Posts tagged ‘prejudice’

September 17, 2018

Women’s football: More than a game

‘It goes without saying that the play was of the most amateurish description.’

women 11.jpgThe rest of the report of an international football match between Scotland and England was written in the same sneering vein. It went on to draw a picture of the hilarity of the event as spectators cheered, laughed, hooted and shouted vulgar insults at the players. The cause of so much derision was the match was being played by women.

It was on the evening of Monday 16th May 1881 that the international game got underway on Shawfield Grounds near Rutherglen Bridge. The fixture wasn’t ideal but it was the only one the organisers were able to secure as the men’s clubs refused permission for their pitches to be used – on grounds that female football could ‘only be regarded as an unseemly exhibition, and sent those getting up the match to seek for a field elsewhere.’

Women’s (the word was never used as far as I could see, instead ladies, girls or female) football matches in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries were often arranged to raise funds for charities. This international was no different and around 400 persons paid to watch the game with hundreds of others sneaking in without paying.

‘It goes without saying that the play was of the most amateurish description’ which may have been true but you just know the report was partly written before a ball was kicked. So it continued in this sneering tone confirming how women were ill-equipped to play the sport along the lines of what do women know or understand about such manly activities? 

About 55 minutes into play and part of the crowd, ‘the rougher elements’ cut through the ropes separating spectators from the players and the pitch was invaded by a gleeful mob of some 4000 men surrounding the women. The police in attendance charged into the crowd hitting out with their batons and though greatly outnumbered eventually managed to get the women off the park and onto their bus. It must have been terrifying for them and no details were given in the report but some of the players were said to have been ‘badly treated by the mob.’ As the women players were driven away they were hissed at by the pack of men.

The report ended with the view it ‘was hoped such an exhibition would not be repeated.’ Whether it was the male mob mentality or women’s football was unclear.

‘We do not know whether these Amazons had shocked the delicacy of the multitude, but the fact remains that they would not allow the game to proceed.’

There we have it that old ploy – blame the victim. The 4-5,000 men gathered to laugh and abuse women playing a game don’t sound like they were encumbered by delicate sensibilities.

What was it that made these men feel it was acceptable behaviour to go out of their way to sneer and jeer at women participating in a harmless game to raise money for charity? Why could they not just ignore the women if they thought their game would be so ridiculously poor quality? Because it was never about the women’s football prowess it was all about harassment and ridicule of a group they learnt through their lives were inferior to them and deserved their scorn. That sort of attitude can take people far- you can build empires on the back of denigrating whole populations – deny they are your equals so easing your conscience over controlling, manipulating and exploiting them.

Women from all classes in society were active in the 1890s to improve their rights in law, education, employment, politics and in society in general. Women, irrespective of their position, excluding a certain queen, were regarded as weak and vulnerable children and incapable of logical thought and whose function was solely biological – producing children (the BMJ warned that women’s organs would suffer if they played football.) And yet, working class women were working their fingers to the bone. Poor women had always worked and contributed to family incomes. Many single middle class women also worked. At the same time women were being outrageously exploited as cheap labour and were undermined in every way possible.

Women can’t …because they are women.

The more women fought for the same rights  as men to votes, to education, to careers, to handle their own affairs, to be taken seriously the more strident the opposition to these demands became because it was against – nature? Christian values?

This is all very confusing for during earlier periods of Scottish history football was not so clearly regarded as male. Wasn’t Mary Queen of Scots supposed to have enjoyed a bit of kick-about on the royal lawn? Weren’t football matches between single and married woman in Scottish villages accepted as part of the culture as for example Musselburgh’s annual Shrove Tuesday match between married and single fish women?

Fast-forward to the 19th and 20th centuries and antagonism towards women appears to have hardened in some quarters. When the Chartists turned round and dropped women’s enfranchisement as one of their demands because it was argued working class men could achieve the vote faster and then give their sisters a hike up the political rights ladder they began a trend which side-lined women.

There was no simple journey to achieve a level of political representation for working class men (from political rights others follow) for the middle classes had dropped them at the Great Reform Act 1832 in much the same way as women were sold-out by their men a few years later but women not only had to fight the political establishment they had to fight their own men folk as well.

Chartism gave way to Trades Unions and right up to the 1970s (and beyond) this male dominated institution has put up barriers to women’s equality. They were never for the many but always for the few. They were about skills and preserving status within skill groups. They were about preserving the status and privileges won by men at the expense of the non-skilled and women. They were about ensuring those with particular skills received higher pay than others in jobs designated less skilled  – which always included women’s work. Trades Unions fought and fought hard to prevent equal pay for women. They were still doing it recently in Glasgow where the council has to find cash to reimburse women who were sold out by the Labour Party and Unions.

So what’s this got to do with women’s football? you ask. Everything.

It does not matter what activities are being discussed women’s participation was, until recently, ridiculed. Even in those occupations regarded as female – nursing, primary school teaching – it was the pattern up until the last couple of decades that most promoted posts were held by men. Different battle. Similar tactics.

Football was not played by ‘self-respecting females’ it was said. When matches ended in violence it was seen as possibly a good thing, likely to put an end to silly girls thinking they could do everything men could and put an end to such nonsense.

The report in  The Greenock Advertiser in 1881 whose headline ran –‘The Glasgow Roughs and the Female Football Teams’ – when ‘ruffians’ cut the ropes at a ‘So-called female football match’ there was condemnation of a dangerous situation but antagonism towards women for creating the problem. Just who did these women think they were?

