How My Love of Football Goes Against My Feminism

On Twitter, someone implied that it is impossible to be a feminist and a football fan. It triggered me because I am both. This made me reflect on the reasons I could have stopped being a football fan.  

Girls are discouraged from playing football.

Marva, a 24-year-old woman from England, was reminded of how boys view girls who like to play football. She wrote about how, as a young girl, boys became physical with her whenever she outplayed them. Marva also recalls a recent experience at a park when teenage boys whistled at her while she was kicking her ball. These kinds of experiences can cause girls to stop playing football.

Women are underestimated.

During last year’s Women’s World Cup Piers Morgan described Megan Rapinoe and the USA women’s national team as arrogant. Rapinoe specifically has also been subjected to public insults because she is a lesbian. It is hilariously ironic because men are allowed to flaunt their accomplishments all the time while women are demonised for being successful.

The gender pay gap in sports persists.

Female footballers do not earn as much as male footballers even when they perform better. In the past few years, South Africa and Nigeria’s women’s national team fared significantly better than their male counterparts. Yet they are paid less than the men. The USA women’s national team fight for equal pay is rather public and nasty. As all struggles for equality goes.

Women are objectified in football.

Whenever a football team is losing by a wide margin some fans on Twitter always make sexual analogies. These kinds of tweets often allude to rape. In 2018, the first-ever women’s Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg was asked to twerk on live television. It was supposed to be a historic moment. Instead, the host decided to sexualize her rather than celebrate her achievement. However, Hegerberg politely declined his request and later said that it was not inappropriate. For a feminist, these kinds of experiences can stop a girl from being a football fan.

Football, and sports in general, is a way to maintain toxic masculinity.

Some men also fall into the trap of being reduced to their athleticism. Arsenal footballer Hector Bellerin is constantly mocked for his fashion choices. He said that he was even called a “lesbian” for growing his hair out. Bellerin has also been very outspoken when it comes to social and political issues. During the 2006 FIFA World Cup final, Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi after the Italian insulted Zidane’s sister. Zidane got sent off and France subsequently lost the match. His reaction was viewed as disgraceful by fans and the media. It is as if footballers are supposed to conform to a certain type of masculinity.

Change is possible and present.

These are enough reasons to absolutely hate football, but I simply cannot. I am optimistic about the future of women’s football. It starts with investment and representation.

In Europe, some of the top leagues were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ligue 1, in France, was cancelled for both men and women. In England, only the FAWSL was cancelled while the Premier League restarted. In Germany, a solidarity fund was used so that the Frauen Bundesliga could continue. FIFA is expanding the 2023 Women’s World Cup to allow more teams to compete. This is essential for players to get recruited by the top teams and for the overall development of the women’s game.

As the recent socio-political events have indicated, football needs to address its lack of inclusivity. This should not just involve Black men but women and LGBTQI+ people as well. There should be adequate representation at executive, management and federation level.

Yet, football is a means of empowerment for men and women.

Sadio Mané of Senegal escaped his village as a teenager because his parents did not want him to play professional football. He rebelled to follow his dreams and is now a Premier League and Champions League player. How many girls from third world countries like his do not have the opportunities he had access to? Imagine if they did. 

One of the best documentaries I have seen this year is Footeuses: A Documentary on Women’s Football. It was filmed in France and includes stories of mothers, immigrants, working-class and middle-class women. They talk about how they defy expectations, celebrate the sisterhoods they formed and navigate their femininities as football players. 

It reassured me that I can be a feminist and a football fan.

Feminism: a Guide for Young Women

In many countries, despite the presence of strong feminist movement, there are still many girls and young women who try to distance themselves from the word ‘feminist’.

Many understand the lingering problems of inequality, but feminism forces us to critically analyze our entire reality. It asks us to rethink our friends, our family, our schools, our workplaces. It’s no wonder so many girls and young women feel confused when they are first confronted with feminism. And as more experienced feminists, we have to be there for them. Here are 5 ideas about feminism I’d like to pass to the next generation.

No, we do not hate your dad/brother/boyfriend.

This is probably the most sensitive point for many girls and young women. Once they hear feminists talking about patriarchy, the counter-argument is usually something like: “the men I know are nothing like that – they are good men!”

That’s great! Most men are not rapists or perpetrators of violence. When feminists criticize structures in society, they are not pointing their finger at individual men and asking them to atone for their sins. They are recognizing that, despite the fact that most men do not commit acts of violence, the ones who do thrive in a system of impunity.

And many men do not realize the extent of domestic or sexual violence because women and girls who have been victimized do not usually tell their dads/brothers/boyfriends – they confide in other women. So, while I personally know many women and girls who have suffered sexual assault, our mutual male friends would probably say they don’t know any victims.

If you think the men in your life are pro-equality and make great feminist allies, fantastic! But remember not all women and girls have that same privilege. We need to acknowledge their experiences as well. 

