Why I Watch Women’s Football and You Should Too (English blog)

14 augustus 2017

The last two months, the Women’s European Cup (WEURO) took place in the Netherlands. I do not think a lot of people in my home country watched women’s football before except for a few fanatics, but because it was in the Netherlands it got some attention before it started. When our Dutch team continued winning, leading eventually to the glorious victory last week, the popularity grew fast. Last week, I was celebrating the victory of the Dutch team with thousands of people when they came for the homage to Utrecht, my hometown.

I decided weeks before the start of the WEURO to be a fanatic supporter. The reason was a feminist one. The concrete motivation came from a Dutch football journalist, named Johan Derksen. He was clear during a football talk show that is dominated by only men that women’s football had no potential and that it was horrible and embarrassing to watch. He did not think at that time that the talk show would give any attention to the WEURO, because it had no news value. That this later changed because of the success of our Dutch team is a side point. I could almost not believe that such direct attack on women and their sport performance was allowed on national television.

On the other side, I could believe it. Just a few months ago I participated in a Masters course about Human Rights out of a Gender Perspective in Sports. My choice fell on this course because I was interested in the gender perspective and not so much in sports. Because of this course, I realised how segregated sports are along gender lines. It is understandable in some cases looking at physical differences (but there are also many counter arguments to be named) and it is truly valuable to have important female role models in sports for our young girls. But I never realised how undervalued and sometimes just specifically ignored women’s sports are. Often, women champions are ignored while their performance is just as impressive.

A few clear examples that I can name you just happened in the last few months, showing we still have a long way to go to value the performance of women. In May, a Dutch cyclists Tom DuMoulin won the Giro d’Italia. He was praised (even by our national news channel) as the first person (notice this word person!) to win the competition. There was a big celebration in his home province. People were so proud of being Dutch, having a winner on our side. Just days after, the news came that everyone forgot that our Dutch national Marianne Vos won the Giro d’Italia three times and never got a big celebration. Another example is from July when tennis player Andy Murray was asked if his opponent was the first US player (again forgetting women as persons!) to reach a major semifinal since 2009. He luckily could easily correct the reporter with saying ‘male player’. Since 2009, tennis player Serena Williams alone has won twelve Grand Slam tournaments. In social media it was described as casual sexism to forget Serena.

Now back to women’s football. Every non-Dutch has to know that football is the most important sport for us. If the men play a championship, the whole country colours orange (our national colour). You do not have to watch the game to know if there is a goal, because the whole country will cheer when our team scores. Even if the Dutch team is not playing, still a lot of people will watch the championship. It is just a popular sport. I remember watching the last men’s European championship together with my own YWCA-board on a weekend to Brussels and the Netherlands was not even participating.

Unfortunately, when I asked people before our Dutch female team started with the European cup and even during the championship if they would watch the matches, most of them would answer they thought women were bad football players and it was boring to watch. You have to understand that I am not a football expert at all and normally I do not like to watch football. But these comments made me want to watch the games so badly. Why do people beforehand already assume women are bad football players? I am sure most of them never watched women’s football before. I was surprised by the amount of negative comments I heard. However, I can honestly say that during the championship I was enjoying the games that were thrilling and exiting to me. I do not want to argue in any way that you are sexist or something like this if you do not watch the football games. I am just suggesting that the women’s games are very enjoyable to watch.

We have to realise that it still is an (un)conscious stereotype that women’s sports are not as enjoyable as men’s sports. During the Masters course I mentioned before, I was confronted with the following comment of Nico Dijkshoorn on national television: ‘There is something strange going on. I suddenly have to like women’s football (…). Not even so very long ago, you just went to women’s football if you wanted to have a good laugh. (…) It is unnatural to watch a sport you love, being performed by handicapped people. Women’s limitations: they can’t head [the ball] (…), they are too humble and too sweet. It is like wheelchair basketball. Admirable but it has nothing to do with basketball.’ I think people in the Netherlands just found his speech amusing, but it gives us an example of a statement that is found acceptable on national television and with this, humiliating handicapped people and women. What better way of breaking the stereotype and cheering for our female role models than to watch the game and cheer for them! Giving women’s sports the same amount of attention might bring a change. And I can honestly say it is very amusing too! That is why I can recommend you to watch women’s football and value them as real sports professionals.

I want to end with referring to a card I got at the YWCA World Council in Bangkok from our British YWCA-sisters. This card had the text “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people too” on it. Since I got this card, it is standing on my kitchen table. I choose to be feminist to see women as people too and can link this to the examples mentioned above where journalists forgot that female sports professionals had the same performance and simply only referred to men as ‘persons.’ Let us change this, because women are people too!

Dieke Hengelaar

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