Saturday, 31 May 2008

feminism vs fancying footballers

A while back there was a great discussion over at Pitch Invasion about female fandom and football, provoked by a characteristically stimulating article by Jennifer Doyle. The discussion centred on male attitudes to women fans, and the sexism which is directed at women taking an interest in sport.

I said then, and I shall say again (since it's true) that I have almost never encountered hostility to my interest in football. In all honesty, I tend to wipe from my mind encounters with pathetic sexists so it's possible that I am forgetting one or two wholly uninteresting small-minded arseholes who I may have come across. But so far as I remember, no-one has ever told me or indicated by their behaviour that they didn't think I had a "right" to be interested in sport.

On the other hand, plenty of people don't quite understand the difference between 'love football' and 'love footballers'. Ah, they say, you support Roma, bet you love Francesco Totti, eh? Yes, I say, I love his vision and reading of the game, his superb ability to spot and create the perfect pass, the way he links play with midfield, the way he creates space with his off the ball movement, his unpredictability, his audacity, his total commitment, the way he can create a goal out of nothing, his willingness to play through the pain barrier. Shame about the petulance.

Oh. You mean, you don't just, like, fancy him?

Italian men in the most part then fall into one of two camps: either they look impressed/delighted and launch into a long story about Giuseppe Giannini; or they groan in horror and say, christ not another bloody football fan, why does everybody in this country have to bloody talk about football all the time, can't we talk politics/have another glass of wine instead? In extremis, they might demand to know who my English team are and then criticise me for apostasy (in which arguably legitimate endeavour they would be joined by my mother). But never for being a football fan.

It annoys me when people assume that women are only capable of watching sport to ogle men's legs. But, in attempting to demonstrate that this is not the case, do serious female sports fans end up having to deny that actually, some sportsmen are pretty hot? I mean, if really pushed, I couldn't actually *deny* fancying Totti. Not that he's a patch on Maldini. But, y'know, the proof that the attractiveness thing is wholly secondary is in the fact that I don't support Milan. It seems that if we have to "prove" ourselves as sports fans, that admitting to occasionally lusting after the players somehow undermines us and renders us essentially frivolous. (or maybe, to put it another way: it's bad enough having to cope with women watching football, but accepting the open expression of female sexual desire is *way* beyond the pale.)

I think it's the same syndrome as "serious intelligent women can't care about clothes and make-up". It's about how being taking seriously means eschewing femininity and above all girliness. I'm not, incidentally, arguing that this is exclusively a male position; it's as much about self-censorship as anything else. Actually I think this is very typical of the ways in which women try to mould themselves to fit into preconceived categories of the acceptable.

But of course, this is a nonsense. We are not all so one-dimensional that we can't enjoy sport in the same way as a man AND fancy (some of) the players. Just because men can't multi-task… A number of female bloggers demonstrate this truth amply. This issue was recently discussed in some detail at the excellent (if somewhat American) Ladies... It's made me realise that sometimes, on my own blog, I am guilty of what is I suppose simply cowardice. I hardly ever mention the attractiveness or otherwise of a footballer, because quite simply I fear that people (my largely male, largely intellectual readership) wouldn't take me seriously. But I regularly read and enjoy, for instance, This is Extra Time, which is super-girly and yet clearly written by someone with excellent knowledge of the game. The same goes for all the bloggers at Ladies... as well, in their respective sports.

So, fair warning, in a spirit of liberation there may be more ogling on here from now on. I shall try not to fill the place with an excessive number of pictures of toned and shapely male thighs. Just, you know, one or two. In a spirit of frivolous feminism, or possibly feminist frivolity.


Garibaldy said...

As long as I never again see the photo of Peter Beardsley's knob that Fantasy Football showed (leading David Badiell to ask why he was sitting on Iain Dowie's head), I'll not be unhappy with what you put up.

Do gay football fans face the same problem? Not of course to suggest that women are the same as gay people.

Martha said...

Well said, Spangles (as usual). I had a conversation the other day that touched on very similar issues -- there may be a lot of sexism among football supporters, but it's never affect the way I love the game, or whether I can go to matches and talk about them to my heart's content. And I've never, not once, encountered a negative response at a match/bar, or on a subway/train/bus for being a female fan. I've encountered disbelief, but once they've understood that I really am a real live supporter, it's been fine, and people have been entirely willing to listen to and argue with me without assuming I'm just in it for the asses.

By which I mean: Bring on the frivolity!

Anonymous said...

