BBC took the opportunity to throw shit on girls/women's football on the final day of Women's Football World Cup 2019.BBC used most of their main news hour today to propagate for more cricket for young girls. This is in line with a long lasting history of resistance against girls/women playing the most popular sport ever.
The tea drinking puppet empire banned women from playing football on FA grounds 1921-1971.
Peter Klevius has made the most extensive research on the background to the ban and how it was connected to the introduction of Swedish gymnastics for English girls.
Here just a small aperitife:
Extracted from Peter Klevius research:
The pioneering role of club gymnastics (Swedish ’föreningsgymnastik’) was an all-European phenomenon - except for in the British Islands. In Sweden this was especially natural because of the Ling gymnastics tradition (Lindroth 1988:40). Since the end of the 19th century there has been a continuous differentiation of competitive sport. I doubt, says Hjelm, that a ‘league IV’ heavyweight boxer would consider himself a better boxer than the Swedish lightweight champion only because he would win a match between them. This is why weight classes as a form of differentiation were introduced in boxing. The official introduction of girls and women football in the 1970s hence represents a common way of organizing sport in Sweden (Hjelm 2004: 284). Similarly, it is hard to imagine that the many male sprinters who run faster than the world's best female sprinters but not as fast as the best male sprinters, would consider their wins in some local competition equally worthy as a female Olympic gold medal. Yet the same logic seems often to be missing when comparing male and female football.
Gender and ‘class-neutral’ football
Andersson (2002) has written an account of Swedish football's cultural history from the end of the 19th century to 1950. Furthermore, Andersson has surveyed the manner in which football could attain such a strong cultural position, and a class neutral character, to the extent that it could be automatically classified as the national sport of Sweden. Andersson concludes that the middle class dominated power elite in Sweden tried to control the development of sport through the federations, at both national and regional levels: the management of elite clubs; sports journalism; the referee corps; and, often, even the running of sports grounds. All of this was aimed at the realisation of football as a manly, class nonspecific, and successful Swedish project (Andersson 2002: 624).
However, this bourgeois middle-class sport power elite that was initially dominated by younger or middle aged males, aged and changed to a group of somewhat older middle class men, with the values of the male working class and of social democracy. So, although there originally existed two English cultures in Sweden - amateur and professional football - while the Swedish bourgeoisie went for the gentleman amateur values with the main objective to use the game as an element in nurturing masculinity for the good of the nation, this was later transformed to better correspond to the popular ‘mixed’ football culture (Andersson 2002: 628-629). In this context it may be worth mentioning the extraordinary long lasting and strong position the social democratic party came to have in Sweden.
Ideology bearing thoughts and convictions regarding ‘wholesome masculinity’, the nurturing of a gentlemanly identity, as well as amateurism and class crossing nationalism was transformed from a sound and ‘healthy manliness’ based on military character to approximate the popular movement’s ideals of duty and conscientiousness, albeit without compulsory temperance. Furthermore, in accordance with a rather freer male ideal, all boys were welcomed to participate, and gentlemanliness was transmuted towards proletarian comradeship, and a class related amateurism developed closer to professional football. A professional and scientific attitude, in which the will to win was central, emerged in Sweden (Andersson 2002: 629).
According to Andersson, football was masculinized through the ideals of the working-class because it was well suited to a Swedish working class culture that not only paid tribute to collective ideals, but also contained a tradition anchored rivalry between different groups, not least young men in neighbouring communities. ‘In this way, the game's masculine character was established’, despite what representatives of Ling gymnastics opined about football's danger to physical wellbeing (Andersson, 2002: 624). That football during the inter-war period was a definitively masculine sport was, according to Andersson, demonstrated when a more ‘entertainment orientated’ ladies' football was established in Sweden around 1920. Andersson traces the origins of female participation in football to women’s generally strengthened societal position. However, according to Andersson, the main reason for their entry onto the pitch was economic. Although women’s football in Sweden in this period was ridiculed and never developed beyond a humorous spectacle into a sport based on serious matches between contending women’s team, in this way women’s football contributed, albeit in a small way, to the sport's comprehensive commercialisation (Andersson 2002: 624).
In Sweden, the development of competitive sport was simultaneous with the continued expansion of gymnastics for women, to such an extent that it became a female domain (E. Olofsson 1989:203). Female competitive sport played a rather diminutive role in Sweden (and Finland – two major players in male sport). This may be due to the early democratisation of the sport, i.e. that many working class males were drawn to sport so that the emphasis was altered towards more male/manly (’manlig’) sports like football, hence making access to the middle class sporting culture - which hitherto had been at least partially open for women - more difficult (Andersson 2002: 80). All in all, this background seems to support the view that Swedish social-democracy did not benefit female footballers.
