Sexism in football: Can the abuse ever be stopped?

Sexism in football is a neverending story. Michelle Owen adds her voice and perspective to the story, showing not all football experiences are bad but that when it’s bad, there is no limit to the amount of abuse women must endure.  

It’s time to tackle sexism.

This is such a broad subject. I feel like I will give the tiniest of scratches to the surface of it but I wanted to discuss the issue as it keeps popping up every single week.

A few weeks ago I was on my way back from a long away game on the team coach. Skimming through Facebook I found an article about Arsenal Ladies thrashing Tottenham Ladies in the FA Cup on the BBC Sport feed. Underneath the article were hundreds of comments, so many of them sexist, questioning the point of women’s football and the like.

I read the article and not once did it mention that Tottenham are a part-time team and sit a couple of leagues below Arsenal. The gulf is huge, yet it wasn’t referenced. I felt angry as not only were sexist comments being added, there was no context to the game in the article. This does not help build the profile of women’s football.

Not long before this, I received horrible sexist abuse on Twitter after a report on Soccer Saturday. I was called all sorts of unrepeatable things, as well as comments saying that women should not be allowed to report on football. When you are tagged in these comments it is difficult to avoid them.

Brighton keeper David Stockdale flagged up some more sexist abuse at the weekend which caught my eye. His response (below) is so true.

Owens-sexism tweet

The tweet was an opinion on Player of the Year at Chelsea from Olivia Buzaglo who works in media and is also a Chelsea fan. Inexplicably the responses to her footballing opinion were sexist, threatening and utterly bemusing.

What can be done to tackle these dinosaurs? Organisations like Women in Football are great at highlighting the sort of things that goes on in the game daily. I know a few years ago they contacted every single club in the Football League with recommendations on how to look out for, and shut down, sexist behaviour.

They also carried out a survey which showed that half of women working in football had suffered sexist abuse. Half. Imagine going to work tomorrow and wondering if someone will question your ability simply because of your gender.

We have campaigns like Kick It Out for racism, so why not something like that to clamp down on and highlight sexism? You may recall in December the Sussex FA revealing ways to attract more girls to sport including things such as pink whistles and ‘nice smelling bibs.’ While I am sure the sentiment was in the right place, this is so far off the mark it is embarrassing.

I would love to see a campaign where professional footballers wear T-shirts, badges and actually talk about what happens to women in the game. On the whole I have been quite fortunate; when I first started going to press boxes I had the odd comment and a few on social media but I have not seen too much directly. It certainly was a consideration when I started and I remember my husband warning me of it.

As I said at the start, this is such a broad subject I have not even touched on how massively under-represented women are on football boards, committees and in the media. The more women who are seen publicly in football the better. The more websites like The Offside Rule. The title is tongue in cheek (we get it), but I hope one day we don’t have to explain the fact that we understand one of the most key rules of the game.

It is worth adding that my experience has seen the majority treat me as an equal – most engage in conversations on social media and in person just as they would with a man. However, there is still so much abuse happening more widely, from comments on women’s football to comments on any women having an opinion. I just wonder how these keyboard warriors would react if that vitriol was aimed at their mum, sister, daughter or wife.

Follow Michelle on Twitter at @MichelleOwen7

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