Violence against women and girls is a major issue – but it’s not the only one.

When talking to girls and young women today, it can seem as though feminism is completely equated with ending rape culture. And although that is an important focus of contemporary feminist activism, feminism is about more than that. Feminist thought is applicable to economics, international relations, environmentalism, sports, psychology, artificial intelligence…to every area of our lives.

My generation is facing a climate crisis and we are the product of one the worst recessions in living memory. Feminist concepts such as care economics or gender-budgeting could prove a useful weapon to defend women’s rights and also a better economic and social system. We need to mainstream these concepts so younger feminists can take them further in the future.

It’s okay to have doubts.

Many girls and young women feel like they can’t share their doubts in online feminist communities or offline gatherings. They are afraid to go against feminist dogmas and so they keep their doubts to themselves until they quietly disappear from the movement.

But it shouldn’t be like this. It’s okay to have doubts. Most feminist issues are difficult and complex – the gender pay gap, for example, leads to hard conversations about work life balance, workers’ rights and inequality within the family. 

No one is born with the answers to every single problem that affects women. And that is fine. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and voice your uncertainties.

There’s more to feminist activism than protests and hashtags.

Online movements and physical protests are, and will remain, important components of feminist activism for the 21st century. But there is so much more we can do!

Start a feminist book club. Create safe spaces for women to discuss their issues. Write blogs and articles about feminist concepts and ideas. Campaign for free childcare in your city. Ask a local women’s organization to come to your school/university. Volunteer at a women’s shelter. Ask for bookstores in your city or neighborhood to feature more books by women – especially feminist women. Listen to interviews with women who have been change-makers for the rest of us – particularly those who are less well knowm.

If protests and social media are not your thing, think about your skills and what you like to do and then examine how you can use them to build a movement

Feminism = Solidarity.

This is perhaps the most important point. Feminism should be guided by ethics of solidarity and sisterhood. As a feminist, you should feel as if you are part of a global community who will support you and have your back. We are all in this together!

Alaa Al-Eryani: Courageous Self Love

“I started to believe that everything I was ever taught and told was wrong, and that my value as a woman is not less than a man. We are all human beings, we are all equals.” says Alaa Al-Eryani in this episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast. Alaa is a Yemeni Gender Equality advocate, a Women Deliver Young Leader, and the founder of The Yemeni Feminist Movement online platform. She shares her story of overcoming discriminatory gender norms, leaving an abusive marriage and her path to self love.

“I found confidence when I started to love myself. And when I started to love myself, that’s when I truly believed that everything I had thought about myself was not true.” 

Alaa Al-Eryani inspires us with her positive outlook on change. She shows tremendous courage and stands up for what she truly believes in. She tells us about how sharing her own story and talking to others has helped her to take steps towards healing and recovery.

“I think a lot of us underestimate what the support of others can do.”

The Power of Your Story Podcast is a production in partnership with SayItForward.org. We are so inspired by the many stories that women and girls share on the Say It Forward platform. Personal stories of overcoming fears, limiting beliefs, or circumstances that have held women and girls back. Sayitforward.org welcomes any woman, any girl from anywhere in the world to share her unique story and inspire others. We hope you are inspired to share your story too.

In this episode Alaa says, “It really helped me in my healing and recovery process when I shared my story. ” 

This is the 6th episode of The Power of Your Story Podcast. We hope you have enjoyed this new podcast series as much as we have! We still have several inspiring episodes left. Please consider leaving a rating in your podcast app and sharing this podcast with a friend. Thank you.

What the Word Feminism Means To Me

At one point last year, I felt in serious doubt of my feminism.

Maybe it was because I hated that the #MeToo movement seemed to mean nothing in South Africa, a country where rape is a serious epidemic. My brother also asked me what feminism meant. He told me that he believes men and women should be equal but does not identify as feminist. What he said at that particular moment had me wondering. Now I am wondering again, what does feminism mean to me?

I knew I was a feminist ever since I was a child, I just didn’t know the word or definition. I would take on any boy who treated me inadequately. Most of them would usually call me stuck up.

Just like my brother, I did not know what value the word feminism carries. The first time I heard it was in the song ***Flawless by Beyonce. I immediately thought, “Oh, I’m a feminist.”

In high school, my newly obtained feminist title inspired me to do speeches for assessment marks on the topic. After the second speech I made on gender issues, my Afrikaans teacher said she hoped that one day I was going to do something about it. Her words stuck with me.

The 2018 death of the mother of our nation, Winnie Mandela, revived my feminism. She kept the ideas of her husband alive while he and many other anti-Apartheid leaders were imprisoned and exiled. While our country was transitioning to democracy, she was painted as the unfaithful wife of Nelson Mandela, and as a murderer. White oppressors, along with black patriarchy, tried their best to keep her down. Her legacy is now told by us, the people.