Well darling-seeing as it's the ONLY reason I looked FOUR times at that awful you-tube song with the song that drove you mad, I can now own up..........Some of them are gobsmackingly gorgeous!!! I don't get the football thing anyway as you know, you also know, I am partial to the pretty younger man!!

Shallow but true.

Philly x

ginkers said...

Only the feebly narrow minded or ignorant would assume a woman's interest in football was entirely attributable to the attractiveness of its players.

My interest in women's tennis, on the other hand...

patcook said...

all fans face the problem of having to prove themsleves at some point.

The success of the socceroos and the A-league has generated many new followers of the game in Australia.

Many of the new fans only watch the socceroo's and the odd final of a big tournament. I have to admit that when these people talk to me, a football-crazed lunatic, i sometimes look down on them if their knowledge is a bit off.

At the same time, most of my mates hassle me for following Milan and Italy despite not having any Italian heritage.

I think being a fan is a very sacred part of football and you want to know that those that follow the game with you are as devoted as you are.

dissidentex said...

Off topic:

vanda, i came here "sended " by jennifer doyle in "the leftwing.blogspot.

I´m going say why, because she told me that tou know a lot about totalitarian aesthetics applied to footbal specially in the italian fascist teams or the nazi ones.

I explan why.

A comercial portuguese market (a chain of food stores - the largest in the country) has created a pseudo supporting poster of the portuguese team.

The aesthetics of the poster is totalitarian, i remebered because a long time ago i saw pictures of players, teams from the nazi/italian teams, and the "style" of the pictures was as far as i´m recalling similar to thgis one.

And with the environment that is happenig here, and i dont like it.

So, in order to do a small comparative essay on my blog placing images from distant times to images from now, i´m searching over the internet to find something.

And i cannot find.
So either i´m looking using wrong methods or there are none or i´not looking in the right places.

So, suggestions, hints, clues ,etc would be appreciated.

The aesthetics of the portugeuse poster is placing 5 players in "V" appearance, 4 international portuguese and CR7 in the middle.

Then the name of the company "MODELO" and "MODELO is with the national team , /subliminar : buy modelo), if you don´t buy in "MODELO" you are not a patriot person.
You don´t want the country to go forward etc.

The poster was obviously,made by young idiots fresh out of college with an acute desire to impress the boss alongside with lot´s of historical ignorance.

So thanks in advance and if you have some ideas about this...let me me know (By the way im portuguese...)


roswitha said...

Aha, lovely post about a subject that deserves to be talked about. In my even more limited sphere of acquaintance, I have men generally start politely when the f-word comes up, and then recover to ask me if it's "for Cristiano Ronaldo." It used to drive me nuts, but these days I just don't care. I mean -- what's it to you if I do? It *is* annoying to come up against the widely-held belief that women only follow sport for the totty -- my counter-argument always is that I see men flaunt their ignorance of sport almost daily in newspapers and on television every day, but I don't assume every man is an idiot who doesn't deserve his job, do I?

One thing I do care about is the possibly sexist implications of objectifying someone -- sportswomen have to contend with it to such an overwhelming degree, and we're generally agreed that they shouldn't have to, so is it fair to do it to the men? But I don't think there's an equivalence -- I've never seen female objectification of male athletes ever turn threatening or even 'pornifying' the way it can when its the other way 'round.

PS. Not that I would ever follow anything 'for Cristiano Ronaldo.' Just so we're clear on that. Not My Type At All.

ursus arctos said...

Very heartfelt excuses for going off topic on such an interesting subject (especially one that has drawn comments from a number of my favourite football bloggers/people), but can I just vent about Chiellini's knocking Cannavaro out of the Euros?


Grazie, scusi il disturbo.

D-X, I've seen the "V" formation used in photographs from the Fascist period, but can't find any quickly on the internet. That said, I've also seen it used in English photos from the same time period, so the political connection may not be as strong as you think.

ursus arctos said...

And getting back to the topic, the discussion on Jennifer's piece on Pitch Invasion supported the hypothesis that there are regional variations that are evident here and that hypothesis also fits with my own experience (limited as it is by my gender).

My sense is that the problem is most acute in Britain (and perhaps East Asia), in large part because a) there is an entire school of marketing devoted to footballers as "top totty" and b) because one of the ways long-time supporters of the game have reacted to the Murdochisation of their favourite pastime is to look upon "non traditional" fans with a very jaundiced eye.

