacher and she had the same response.
Lumley students had similarly dim views of the recommendations. As one student put it: “we aren’t brainless Barbie dolls. We don’t all like the same colour – pink.”
As it happens, some adults were none too pleased with the recommendations either.
A spokesperson for the FA defended the document by, uh, completely ignoring the substance of the complaints.
”The FA is committed to doubling female football participation by 2020 and to growing the women's game at all levels, from elite to grassroots. The document was created following research into women and girls playing football, with feedback from both participants and non-participants. We're very pleased to see how many girls at the school play football and the passion for the game that they clearly have.”
Well I don't know about you but I certainly feel reassured.
Of course, the FA perpetuating sexist attitudes isn't exactly news, nor is it surprising that their response is tone-deaf. No wonder discrimination in the English game is getting worse.
But hey, this is a British phenomenon, right? American soccer is surely more progressive and enlightened.
Lest you think that was an isolated incident, feel free to peruse some of the men in Gaby Kirschner’s mentions.
Dear soccer men: please be less terrible in 2017. I know it’s hard, but just try.