The FA has issued guidelines on how to help women become interested in football. Jen Offord managed to put down her compact mirror and scented bib long enough to a look.
This issue of getting women to play sport is one that has perplexed many in recent years. It is, in my humble opinion, an issue that rightly causes concern. Not just from the perspective that sport is ace and having muscles is perhaps even a little bit more ace. There are almost no feelings more satisfying in this world than punching an inanimate object, designed for the specific purpose of being punched, or realising your lungs – and indeed ass – are powerful enough to pedal you to the top of a big hill.
There was a time, as I have now well documented, when it wouldn’t necessarily have occurred to me that such simple things could fill me with such joy, or that my gym kit – a thing of torture as a teenager – would eventually make me feel as hard as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And, as is also well documented, I really, really love Buffy. But, as is also now well documented, for long-winded and slightly bizarre reasons, a few years ago I decided to start moving around more and found that I rather liked it.
Had I not stumbled unwittingly upon a newfound love of moving around, which much like the Karen Ramirez 90s Ibiza classic, I hadn’t known I was looking for, up until that point, I’m not sure what would have inspired me. Fortuitously, in case you’d been feeling uninspired by sport up until this point, the Football Association has stepped up with some learnings on how organisations might best go about piquing the interest of us wimmin in the beautiful game.
“In essence the FA gets it: make football relevant to women. It’s the delivery that’s so gut-wrenchingly embarrassing – I’m humiliated for everyone.”
First up, let’s start with the notion of “where girls go” which is – logically – where the FA advises organisations advertise, such as “coffee shops or on the back of toilet doors.” So I guess women maybe have slightly smaller bladders than men, but I wouldn’t say, based on my extensive experience of being a woman, that I spend a disproportionate amount of time in toilets. I mean, I do spend a disproportionate amount of time looking at pictures of Siamese kittens on Instagram, but I can generally do that for a while without soiling myself.
The guidance makes some logical points and was, in fairness, based on some evidence sourced by tremendous and necessary organisations such as Us Girls and Women in Sport. Like, for example, about how sport can have negative connotations for women. But if you’re telling us we actually shouldn’t use “the word ‘sport’”, that is going to make it quite hard to communicate without sort of lying.
Should you be telling us it’s actually a form of knitting? Because I’m going to see through it quite quickly if I turn up and there’s no wool. Some of the equipment suggestions – for example, colourful bibs (“make sure that they’re clean and smell nice!”) and sweat towels – also smack of the most reductionist ideals of womanhood I have come across in officially sanctioned guidance EVER.
And what about the slogans? “The group are really friendly”, “I play football, and you?” These are just shit slogans, with the latter sounding like a conversation piece from a GCSE French textbook in the 90s. And that’s part of the problem with the whole document – I don’t even know who it’s written for.
But let’s talk about the cerise glare of it all, the pink paraphernalia designed to get us ladies out on the pitch. In essence the FA gets it: make football relevant to women. It’s the delivery that’s so gut-wrenchingly embarrassing – I’m humiliated for everyone.
Humiliated for myself that this is the perception of me, for the people who earnestly copied and pasted the picture of the pink water bottle and matching lanyard. Dudes, you’re not making it more relevant to me – you’re making it relevant to a fucking unicorn.
“If you never see women playing sport, or you never read female perspectives on sport, how can you see yourself being involved in it, on or off the pitch?”
What about the suggestion of a pocket mirror as an incentive – you think if you give me a pocket mirror, I’ll want to play football? Why? So I can check my eyeliner isn’t smudged after a heavy morning’s “soccercise” since actually, on balance you’ve concluded that I just won’t want to play football anyway?
Perhaps my favourite line in the document is in the final paragraph: “For more information of our current understanding of women.” Their current understanding – because, you know, it could change, such a complex issue it is.
After all, we used to think the world was flat and perhaps in time you’ll come to understand that apart from my vagina and a greater adversity to the feeling of a football pelted at full force on the tit, I’m not actually that different to you. Well, I am quite different to Greg Clarke (the FA’s chairman), to be fair, but I think we can all be comfortable with that.
Last week in response to an article I wrote about the new film, The Pass, which highlights the much-maligned issue of homophobia in football, one brilliant Standard Issue reader tweeted me to say she had never before read an article about football which interested her.
I’d like to be able to take credit for that, but as I told her, football is a social anthropologist’s dream – I really don’t have to try very hard to make it interesting, people just have to show up and have a look.
She also said, though she wasn’t necessarily sure anyone was going to make her that interested, she might be more inclined to listen to people talk about sport if they weren’t all men.
And that’s the point, isn’t it, about a diversity of voices and imagery in society. It’s about seeing yourself in that culture and seeing a place you fit within it, that it is for you. If you never see women playing sport, or you never read female perspectives on sport, how can you see yourself being involved in it, on or off the pitch?
In fact, the reason I started moving around a bit more was pretty simple, and one which is oft cited as the key to getting more women into sport – I was watching it. It was the 2012 Olympics that inspired me, the emotion of it all, yes, but also the variation and the notion that there might be something out there for me I’d not yet tried.
So, while I recognise the well-meaning – or at least the intention to appear so – of the FA’s guidance, it’s just not nearly good enough. If you want us to play sport, stop treating us like morons and do something useful.
Invest in women’s sport: make it profitable, give it coverage. Show women, women playing sport. Because if we want women to play sport and we want women to enjoy all the benefits that go with that, all the pink whistles in the world won’t make the slightest difference if women don’t see themselves represented, and the inability of governing bodies to see that is as dangerous as it is stupid.
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Jen is a writer from Essex, which isn’t relevant because she lives in London, but she likes people to know it. As well as daft challenges, she likes cats, cheese and Beyonce. @inspireajen