Football and feminism are not usually two words that tend to go hand in hand, so it was to my great surprise to see – the other night – that BBC news decided to present a segment on gender inequality in the sport. I was very excited to see it, as it is not a topic anybody has really tried to tackle yet, so when I got into work I excitedly scrambled to find the sports sections of the (reputable) newspapers we have in the shop.
To my dismay I did not see a word on the subject. You just have to type Eva Carneiro’s name into Google and several online publications had touched on the story, yet what I thought would be big, bold, back-page news was missing from the print editions. I secretly smiled: this topic may well be mine after all.
I took to Twitter to vent my frustrations, only to be met with sexist ‘trolls’ essentially telling me to “lighten up sunshine, it was just banter”. Ah, banter – the illustrious veil of misogyny. The female in question, the reason this issue has been brought to light is Chelsea’s first team doctor, Eva Carneiro. Eva is the proud owner of a Masters degree in Sports and Exercise Medicine. Eva is given unwavering trust to medically treat some of the most expensive players in the sport.
Carneiro’s elite expertise and experience are unfortunately overshadowed by the fact she happens to be female. All of her impressive accolades are (in my opinion) intensified by the fact she is a woman. As Björk recently said: “Everything a guy says once, [women] have to say five times”. I can barely even begin to imagine how much louder Eva would have had to shout to get to where she is today, especially in an environment with such a deeply ingrained level of misogyny as football.
Not only has Eva Carneiro had to face adversity to get to the top, now she’s at the top she is getting vile sexist slurs chanted at her. I mentioned this to my Dad and he was quick to defend the Chelsea fans, saying that they didn not engage in such behaviour. Apparently, they just sing “Eva, give us a wave, Eva, Eva, give us a wave” which I believe is just a tongue in cheek version of the chant any female is all too familiar with.
In my opinion Eva is at the top of her profession, so to chant for her to “get her t***s out for the lads” and to think it is OK is unacceptable.
The same goes for Helen Byrne, the female official who is the subject of similar sexist chants that have been captured. Even in the Bundesliga, Pep Guardiola – who many consider to be one of the top managers in the world – found himself in front of the FA for inappropriately touching female official Bibiana Steinhaus.
Compare this to the less grotesque abuse of the down-right ignorant, and unnecessary remarks passed via video-link from Jeff Stelling to Bianca Westwood. Whilst she is signing off from a report he says “lovely smile, and lovely make-up”, which gets a raucous chuckle from everybody in the studio. At first glance, you may think Jeff is just being friendly to ‘Bee’ Westwood, until you watch on and realise he does not give this same flirtatious treatment to the other commentators. In fact, he barely says anything at all to the men, sometimes forgetting to even say thank you.
It is not sexist to admire a woman’s loveliness. It is sexist to value it above all else. Bianca Westwood is a professional football commentator. Does Stelling really believe his creepy-uncle comments are necessary? I’d like to think that if I were Bianca I would call him out on his comments, though the reality is we as females are so used to having this “banter” thrown at us that we come to expect it as the norm.
— Jemma Harris (@Jemma_Harris) February 28, 2015
Casual sexism in commentary can a big issue, but it often goes unnoticed as we are bombarded with so much information during the 90 minutes that we often switch off.
Whilst watching a Champions League match I noticed an exchange between Clive Tydlesley and Andy Townsend which went something like this: “Did you know that Dani Alves’s agent is his ex-wife and she has been pushing for a bigger contract”. The retort: “Oh, I wonder why she has an interest in his finances…”
Cue laughter. Cue a comment insinuating women are only interested in men for their money. If the situation were reversed, an ex-spouse managing the career of a woman would probably be seen as wise.
Thinking deeper, it’s astonishing that a public figurehead for the sport such as Stan Collymore can have a past of being physically violent towards women (or a woman).
Still, at least Sky Sports did something about the bigoted remarks of Richard Keys and Andy Gray in 2011, after they claimed that female linesman Sian Massey wouldn’t know the offside rule and that Karen Brady was getting above her station when she debated the issue of sexism. The irony is, I never saw Massey get a decision wrong, and as for Brady, she’s done more for the game and business industry than they ever achieved as the ‘untouchables’ of Super Sunday.
Women do have a place in top level football. It is not a fair argument to say that women should only be supporting women’s football, which although the quality of play is high there is almost no media coverage or high-profile sponsorship deals in the woman’s game. Women’s football isn’t even giving women opportunities – most of the managers are men!
Stephanie Roche came close to winning the FIFA Puskás Award this year, but missed out to a lesser goal. Needless to say, if Roche’s goal had been scored by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi there would be no contest as to who would win the prize.
In the same way that cat-calling is not a compliment, sexist chants are not there to flatter us. But what hope do we really have, if the current Chief Executive of the Premier League ,Richard Scudamore, has been outed as a misogynist via ‘those’ emails. I think the best we can do is to try and call out men for these incidents. We will not be silenced. Feminism is not the end of kindness, it is the quest for equality.
Follow Ellen Harvey on Twitter @ellenrosemariex