The Euros are back, but a new initiative launched by fans of the game aims to make sexism at matches and in online communities a thing of the past
After a year of missed games, football is finally back, and – rumour has it – it’s coming home. Of course, it didn’t just return for this summer’s Euros. In June 2020, the pros returned to the stadiums after three months off, while fans were temporarily allowed back to cheer them on in December, before being turfed out again, and not re-invited until last month.
With supporters forced to watch from home, football celebrations, controversies, and debates migrated to social media – where, behind the protection of their screens (and their mums), male fans cranked up their culture of sexism.
“Online is much worse (than in real life), and much more personal,” says Caz May, a Bristol Rovers supporter. “Women will often get attacked for their looks or their weight, and we have many offensive terms thrown our way. It can feel very overwhelming when you receive a barrage of sexist tweets just for having an opinion on football.”
May is one of 12 women who founded Her Game Too, a grassroots campaign against misogyny in football. Launched last month, the group is determined to eradicate sexism at matches and online, and destroy the idea that football is a ‘man’s game’.
Among its aims are to raise awareness of the abuse suffered by female fans – in May, the group did this by sharing the ignorant messages they receive from men in a video that made #HerGameToo trend on Twitter. “Women’s opinion on football = invalid,” read one. “Get back to the kitchen,” read another, incredibly original, par. “You only go to football for male attention,” read a third.
Others highlighted familiar examples of men aggressively interrogating women to gauge their knowledge by asking them to name players, strategies, or, their particular favourite, the offside rule. One especially heinous analogy that goes around every time there’s a national tournament assumes that women can only understand the offside rule when it’s explained via shopping.
As other campaigns against discrimination in football rise up – including Kick It Out and Show Racism The Red Card – and players across the world take a knee before their Euros games (a gesture against racial inequality), it seems the tide may be turning on fans’ toxic behaviours. However, with men’s championships consistently getting more air time than women’s, the first female referee in a men’s English Football League game hired just this year, and female football pundits facing constant abuse, there’s still a long way to go.
Here, as we await the Euros Round of 16, May talks to Dazed about why Her Game Too is needed, how people have responded, and what teams and organisations need to do to end sexism in football once and for all.
How did Her Game Too come about?
Her Game Too: We started Her Game Too because we’d simply had enough of the misogyny in football. The problem particularly came to light during lockdown when more people were on social media and not at football matches. Men and women were using social media to express their views on a particular game and, for a lot of women, the ‘debate’ would often result in sexist and derogatory remarks. It’s always been a problem, and after the success of other campaigns such as the Kick It Out campaign, we decided to speak out about the issues that female fans face in order to make a change.
What have you been doing since launching?
Her Game Too: We’ve been unbelievably busy. It’s been difficult (to manage) alongside our normal day jobs! We’ve spent most of the past few weeks reaching out to female fans across the world for the exciting plans we have coming up.
What’s the response been like?
Her Game Too: Unbelievable! We reached one million views within 24 hours after launching our campaign video. The #HerGameToo hashtag has been used thousands of times, and we’ve almost amassed 10,000 followers on Twitter. We’ve only been going for a month! We are so happy with the response and the support.
“We’re questioned on the starting 11, the offside rule, and the formation, because some men struggle to believe we could possess that kind of knowledge” – Her Game Too
What kind of things have you and the other female football fans been subjected to online and in real life?
Her Game Too: Women will often receive the generic response of ‘get back to the kitchen’ or ‘go and wash the dishes’. It’s tiring to receive when all we want to do is talk football with everyone else. We also find that we’re questioned on the starting 11, the offside rule, and the formation, because some men struggle to believe we could possess that kind of knowledge. Online is much worse, and much more personal. Women will often get attacked for their looks or their weight, and we have many offensive terms thrown our way. It can feel very overwhelming when you receive a barrage of sexist tweets just for having an opinion on football.
Why do you think there’s a culture of sexism among football fans?
Her Game Too: I’m not sure where it all began, but it’s something that’s never changed because we haven’t called for a change like this before. We’ve had plenty of people message us to say that their daughter has been told on the playground that she can’t play as it’s a ‘man’s game’. Primary schools don’t have a set-up for girls to play football past the age of 12, which means that girls are put off the game from a young age. Young girls and boys need to be taught that it’s a game for everyone.
In what ways does the level of abuse differ between club and national games?
Her Game Too: Broadly speaking, I would say that the abuse at club level is more personal. Rival fans of the team you support will hate you purely for the rivalry. I’ve been attacked for my looks many times by Bristol City fans because Bristol Rovers lost a game. The comments at a national level are more generic – men will struggle to believe that you’re actually at the game for the football, and will start questioning you on your knowledge.
How can this problem be addressed at a higher level?
Her Game Too: The more backing we get from the people at the top – professional players and the teams themselves – the more powerful the message will be. We need backing from the people that these trolls idolise the most, which is something we’re going to work towards. Teams and organisations need to make a pledge to kick sexism out of football, and work with us to build a better environment to make women feel more welcome. We have ideas for this which we’ll propose to the correct people in due course.
What’s your ultimate aim with Her Game Too?
Her Game Too: We want to educate and raise awareness, with the aim of changing mindsets and making a (tangible) change. We want to build a more inclusive and welcoming environment for women at football (matches) and the places surrounding it, such as pubs and public transport. Football is a game for everyone.