‘ladies in knickerbocker suits was a women’s right too far. It is indecent and ought to be suppressed by the police.’

England, Preston, 1920 - Copy

England, Preston 1920

Women didn’t slink away to lick their wounds. They carried on playing football. Four years later when a British Ladies Football Club toured Scotland a London sport journal employed predictably robust language to describe it: a ‘farce’, they (ladies) were ‘ignorant of the simple rudiments of the Association rules’ ‘painful to look at’ – which all smacked of that familiar anger  over women being so uppity  as to think they were entitled to indulge in sport – they might have been asking for something equally ridiculous such as representation in parliament.  The reporter applauded leading Glasgow clubs approached by the ‘girls’ for coaching who would have nothing to do with them.

And still the women played on. A month after the outrageous scenes at Rutherglen the international was resumed, this time at Windmill in Yorkshire, when Scotland came out on top beating England 3-2.

When in March 1895 a gate of 10,000 turned up for a women’s match in London the teams were greeted by a

‘roar of laughter. Hundreds fell off the fence … Tears rolled down cheeks of men never known to weep in public. They fell upon each other’s necks and shoulders. Small boys fell into paroxysms. Women smiled and blushed. The referee, a small man but brave, grinned and made desperate but ineffectual efforts to cover his face as well as his head with his cap.’

More sexist abuse came thick and fast.  

‘One of the Blues was built on Dutch lines, and was at once dubbed “Fatty”. The reporter on the Gloucester Citizen made special reference to the women’s hairstyles and it went to town on the appearance of one player.

‘ One of the Red side’s appearance caused shrieks of laughter – on account of her size and boyish appearance. She looked ridiculously, even insanely, diminutive for a football game. Then she was built like a boy, ran like a boy, and like a boy who could run very fast at the age of ten, and she seemed to know too much about the game for a girl of any size, her height being about three feet.’

And so it went on in this offensive and hysterical tone, commenting on how the women ran, not waddling like most girls and how few seemed familiar with the rules of the game. At the end of the match the women departed to shouts of ‘Chuck on another scuttle of coals.’

Of course women persevered. It’s what women do. Their football matches across England attracted huge crowds – sometimes a gate of 40,000. 

There were few such hang-ups over women being able to step into men’s boots at the outbreak of World War I. Then they were essential to the war effort- not only continuing to operate Britain’s infrastructure but manufacturing munitions. Women from across the British Isles were drafted in to work making explosives, shells, tanks, bullets, gas masks. This was dangerous work and munitions women used to let off steam through playing football in their dinner breaks with the best taking part in inter-factory competitions.

After the war women resumed their roles of being feeble and incapable and their abilities diminished – even in something as simple and straightforward as a game of football. Good God! they were exposing their legs. Football associations did their level best to prevent the women’s game emerging in any meaningful way. At the millennium men were still wading through the merde of their prejudices – Joe Royal, an English football club manager insisted, ‘I’m not sexist but I don’t approve of female officials in professional football.’ Yes, Mr Royal that is being sexist.

In 2004 FIFA President Sepp Blatter advocated women should ‘wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts…to create a more female aesthetic.’ He is currently under a ban by FIFA but not for such sexist claptrap.

Brit ladies football club - Copy

132 years and a distance of 13 miles after women footballers were abused on the park at Rutherglen Motherwell and BBC Scotland sport pundit Tam Cowan demonstrated a century plus was a mere blink in terms of male hostility towards the game. He might have been writing the report on the game in May 1881 but it was 2003 when he was quoted in the Daily Record saying –

‘Fir Park should have been torched after it hosted women’s football’ Why do they still persevere with this turgid spectacle? And why was it allowed anywhere near Motherwell’s hallowed turf?

‘Just the other week, I bumped into a couple of women footballers (I’ve still got the bruises to prove it) and they were honestly two of the nicest blokes I’ve ever met. But no amount of politically correct claptrap could force me to say I enjoyed a single second of that guff at Fir Park on Thursday night. BBC Alba must be scraping the bottom of the barrel if they’re now broadcasting this tosh live.

‘Aye, give me an hour of some dreary Highlander reciting poems about the fishing industry – in Gaelic – any day of the week. Incredibly, the game was live on telly AND radio!’

His tedious prejudices where he dismisses the lives and culture of my grannies in a sentence provide a fine example of not just one but several sets of ascribed status – placing groups into categories redolent with shared characteristics which makes them easy targets for humiliation and denigration. This bloke from a town in the central belt demonstrates his dislike of Highlanders whose lives are different from Cowan’s and so to be disparaged through the placing the adjective ‘dreary’ in front Highlander. He shows up his intolerance with a jibe at the fishing industry – perhaps not seen as manly as steel men? How do I know what goes through this guy’s minced head. He’s definitely one of those types who maligns Gaelic, preferring the glottal stop type of speech more familiar to him. And behind all this fume and fury? Women. Bloody uppity women.

1895 scotland team - Copy

Scotland team 1895

Ascribed status is discrimination and with discrimination comes humiliation, mockery and a touch of outraged anger at the group’s activities. Cowan went on –

‘This was a Group 4 game and the Bosnian team looked as if they’d just arrived in one of their vans. Did you see their goalie? She put the baws into Bosnia (although on the off-chance she reads this, I hasten to add I’m only kidding). 

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/tam-cowan-fir-park-should-2314034

It was 1972 when the first official women’s international took place, in Greenock when England beat Scotland 3-2.

On 4 September 2018 Scotland’s women qualified for the 2019 Women’s World Cup Finals. Well done them.