I think we need history lessons on feminism. There are still too many untold stories, especially those of women of colour.

Violence against women and children is terrifyingly high in South Africa.
Since I was 13, I have always wondered, “Is it safe for me to walk around the corner alone?” I also wonder about the prospects of me being physically assaulted or abused by a partner. I’m not a woman who conforms to patriarchal standards. It is therefore not an impossible prospect in this country that I might be assaulted.

Police and government must do more to address the horrors women and girls in South Africa face on a daily basis.

To me, feminism means not allowing a man to have any kind of power over you. I still consider myself an unlearned feminist. I’ve learned about feminists like Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem and Kimberlé Crenshaw and I’m making it a priority to read more. I just wish I knew about more African feminist idols.

I also still consider myself an impractical feminist. At the moment I talk, write, post and like about it. Is it enough in this digital age? Is there more I could do?

Like this post? Read more on Girls’ Globe…

4 Ways to Create Opportunities for the Next Generation

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2019 at the inaugural Girls Festival – organized by Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU), Global Livingston Institute, Women Deliver and partners – got me in my feelings. 

 The Festival theme was ‘Gains from Equality’. It had me thinking about all the women who came before me and the opportunities they created for me to succeed in school, as well as in my personal and professional life. It reminded me of my mother’s stories of a time when the world refused to see girls and women as anything other than wives and mothers.

Creating opportunities for the next generation at the 2019 Girls Fest organised by Reach a Hand Uganda. 3 young women hold up a sign and smile.
2019 Girls Festival

Let us toast the movements that paved the way for women to do powerful things. 

We must honour the women who marched for us to vote, to get into the workforce and the political space. And not forgetting the women who made it possible for us to eat chicken and eggs. Yes, shocking I know, but there are several tribes in Uganda where not too long ago women were forbidden from eating chicken or eggs.

Despite numerous obstacles, the contributions of women in the past have eased the path for girls and women today.

We owe it to ourselves to create equal opportunities for the next generation of men and women. We owe our children true equality. I love lists, so here are 4 ways to create opportunities for the next generation of women and men.

1)     Reinvent Feminism

There are numerous misconceptions about what feminism is. Some people are reluctant to label themselves as feminist. I am often asked if I am a feminist. It scares me to respond to this question, because I may be viewed as a ‘bitter man hater’.

We should remind girls and women that feminism is not a bad word. Girls and women should know that feminism is about having choices. Carly Fiorina, the first woman to head a fortune 500 company, described a feminist as a woman who lives the life she chooses. “A woman may choose to have 5 children and home school them, she may choose to be CEO or run for president.”

Let us rework feminism by getting more men involved. Feminism is for everyone. Working with men and boys is key to achieving equality. They should be encouraged to stand alongside women to support gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Men and boys need to abandon all toxic masculinity. Harmful stereotypes should be thrown out to embrace respectful, mutually beneficial and healthy relationships.

2)     Create Safe Spaces for Girls and Women

The Girls Festival was such a safe space for girls and women to receive sexual and reproductive health services. It was a space for girls to be girls. We need to create rooms full of role models for girls to aspire to be like. We need to create worlds where everyone can feel safe, accepted, loved, challenged and encouraged.

3)     Mentorship and Positive Role Models

My biggest struggle over the years has been to find a great female role model who is also a young adult. I look up to former Vice President Specioza Kazibwe, however, I wish I had a female young adult to look up to. I’d love to have someone like me who is doing powerful things. We need to introduce the next generation to remarkable role models who are powerhouses and forces to be reckoned with. I particularly loved how the Girls Festival 2019 introduced us to role models like self-taught makeup artist Monalisa Umutoni.

4)     Invest in Women

The inaugural Girls Festival was a satellite event leading up to the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver. Women Deliver’s mantra is that investing in women creates a ripple effect that yields multiple benefits, not only for individual women, but also for families and communities. Investments in women and girls are not mere acts of charity. They should be looked at as investments that can generate high returns for humanity.

These are just 4 ways we can create opportunities for the next generation. I know it won’t be easy, but every little action matter. Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, famously said that the way to progress is neither swift nor easy.

Let us do whatever is in our power to pave the way for future generations to enjoy the gains from equality. I look forward to the opportunities we can create for the next generation.

Doreen Kihembo is a Communications Officer at Reach A Hand Uganda.

This is What a Feminist Looks Like

An interview with Henry Sawyer. 

This Friday, I’m letting my sixth grader skip school. We’re making the long drive from Massachusetts to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington, an event that has become, at least in this mom’s mind, an ethical parenting imperative in teaching about justice, kindness, and citizenship. With feminism at the core of my  mothering a son towards an inclusive concept of manhood, we’ll join the protest chorus with his tween voice and the fire that’s been in my throat since November 8.

