The FA Cup. Where women aren’t equal at all.

// 6 January 2009

It’s not often I am moved to graffiti, but the recent posters advertising the FA Cup are seriously tempting me. They show footballers being tackled by milkmen and firemen on the football field. The slogan is ‘The FA Cup. Where all men are equal.’

Leaving aside the absurdity of that statement (because male professional footballers are paid ludicrous figures for chasing a ball about, and firefighters risk their lives for a fraction of that money) let’s consider women’s football in the UK. I imagine very few people could name any female footballers, or tell you when and where they play, or indeed, who won last year’s Women’s FA Cup (it was Arsenal). Even at FA level, the publicity given to women’s football is small compared to that devoted to the male game.

Since women’s football was banned on Football League grounds in 1920, and not permitted again until 1971, one might argue that it does not have the same unbroken traditions as men’s football. However, I think the real reason for such a low profile is that, like many other things, the men’s version is considered to be the standard, and the women’s equivalent is seen as different, outlandish, and of interest only to a minority. It is a sobering thought that, a few generations ago, not only women’s sport but women’s education, healthcare and legal rights fell into the same category.

This advert shows symptoms of that same school of thought. It is slightly misquoting the American Declaration of Independence, which was written in an era when the meaning of ‘all men’ excluded women automatically. Using the same expression without irony today is something only a few organisations could do, and it is sad that the FA still feels able to exclude half the popultion from it’s advertising. Women are currently viewers, fans and players of football at amateur and professional levels in this country, and they are wrongly sidelined by the men’s game.

My suggestion would be an equal division of all sponsorship and advertising money between men’s and women’s teams. This would extend to cricket, rugby, and other sports where men’s matches are unfairly over-represented. Once the money was divided evenly, I am sure the media coverage would follow. I look forward to the day when I mention the FA Cup in the pub, and it is not assumed that I mean the men’s event.

Comments From You

Rumbold // Posted 6 January 2009 at 9:11 pm

I agree that advertising is still overly directed towards male spectators, and that is wrong.

But in terms of quality, the male game is still superior to the female version. Therefore, not many want to watch the women’s version. Women are allowed to play in the mens’ league, but none do. Only Hannah Ljunberg got close at Perugia, but she would have been Colonel Gaddafi’s son.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 6 January 2009 at 10:53 pm

Women’s football in the 1930s had massive audiences, comparable to male football. It was a really popular sport, but support fell away for various reasons, but not because it is less interesting.

Kez // Posted 7 January 2009 at 9:13 am

Rumbold… whatever do you mean by Hanna Ljungberg “would have been Colonel Gaddafi’s son”??

The only thing I can surmise is that you mean that, like Saadi Gaddafi, she would never have actually played for Perugia had they signed her (I think perhaps he made one appearance?). But your phrasing is a bit confusing.

JenniferRuth // Posted 7 January 2009 at 9:19 am

I think the women’s game is gaining in popularity. The World Cup was televised this year (well, last year now), for one thing. Women like Kelly Smith are also really raising the profile of women’s football.

I think that Rumbold has a point in that the quality of women’s football is not yet the same standard as the mens. But men’s football has an *awful* lot of money in it – boys are encouraged and trained from a young age. Do girls get the same opportunity? Of course they don’t. But look at the money Arsenal put into their women’s team – is it surprising that they are so good?

As womens football gains in popularity (which may be slow, but it is happening) there will be more money. More money will increase the opportunity’s for girls and women to play. The quality of the football will increase in turn.

My boyfriend is a massive Arsenal supporter and he will watch the womens team when he can. He wants every team in the club to do well. Maybe other clubs need to raise the profile of their womens team in the same way Arsenal did?

magic_at_mungos // Posted 7 January 2009 at 10:01 am

Well the FA says that females over the age of 12 can’t play in an open-age male football game and that’s one of the lower maximums.

I played in senior games where there were players as young as 14. That doesn’t happen in the men’s games. Some of my friends would be interested in watching women’s football if it was shown but it isn’t. It’s only the cup finals that get shown on mainstream and if we’re lucky, an article on a Monday after the games on a Sunday.

Rumbold // Posted 7 January 2009 at 10:59 am

*Correction: I meant she would have been playing alongside Gaddafi’s son*

Feminist Avatar:

Interesting. I had never heard that. Do you have any links?

I prefer non-league football to the Premiership- it is cheaper and the atmosphere is better, but I accept that more people want to watch Ronaldo and Wayne. Perhaps women’s football shouldn’t aspire to the soulness plutocracy that is the Premiership?

Carrie // Posted 7 January 2009 at 2:02 pm

I’ve written about this before and my PhD research is in this area. The FA know full well that women’s football needs investment and that men’s football isn’t exactly welcoming to women. But whether they care that much is open to debate.

Martyn // Posted 7 January 2009 at 2:03 pm

Womens football was a massively popular spectator part in the early part of the 20th century. The reason it was banned from football league grounds was because it was seen as a direct commercial threat. It’s a chicken and egg situation, no funding or advertising because it’s not as popular as the male game, less popular because it doesn’t get the same kind of profile. Football is really tied up with some archaic ideas within British masculine identity, womens football directly challenges that and why its development is so resisted by many in the game.

Kez // Posted 8 January 2009 at 10:21 am

The wonderfully named Dick, Kerr’s Ladies used to draw massive crowds (comparable to today’s Premiership crowds) to their games back in the early 20th century. Women’s football was subsequently banned by the FA at its grounds in 1921, supposedly out of concern because it was bad for women’s health! More likely because they were threatened by its success.

The FA said:

“Complaints having been made as to football being played by women, the Council feel impelled to express their strong opinion that the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.”

Cruella // Posted 11 January 2009 at 3:12 am

Great post! The men’s game is NOT a better standard than the women’s game at all in my experience. The men’s game involves similar or lower skill levels with more violence, more cheating and a lot more playing to the rules rather than to the spirit of the game (such as trying to force penalties or using the offside rule as a trap). My personal feeling is that we should stop all the tax breaks offered to those who sponsor professional sport. Having overpaid sportmen does nothing for our society except encourage aggression and needless inter-community rivalries. Let’s use that money to fund grass-roots sport and other genuinely worthy causes.

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