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Football and sexism: the case of Guadalupe Porras Ayuso

What can the world of football do to tackle this problem?

Football and sexism: the case of Guadalupe Porras Ayuso What can the world of football do to tackle this problem?
The statement of the Lazio Curve signed by Diabolik Pluto

During a Liga match between Betis from Seville and Athletic Bilbao, the lineswoman Guadalupe Porras Ayuso was injured colliding with a camera. The images of her bloodied face being assisted on the sidelines (referee Cuadra Fernandez instructed the cameraman to move away as he was too close to the pitch, hence the collision) went viral worldwide, even ending up on Gazzetta dello Sport's Instagram page. Immediately, the comment section filled with sexist insults. What was a woman doing there? Football is a man's thing. She should go back to the kitchen. The comments were so numerous that Gazzetta itself distanced with a public post, stating: "We initially committed to limiting most of the comments. However, the realization that prejudices against women working in the football world were still present prompted us to pause and reflect for a more measured response. Because overcoming this social stigma also requires confronting ignorance, and a piece of news - albeit sad - can help educate our community. Within which, of course, there is no room for sexism or any other form of discrimination."

Misogynistic Trolling on Social Media

Any woman who has opened social networks knows: these kinds of misogynistic comments are commonplace, and the problem doesn't just exist on Instagram but also on Twitter and Facebook. Entire hordes of male users - and it's not just boomers but young boys, who according to research are increasingly distant from their female peers and feminism - often join forces, ranging from basic prejudices (mentioning the kitchen and children, generally the domestic sphere) to slut-shaming and fat-shaming. They gather, they intimidate, they provoke anger: they do it to feel strong, to make us feel unsafe, to establish their territory. They bait rage, yet they are not insincere: shielded by the distance only social media can provide and by their like-minded friends, they vent their worst instincts, and all we can do is read, powerless, because responding plays into their game, or at least that's what they say about trolls. So, what can be done?

A Specific Issue in football and sports

There's no point in beating around the bush. If misogynistic comments are unfortunately the norm, they exponentially increase in male-dominated spaces, or those traditionally linked to men. Sports is one of these, football even more so. Without going too far, just scroll through Gazzetta's Instagram page, open the comment section under any post discussing a female athlete instead of a male one, and read here and there. Any woman who approaches this field is objectified, torn down, mocked, belittled, treated with particular severity if not directly insulted. Even female users who follow football and comment like everyone else are attacked solely because they are women, because they cannot understand, because they're just pretending to get someone into bed, because they're pick-me girls. In 2018, Lazio's curva made it known through a statement signed by Direttivo Diabolik Pluto that they did not want women in the front rows, because the curva is a "sacred place with an unwritten code to respect," completely ignoring (or not even considering the possibility) that there could be female ultras eager to participate for reasons unrelated to men.

Football and sexism: the case of Guadalupe Porras Ayuso What can the world of football do to tackle this problem? | Image 489774
The statement of the Lazio Curve signed by Diabolik Pluto

Men's Football and Women's Football

This problem goes beyond social media. The macho behaviors of some fans and ultras fuel a culture of exclusionary, patriarchal masculinity based on violent slogans and aggressions, which inevitably spills over onto women and the female part of the game of football, which at best is ignored, at worst - once again - insulted. Every time, for example, the women's national team is on the field - qualifying for World Cups when men fail or generally achieving a milestone - self-proclaimed true fans emerge from the woodwork, ready to attack the entire sport just because it's played by women. Asking why - if they love a discipline so much - they don't respect its female counterpart is futile: these petty behaviors are not based on rational things but on old and entrenched power systems that self-perpetuate in a difficult-to-break loop.

Sexism in football fanbases: What to Do?

The post from Gazzetta dello Sport is a good start, as is talking about it. Making these people feel in the minority, not supported by the same publication they're commenting on a post of, might be useful in dissuading them from making fools of themselves in public. The mob mentality loses conviction when subtracted from the mob. Yet, it's not enough. It should be the fans themselves, from within, who call out their "colleagues," exclude those who advocate for exclusionary behaviors, those who throw misogynistic slurs around like it's nothing, isolate them. A certain type of fandom should be the one to change, to become more engaged and less aggressive, more inclusive, and fans should proudly endorse these new ways, without fear of being excluded or ridiculed. Perhaps clubs could help by proposing awareness campaigns on the issue and addressing their supporters. The brands have thought about it: campaigns by Heineken, and projects by Gillette and the FIGC point to inclusion. Even footballers seem to be getting closer to the cause: when the president of the Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales kissed the player Jenni Heromoso on the mouth without consent, the Sevilla players showed their support for the protest movement by wearing it on their shirts. Now it is the fans' turn. These are complex discussions, inseparable from those about masculinity and patriarchy, but we shouldn't stop trying to have them. One step at a time.