In this two-part blog post, we’ll publish our pre-march interview on Henry’s thoughts about what it means to be a boy joining the March followed by our experience among hundreds of thousands of people descending on Washington.

The morning of Martin Luther King Day, we sat down on the couch, where this mom interviewed her 12-year-old son about the election, the March, and what it means to be a middle school feminist boy.

How would you describe yourself?

I don’t want to sound braggish.

It’s okay to be confident in what you think about yourself.

I think that I’m intelligent. And kind and friendly. I like the environment and I like animals a lot. I like all animals to be treated fairly, and I want to keep the environment good and not global-warmicized. And I’m 5 feet tall and I have blonde hair and blue eyes and I have to wait til 2 teeth fall out before I get braces.

What do you do for fun?

I read… I listen to audio books. I sled if there’s snow. I play with my cat. I run every day if I can help it.

What are you reading right now?

To Kill a Mockingbird.

That’s my favorite book.

I know.

14976868_10154069718299067_5726712885746974308_o.jpgWho inspires you?

My mom and Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama and Barack Obama and my dad.

We’re in good company.

Yep.

What inspires you about these people?

They stand up for what they believe in, and they believe the sort of things I think are right for the country.

Do you think Donald Trump stands up for what he believes in?

Yes…

So what makes the people on your list different from him?

Because the people on my list don’t stand up for what they believe in in a way that harms others. Donald Trump is constantly insulting people when he says what he means, and sometimes if the only things you have to say are bad, you shouldn’t say them at all.

What kinds of things do the people on your list stand up for that inspires you?

They stand up for equality, forgiveness, being the better person instead of insulting people when they are in an argument.

What kind of equality is important to you?

Having all types of people being able to have the same liberties and opportunities for jobs, school, health care.

How did you feel when I woke you up the day after the election and told you about the results?

Shocked. Because the polls during the election were looking like she would win. I was outraged because I didn’t think that Americans would actually vote him president. I feel like he’s going to do a lot of damage to our country. I feel like he’s going to be very reckless and he’s going to make wars a lot worse.

What made you want to protest the election?

Because maybe if he sees that people disagree with his views, it’s possible that he could change them to fit the country. I feel like we shouldn’t just let him into the presidency gladly, like we should put up some resistance. He seems like he’s a new kind of Republican, like he’s different from anyone else who could have been elected. I don’t think protesting would have been as important [if a different Republican won]. Not all Republicans are racist like he is. Also I feel like he doesn’t agree with free speech and he’s sexist. Like when he insults reporters who say things he doesn’t like, and the things he says about women are slanderous, cruel, and childish.

What does being a feminist mean to you?

Someone who stands up for equal rights between women and men.

Are you a feminist?

Yes.

14258073_10153910120199067_5097085528994122227_o-1
Kristina and her son

Your dad and I have always believed that it’s not just important to teach you that girls and women have a right to the same opportunities that you have but also that boys should not be judged for enjoying things that are typically associated with girls.

I used to like the color pink. I don’t think it makes sense for a certain color to be assigned to a certain gender. I had a pink toy lawn mower.

You specifically asked for a lawn mower that was pink. And I remember you desperately wanting pink shoes, and when you got your pink shoes, you loved them so much and didn’t care when another boy told you pink is for girls. Do you think it’s important for boys to be feminists, too?

Yes, it means they believe in equal rights. If there were no boys who were feminists, the genders would all be separated, and we should be together in unity. It means that everyone is treated as equals.

Why do you want to go to the Women’s March on Washington?

Because I support equal rights. Can I ask why is it called the Women’s March?

It was organized by a few feminist activists who were outraged by Donald Trump’s comments and history with women, and they wanted to organize a march to protest that, but they also made it a march for everyone because they believe, like you, that people are stronger in protest when they’re united. What do you expect to see there?

Hundreds of people marching. Men and women. Chanting. Signs. I think it’s going to be fun even if it does make your feet tired.

Why is it worth it to march even if your feet are tired?

Because I think we should stand up for equality.

Can I ask you to talk about what values you have?

I value independence and hard work and kindness and generosity. I think kindness and generosity are the most important ones of all of them. You teach me to be nice to people of all different backgrounds, to be nice to people. There was that time I fell off my bike and you just waited with me there until I felt like I could bike again. That was very nice.

If you could say anything to kids who support Donald Trump, what would you say to them?

Why?” And I would say kindness is important.

That’s a good response. What would you hope to see come out of the March this weekend?

I’d like to see Donald Trump release a statement of apology to all of the women he insulted.

That would be amazing. I can’t wait to march with you. How was this interview for you?

I think I need some recovery time.

How about four days?

And with that, he threw in a Hillary shimmy.

hillary.gif

Cover Photo Credit: Maarten van den Heuvel