As I switched off the television after Germany’s win in the World Cup finals on Sunday, it occurred to me that, for a whole month, I had basically only seen one gender on TV: men kicking balls around a field, men congratulating other men kicking balls around a field, men crying about other men’s inability to kick a ball around a field, men sitting in a studio discussing other men kicking balls around a field…so much so that when the wives and girlfriends of the German players came on screen to congratulate the team, I had a jarring ‘Wait – what are THEY doing there?!?’ reaction. The exception, of course, was the rife sexual objectification of female fans throughout the competition – the ‘women of the World Cup,’ as they are apparently known. As Matthew Gaw writes in The Telegraph:
At almost every level of football it seems that there is a sense of objectification of women…if the caricature of women is accepted so readily, what does it say about us men? Tolerating or even revelling in these images not only belittles women, it also reduces men to the level of tragic, grubby, thigh-rubbers.
Having seen the ‘#SayNoToRacism’ signs on the sidelines in each of the matches, I turned to my flatmate during one match and asked, much as Belen Fernandez did, where the #SayNoToSexism messaging was. And then, Germany beat Brazil 7 to 1 and Twitter, other social media, and, tellingly, even a porn website, were overrun with a barrage of all-inclusive racist, sexist, and just plain offensive Nazi rape jokes. At least there was an immediate backlash from people around the world pointing out the obvious connection with such jokes and violence against women. As Fernandez puts it:
The widespread deployment of rape lingo and the portrayal of a fundamentally vile phenomenon in a positive light also contribute to the perpetuation of societies in which violence – both sexual and otherwise – is normalised and glorified…This is not to imply, obviously, that the World Cup Twitter commentary will compel everyone to go out and rape with abandon, or that war and rape wouldn’t exist if video games and Twitter didn’t. The point is merely to acknowledge the resulting reinforcement of violent structures. In the end, if what gets you off is typing 140-character-or-less rape jokes as a means of vicariously appropriating the spoils of athletic victory-cum-sexual conquest, rest assured that you’re not only pathetic but also structurally complicit.
Sadly, as usual, a perusal of the comments on either of these articles reveals how many people just really don’t get it and seem, instead, deeply upset that calls for gender equality and non-discrimination are taking the fun out of their lives. Perhaps it’s time for them to get a new hobby.
And, as it turns out, there is a pretty direct connection between the World Cup and gender-based violence. U.K. organisation Tender Education and Arts, released a video in June bringing attention to the 38% rise in domestic abuse in England when the national football team loses a match.
Given all of this, perhaps it should come as no surprise that a new report in the U.K. has found that women hold less than 20% of board-level positions in top governing bodies for sport and that Oxfam has estimated that it will be another 75 years before women in G20 countries are paid the same as men.
And what of next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada? Can we expect to see it presented as a real, respected sporting event, free from sexism? Or if we aim for that will people like theremittanceman who commented on Gaw’s article remind us to “stop being such a sad specimen of metrosexual political correctness, ignore your inner feminist for once and enjoy the spectacle like a real man”?
Actually, it probably won’t even be shown on major TV stations anyway, so I guess it’s a futile point.