I think this happens less in North America in large part because football support of any kind is inherently "non traditional", and football supporters are therefore wary of alienating other supporters of any stripe and because that particular school of marketing hasn't really migrated across the Pond (though the objectification of female footballers for a male audience along the tennis model certainly has). The fact that the North American football audience skews towards the better educated and more socially progressive (as well as including a not inconsiderable number of "soccer moms") also is likely to have an impact.

In Italy, on the other hand, football is such a deeply ingrained part of the culture that literally everyone can fit the "traditional" fan model and the only thing that really matters is one's knowledge about the game.

I don't know enough about Indian sporting culture to suggest reasons for Roswitha's experience, but wonder if the relative dominance of the Premier League and the actual dominance of Bollywood imagery has something to do it, as well as wondering whether Indian cricketers are being marketed as "top totty".

dissidentex said...

Ursus actos/ vanda:

pardon me, i disagree.

I think the connection is paralel to the times, the 30`s.

English teams from that period placed in "V" were following the general appeseament mood, so to speak.

You know (of course you know...) the 1936 (or 38) history about the english team that went to germany and salute in the nazi way?

The reason why i asked is also connected to what´s happening here in portugal with a massive propaganda around footbal that slides to blackmail and persuasion in mafia style.

THe portuguese federation of football launched a credit card alongside a comercial bank called "the partner of national team".

Be the partner of the national( if not you are not a patriot) and to activate the full functions of the credit card, pay anual fee of 25 euros.

Put it in this way and the normal,average,patriotic citizen is placed with an impossible dilemma.

The scarfs with the national colours who also have on the side the name "MODELO" which is a comercial trade mark of a food distribuition group, who also sell for an euro portuguese flags "to support the national team".
(Made in china...not in Portugal, the patriotism stops abruptly when it cames to get huge profits...)
If you dn´t buy you are a non patriotic citizen.

The national company of oil called "galp ".

Simply they just raise the oil prices just this year 23 times.(We pay gasoline 40 cents higher than in spain...)
They sponsor the national team.
Buy "Galp" who sponsor the national team - "positive energy"(and all the remaining crap...)

(At the same time the positive specch" appears there goes another price going up...)

It´s a "all environment" - a mood that is beginning to sound unpleasant and looks similar to the 30´S.

The portuguese foootbal doesn´t has a decent game in 3 years.
They only play 45 classy minutes last year against belgium in 3 years.

So the "euphoria" and the persuasion/blackmail have no rational reason to exist.

Then you have the masses of Mr Scolari, the appeals to "divine intervention" in behalf of the natinl team, the training grounds with 12.000 idiots watching, the players who run on training and get to the end of the field and salute the crowd( very professional...) and the rest of the circus show...

This noto so humble person - me wrote a post saying lot´s of things about the portuguese city of Viseu where the astro dumps were suposedly training and working and it was received with discontent from blogers.

The problem was that from a blog who had 300 visitors on a good day, in 6 days i had 12.000 visitors.

I may start to look paranoid, but i don´t trreally think all of this is normal.

That´s why i asked originally about the "V" formation in ancient photographs.

So if you could help...

Thanks in advance...

(PS:i like a lot about the ursos arctos name... :-) )

Spangly Princess said...

Dear Dissidentex: thanks for getting in touch, please email me at to discuss this. I confess I am incredibly busy right now and there is no way I can give this my attention before thursday at the very earliest. but I would echo what Ursus said, and I really think that there is no way you can claim that British football photos using a V formation have anything to do with appeasement, honestly. but I can't go into it right now, am in a terrible rush, sorry!

Anonymous said...

check out these hot babes juggling a ball:

roswitha said...

Ah, but EPL-culture filters down here as well, Ursus. In the pre-1990 days the question would probably have been "Is it for Maradona or Zico?" from football enthusiasts who gave their all for the game faithfully once every four years. A different kind of limitation [although one clearly influenced by lack of resources]. The general idea in the developed world that you have to make something sexually attractive to sell it holds good here as much as elsewhere, for cricket as well as football. [I was leafing through a women's magazine the other day and came across an article on "How To Spend Quality Time With Your Guy" that advised young women to watch footie with their boyfriends, and consoled them thus: "he can watch it for the tactics, you can watch for the toned thigh muscles."

Worse yet, as far back as 1996 Pepsi was targeting women in advertisements by employing female models to say things like, "Sachin? Soooo cute!" I confess this left my maiden self very indignant. A part of me protests at the objectification of Sachin Tendulkar to this day.]

ursus arctos said...

I feared as much.

But Sachin? Cute? The word itself is an unpardonable affront to everything that is holy in sport.