On Sunday 31st of July, England’s female international football team played against Germany in the final of the European Championship, winning with a decisive 2-1 score, thus ending the drought, and finally bringing it [an international trophy]home to England for the first time since 1966.
Throughout, the Lionesses’ victory was spotlighted by the media as an event that was to change the stigma and discrimination felt by females in male-dominated areas of sport. Their win was heralded as an inspiration for all young girls watching, a bright shining invitation for future generations of girls to break the mould.
Indeed, their triumph was remarkable, and so I in no way want to diminish their success within my article, but was it really a triumph for females in sport, generally speaking?
In short, no.
When I was in high school – granted that was five years ago now – girls were segregated from boys when it came to the curriculum for physical education. While boys relished the hours in their football and rugby kits, girls were forced to put on their dance shorts and participate in less ‘high-intensity’ activities. While I am sure that the Lionesses victory has laid the foundations for an increased number of grassroot opportunities in the future, with 56% of high schools offering the same gender-biased sporting opportunities as it did five years ago, the mindset that women are unequal to men is still perpetuated, and is thus unchanged by a singular international trophy held high by women.
What truly inspired me to write this article, however, is the stigma continually attached to female supporters of male-dominated sports. Having watched Netflix’s hit-series Drive To Survive, I found myself becoming increasingly drawn to Formula One; a sport that I had always previously disregarded for being too boisterous. The show disproved the way I originally perceived the sport, and suddenly, I found myself spending my Sunday afternoons watching twenty racing cars battling it out on the track for championship points; shouting at teams for dodgy tyre strategy – sorry Ferrari fans – and relishing at the chaos inflicted on track each weekend.
I started conversing with friends, and fellow supporters, about the latest twists and turns of the season. While some matched and encouraged my enthusiasm for the sport, others jeered at the way I had gotten into it, branding me a ‘fake fan’ simply because I had not been consuming it since birth like they had done. I was met with comments consistently mocking the rationale behind why I chose to watch Formula One, with the assumption that I am only watching for the ‘good-looking drivers’, and was even told that I was less of a fan because I did not yet understand all of the technical terms.
From the get-go I have always had the feeling that I need to prove myself when it comes to sport, constantly defending the reasoning behind everything I say – and why? Simply because I am a woman choosing to spectate a sport labelled as ‘male’. Are you telling me that a male fan, having gotten into supporting the sport in the same way, would be just as negatively treated? Of course not.
The same set of attitudes can too be applied to when I first started watched football at twelve, and more recently, when I was introduced to rugby, and started asking questions to help better my knowledge of the rules. The examples I could provide are limitless.
Ultimately, it is one thing to have an equal number of opportunities to get inspired by someone or something, but it is another thing altogether to then remain on equal footing within the male-dominated realm of sport, with societal attitudes seemingly still geared towards prejudicing women in this regard. Therefore, while I am overjoyed that the Lionesses have been able to show women in sport as capable, and thus present a platform to inspire further change, I feel it is unrealistic to expect a singular tournament victory to change the perception of women in sport full-stop, irrespective of how historic that victory was.
It is not easy to actively break the mould and try to fit into a crowd that you’re destined by society not to fit into. It is, however, an important and necessary step, if we are to keep pushing the boundaries, and if we are ever truly to withhold gender equality within society moving forward.