Equal or particular participation?
Olofsson (1989:201) uses the concepts of equality and peculiarity to describe women’s situation in Sweden, and claims that it is,
‘Based on a comparison between women and men, where the man is the norm, whom the woman is like equality, or unlike - peculiarity. An attitude to women that can be ranged under the concept of equality can be regarded as the opposite of an attitude to women ranged under the concept of peculiarity.’
Olofsson continues by asking: ‘Is there a universal likeness between people or are there basic differences?’Women's participation in competitive sport, according to Olofsson, is based on a preconceived idea of how a particular sport is performed by men. As a consequence, women's participation in competitive sport can be said to be based on equality between the sexes. This is the root of the opposition to women's participation in sport, because the form and rules of sport are based on the idea that it should be performed by men. Within the sports movement, Olofsson (1989: 200-1) continues, as in the rest of society: ‘the opinion that women are different from men has been, and still is to some extent, prevalent’. The idea of women's physical inferiority is the most conspicuous one among men in leading positions within the sports movement. However, this reasoning may miss the fact that even within the sexes (e.g. weight classes) the same holds true. Moreover, there is also a tendency, albeit perhaps still rather subtle, to see the advantages of women in typically male dominated sports. In racing, for example, a smaller and lighter body is clearly advantageous if only the skills are there. Danica Patrick is in this respect a good example. Her driving skills paved the way for what can only be considered full equality as a driver in the eyes of the male drivers.
Although women's participation in sport, according to Olofsson, presupposes equality that does not exist, the doors to male sport have gradually been opened for women. According to Olofsson there is no such thing as women's sports, only female participants in male sport. On the other hand, gymnastics for women has existed for a long time, based on the assumption of women's peculiarity an activity which, officially, is gradually disappearing (Olofsson 1989: 200-201). Olofsson has shown particularly that many doors to competitive sports were opened for women in Sweden in the 1970s. The motives for this, Olofsson clarifies by examining women's conditions in football. Even if sport had lagged behind the official work for equality, the sports movement was pressed to open the doors for women in the 1970s (Olofsson 1989: 205).
The development of women's football indicates another dimension compared with men's football. Interviews with female leaders show that women have a somewhat different attitude to their sports activities. The work for equality carried out by the Sport Confederation in Sweden has also, in the last few years, been based on the conviction that women can bring new ideas into sport. This springs from an attitude to women based on social peculiarity. Paradoxically, says Olofsson (1989: 205), the social peculiarity of women is perhaps more difficult to eliminate in sport than the biological. And at the same time, it is not possible or desirable that it should be preserved. This is probably an insoluble conflict between the conditions of competitive sport on one hand and women's conditions on the other. The concepts of equality and peculiarity illuminate the counterstrategies used by women in their efforts to be integrated into the sports movement (Olofsson 1989: 205-206). However, Olofsson's description 'that women have a somewhat different attitude to their sports activities' seems to assume a general female attitude despite the fact that women can not be seen as a homogeneous group other than biologically, and that the interviews may be the result of the time being and the segregation experienced, or even just the lack of quality of a young and less established sport.
Contrary to gymnastics it seems that female football became sexed when introduced. Olofsson notes that the female PE teachers in the beginning of the 20th century motivated females for gymnastics and their entry into the sports movement in line with the ideology of the times, i.e. female peculiarity. This was in opposition to the beginning of gymnastics for women which was, in many respects, identical with that of men. Olofsson has not been able to trace any opposition to this, but concludes that one explanation may be that the idea of equality between the sexes facilitated women's encroachment on the new field of gymnastics. Olofsson then assumes that the women involved gradually discovered that in this way gymnastics did not become an activity for women. Women's counter-strategy became to emphasize female peculiarity. This attitude to women was also prevalent in other social sectors at this time.
However, when (around 1970) women entered the world of football in Sweden and elsewhere they, according to Olofsson, chose another counter-strategy. Now they emphasized equality, which was in line with the prevalent attitude to women. This strategy, Olofsson continues, can be explained in the same way, i.e. the motive of equality is the ‘natural’ motive for women's encroachment into a new field. Then, in the 1970s and the 1980s, the ideology of peculiarity gained new ground, both within the sports movement as well as in the rest of society (Olofsson 1989: 206).
However, an examination of one of Sweden’s foremost feminist organizations in the late 1960s and 1970s, the left wing communism inspired Grupp Åtta (Group 81), reveals that sport was seldom debated in positive terms among its members. Furthermore, football was seen as an ‘unacceptable and uninteresting “masculine” form of culture’ (Hjelm 2004: 277). This is the more contradictory because, according to Hjelm, the same feminists also proposed that women, at an individual as well as at a collective level, should try and learn new activities – such as, for example, amateur painting, and performing political music and theater – things they had not dared to try before (Hjelm 2004: 177). Under the feminist Group 8, Swedish females would most probably not have been encouraged to play football.
