We are only a few games into the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and social media is abuzz with banter. Squads have arranged match-watching schedules, and some people are already asking, ‘When is the World Cup ending?’ With all these conversations happening, one topic has piqued my interest yet again: the idea that women’s interest in sports is pretentious, insincere, and an anomaly to be interrogated.
‘Why are we still making sports gender-specific in 2018?’
I know many women who are sports enthusiasts and have been for as long as I can remember. I myself am not an avid follower of sports. I was a rather lacklustre ‘sportswoman’ in school, and at the start of this year I had forgotten that it’s a World Cup year (feel free to drag me). With that said, I don’t think I’m a special snowflake for not being as keen on sports as the next person. I actually wish I knew more. Luckily, the 2010 World Cup introduced me to the players that matter and the countries they play for. As a result, I indicated an interest in watching a few of this year’s World Cup games with my guy friends, one of whom gave me a look as if to say, ‘Really? I’m not convinced.’
After watching a grand total of… two games this past weekend, my mate’s incredulous look had me thinking about why a woman’s interest in a ‘masculine’ activity can’t be accepted without hesitation. Unlike me, there are plenty of women who have been glued to their screens, live-tweeting matches and even betting on teams. And somewhere along the line some of these women have been met with questions. ‘Why the sudden interest? Who are you doing it for?’
What irks me the most, is that ‘women who are interested in sports, or are brilliant athletes, are either seen as tomboys, butch, masculine, you name it…’
Because the arbitrary nature of gender stereotypes has assigned things like sport and left-brain thinking to men, it has become unfathomable to gender-role gatekeepers that people who identify as women can take a genuine interest in these topics. There’s this idea that women who are currently following the World Cup are either doing so to get the attention of men or to scout attractive men. I mean, soccer players’ legs should definitely be the 8th Wonder of the World, but all that hair gel on one field isn’t enough for me to feign interest for 90 minutes twice a day, every day. And I don’t even want to address how ridiculous the former assumption is.
In light of this, I reached out to four women who have been on the ball about all things 2018 FIFA World Cup, and asked them about their experiences.
This is what they had to say:
1. Abigail, online editor, is just trying to concentrate on the game
But also, one of her sport-related sexism experiences came from a woman. ‘We were watching a soccer game with our (male) partners and she was happily chatting to me while I was desperately trying to concentrate on El Clásico (when FC Barcelona plays Real Madrid). Imagine someone talking to you throughout a film you’re trying to watch! She had made the sexist assumption that I wasn’t genuinely interested, and that I must only be watching because of my boyfriend.
My ex-boyfriend played for a soccer team who had this on their t-shirts, which pretty much covers the gob-smacking sexism of men’s attitudes to women’s interest in football.
World Cup team: It has to be the Super Eagles, Nigeria
2. Nasheeta, Digital traffic manager, finds mansplaining hilarious
‘Men always assume that you aren’t interested, or don’t know much about certain sports. So, I’m never invited to watch matches. If I ask for a reminder-explanation of a certain rule, I can see their chests puff out and their egos grow in front of my eyes as they mansplain it to me – lol.
Worst of all is that some of the men I train with (Nash is into martial arts) assume they need to go lighter with me, just because I’m a woman. I find it degrading, actually, but I get huge satisfaction in showing them how strong I really am.’
3. Aphiwe, Cosmo Junior beauty editor, is really not watching soccer for men
‘It really irks me that girls apparently can’t love male-dominated sports, and if they do, they are “pretending” to like sports for the attention of men (I’ve actually been told that a number of times).
Men just need to get over that idea and learn that we never do anything for them.
I get flack for being into soccer all the time. My response is, “Why are we still making sports gender-specific in 2018?” People assume that because I present myself in a very feminine manner, I can’t possibly be a fan of soccer or know anything about it. They think I’m just watching for the “cute boys”, which is not the case (although it’s a great perk). I don’t just watch the World Cup; I follow soccer religiously. I grew up watching the sport and wearing soccer jerseys.’
‘Boys mansplain soccer to me all the time. Even my own family is guilty of it – it’s so annoying. But as soon as I open my mouth and share my thoughts on what’s happening, then it’s a different story. It’s just a heteronormative mindset that a girly-girl can’t possibly tell them about team formations and tactics.’
World Cup team: I support Germany (hopefully they can recover from Saturday) and Portugal.
4. Nadine, creative studio designer, wishes you would just call her an athlete and not a ‘female athlete’
‘I used to play club football for about three years when I was in primary school. I was the only girl in the team and the boys didn’t take me very seriously. They appreciated the enthusiasm I brought to the team though and never excluded me. There was also this one time where I scored a fabulous goal – which still makes me beam with pride – that definitely changed the way they thought of me
When it comes to misconceptions about women who partake in sports, I don’t like that there is this atmosphere that we’d need to be treated in a ‘soft’ or gentle manner. We’re also out there competing – you might even think we’d prefer to be referred to as plain old ‘athletes’ instead of ‘female athletes’.’
5. Paulina, Digital designer, is tired of binaries
‘Women who are interested in sports, or are brilliant athletes, are either seen as tomboys, butch, or masculine, you name it. Athleticism, strength, determination and competitiveness don’t make you less of a woman! One can be strong and gentle, aggressive and passive, fierce and delicate all at the same time. It doesn’t need to be either or!’
World Cup team: Portugal