On The Treatment Of Sportswomen

This past week, the disgusting story about what goes on in Mens football at Harvard has hit the news cycle and, of course, social media platform. In case it hasn’t reached your news feeds, here’s a brief summary: the Harvard Crimson student newspaper (read: “scouting report”) rated attractiveness of recruits on the women’s football team and mostly included sexually explicit descriptions without their knowledge. Disgusting.

As most (probably all) of you know, football is a sport that is extremely personal to me. Also as an avid supporter of women’s sport and women breaking out of the restrictive boundaries of gender roles and stereotypes, seeing and hearing about women playing sports — and, even better, playing well — quite simply brings me so much joy. To hear news about such repulsive behaviour that has been ongoing for almost half a decade at a prestigious university and to have these sorts of behaviour accepted and supported by the president of the United States, as he himself see no wrong with ‘locker room banter’ that objectifies and validates sexual harassment, makes me sick.

Far less damaging than the events that had come to light this week but yet rubbing me the wrong way is the way our football match was treated by the referee. Small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I still could not shake off the uneasiness that came with the treatment of us female players as being inferior to men. With the opportunity to play with the first team at my university, we entered a game this past Wednesday with a team unbeknownst to us to be easy competition and thus an easy win. An average height, old (probably in his 60s?), very grumpy and impatient man with a rather posh English accent was our referee for the afternoon. After a clash of bodies that sent  the ball off the pitch, he blew his whistle and jogged over. Once the ball was retrieved  he rests his hands on both the girls’ shoulders and said slowly, “Okay, girls, I’m going to drop the ball and one of you can kick it back to that half. After that, continue to play on.” Odd and kind of patronising, I thought. Not a free kick, which would have been the most logical call if it was even a foul at all, or a drop-kick back to the keeper? Surely, this isn’t the proper rules of football.

As the game progressed, this man kept making questionable calls, rewriting the rules of football, speaking to us in an extremely patronising manner, and dumbing down the game for us. He blew the whistle, apologised for blowing the whistle without reason, called off-sides even though they weren’t off-side for the advantage of the losing opposition (where the opposition themselves even disagreed with the ref). At what point did he deem it necessary – and acceptable – to change the rules of a university level sports game in the British Universities and College Sports League? I do wonder if he would have done the same if it was a mens football game. Undoubtedly this incident isn’t similar in scale or severity of the crimes committed against Harvard’s women’s football team, nor is it anywhere near as stomach-churning. I wanted to express my frustration at the male treatment of female sports players. I am furious with the demeaning, belittling, humiliating, and condescending attitude from some men and that it is seen acceptable and brushed off by many people. How much more do we have to prove?


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