For feminists and the political left in Sweden competitive sports in general, and especially football, were ‘hopelessly characterized by masculinity’, and, according to one informant from the original Group 8, sport supervisors and teachers of gymnastics were among the worst ‘indoctrinators of our rigid sex role patterns’ (Hjelm 2004: 276). Another aspect of the female resistance against female football seems related and very consistent over time. Whereas in the 1920s the concern about dangers facing sporting females targeted the reproductive organs, in the 1960s the focus was laid on ‘dangling’ breasts, and more recently on the disturbed menstruation cycle. In England, the concern about female fragility has led to the situation that girls and boys aged 12 are not allowed to play against each other (Kosonen 1991, Seiro 2002 in Paavola 2003: 33). All of these can be seen as different aspects of the same underlying resistance, especially targeting football and seemingly paradoxically including many female critics.
It has been noted that sporting females have not internalized role conflicts (Laitinen 1983, 34). However, asks Paavola (2003: 43), herself a footballer, if sporting females do not experience role conflicts, would it be possible that those women for whom sport does cause such conflicts, do not participate in sport because of this? This conclusion may be adapted not only to the case of the Swedish feminist Group 8 above but also, and similarly, to all the girls that have avoided football precisely because it poses role conflicts. In this light, the Swedish feminists from the 1970s described above seem to have been basically separatist and hence ‘real feminists’ as it is understood here, and consequently for a continuing sex segregation. Furthermore, a logical consequence of this reasoning would be that much of the so called ‘equal-feminist’ movement was not feminist after all, but rather a social twin to the early women’s movement for the vote and other equal rights.
Hjelm (2004: 278) records some self-criticism among Swedish feminists in the late 1970s. Although the fact that many girls were interested in sports had surprised feminists, the next reaction seems to have been that these girls were unfairly treated. Hjelm asserts that female football teams did not evolve only because women wanted to challenge the existing masculine hegemony, through experience such as paid work, as students, or through the sex role debate. It was at least equally important that the preconditions for football and competitive sport in general had changed because women had left their homes and had now parted into women communities (Hjelm 2004: 259-272). However, according to Pfister et al the myths of masculinity and femininity which are associated with different body or sport practices are dependent on the prevailing social and gender orders. So, for example, from the very beginning, the participation of men and women in certain forms of physical exercise or sport was tied to rules and norms pertaining to gender. ‘It was, above all, women who in compliance with existing gender roles were barred from sporting activities’ (Pfister et al 1999: 66-67).
In conclusion Hjelm’s position asserts that women who had left their homes wanted to challenge existing masculine hegemony, while Phister et al (1999) emphasise the myths of masculinity and femininity which are dependent on prevailing sex segregation. In this light, Hjelm’s view seems more focused on women alone, whereas Pfister et al’s position seems more open for a broader interpretation.
‘Female football was an embarrassing, shameful and disgracing activity, especially unsuitable for women’
The pioneers of women's football seem to have emphasized the aspect of equality. This idea agreed with the prevalent attitude to sport that existed within the Swedish Football Association. However, some representatives of women's football emphasize that women have a lower physical capacity than men, and that by using a smaller ball, women would be able to play ‘real’ football (Olofsson 1989: 205). Translated to 100 m runners it would mean that women should run some 8 meter shorter distance.
A motive for the favourable disposition of the Football Association to women's participation in football can be traced back to the general development of society, i.e. that the official work for equality between men and women was mainly based on the ideology of equality between the sexes. It would therefore have been difficult for the Swedish Football
Association to point out the ‘improper’ aspects of football for women (Olofsson 1989: 205).
Based on interviews and press research, Hjelm (2004:276) concludes that ‘nothing before the end of the 1970s’ implies that the Swedish women’s movement was interested in the struggle of early female footballers, or even that struggle was worth of their support. According to one of Hjelm’s feminist informants – one of the leaders in the feminist Group 8 who had actually watched a game in 1968 - female football was an embarrassing, shameful and disgracing activity, and one especially unsuitable for women (Hjelm 2004: 276). Feminists in other countries shared this view (Hargreaves 1994: 25). An examination of one of Sweden’s foremost feminist organizations in the late 1960s and 1970s, Grupp Åtta (Group 82), reveals that sport was seldom debated in positive terms. Furthermore, football was seen as an ‘unacceptable and uninteresting ‘masculine’ form of culture’ (Hjelm 2004: 277). This seems perfectly in line with the view that women actively and with power contributed to the 1921 ban in England.
Extracted from Peter Klevius yet to be published book Born to Play a Sport of Nature.
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