Why aren’t there more women writing about football?
This is a question which has puzzled me for a while now. Journalism, as such, has for years been considered a male dominated environment, and football has had to drag itself kicking and screaming from decades of being a solely male preserve.
This is the second part of my series considering women and football.
Football in the UK has become far more welcoming for women and families, with stadiums being populated by both sexes. No longer is the view ‘women know nothing about the game’ so prevalent.
Entering the world of journalism can therefore be perceived as a daunting prospect, but the internet, social media and blogging has allowed people to join in without having to go through a selection process in the first place. So why aren’t there more women writing?
There have been women in football media for a while, which in itself seems a dreadful thing to write, but we can’t change what’s happened. Mainly women have been used as presenters. Gabby Logan has managed to transcend the image of being simply window-dressing and is now being employed in some interesting in-depth discussions and documentaries. The regular journalistic programme, Sunday Supplement, rarely includes a female with Alyson Rudd seemingly the only, yet worthy, choice.
On a Saturday Sky TV has gradually begun to include more females reporting from grounds with Bianca Westwood and Michelle Owen making great strides. They add a certain calmness and sensibility to it all. Personally, I find the whole shouting and overreacting of commentators and summarisers incredibly boring and childish. Of course, you want someone to convey the drama and excitement, but just tell us what happened. We’re the supporters, we’ll add the cheering. Having someone simply add to what you can see for yourself is the way which appeals more to me. However, I realise I’m fighting a losing battle with this.
But this piece is about written media. So back to my quest to find out why more females don’t write about the game. I have been on a fascinating journey discovering why females who do write about football. Here is what I discovered;
One of my first conversations was with Peter Lansley from Derby University. They are the only University “in the world” offering an Undergraduate course in Football Journalism. Peter’s enthusiasm for his work and the students and the course was clear from his very first words. It was clear he shared my concern about the lack of females in football journalism. They have gradually been breaking boundaries by attracting more and more girls onto their courses. Of course, not all of them complete the course, but then some boys don’t either. They have about thirty students on the course and year on year they have seen a gradual increase in the number of females apply.
Peter’s view is “females need to be strong characters. There is a perception it is male-dominated and they need to be strong to survive. But good candidates can hold their own, regardless of gender”.
I asked him whether he believed this was the same with males, and he explained the evidence was if you’re a female, slightly lacking in determination or character then you’re more likely to fade away from a course such as his than if you’re male.
I would imagine there’s also a case where males are more likely to stay on the course when maybe they’re not suited to it, whereas a female may realise this sooner and move onto something else. Of course, this is simply my opinion, I have no evidence of whether this is true or not.
Two students who have progressed substantially are Holly Percival and Molly Jennens. They are role models for both males and females and great examples. We will hear more from them in part two.
Given his comment about good candidates being able to hold their own, I asked him whether he believed females had to work harder than males as a result.
He explained with the boys there are several others they can confide in if, and when, things get tough. Whereas for the girls they may only have one other female on the course in which to confide in, and they could be finding it tough themselves. This is where he came out with the phrase;
“We need role models in positions of power”
He highlighted the success of Jacqui Oatley, who has had to work her way up from the ground floor to get to the position she is in, presenting football on ITV and BBC radio. Bianca Westwood is becoming a character on Soccer Saturday, so is Michelle Owen. Jacqui has been utilised by the University providing guidance and advice. The University has also partnered Derby County Ladies Club (The Ewe Rams) who are currently mid-table in the FA Premier League Northern Division. The University has also given their students access to Gareth Southgate, Nigel Clough and Henry Winter.
The gap between men and women in the roles of sports journalism is huge but narrowing gradually and with more and more females becoming prominent can only help with this.
Peter also went on to illustrate the issues;
“We’re dealing with an ethos in the UK of one hundred and fifty years of a culture where females have not been prominent even in literature. In 1850 the split between male and female in literature was 50/50. By 1950 the difference was 80/20 in favour of males.”
This is an astonishing statistic even after women gained equal voting rights from 1928.
Deirdre O’Neill published some research in 2015 regarding the number of articles attributed to females across all sports writing. Sports coverage has gained in importance more and more over the past twenty years or so, and the period they conducted their research over concerned six months before and after the 2012 London Olympics. Then they compared a period in 2002 to see if there was any change. The average number of bylines (articles written) for females was less than two per cent (1.8% to be exact). When they went back to 2002 things had not improved greatly over that period, with just over 1% of bylines attributed to females.
Bear in mind the reason they chose the Olympics was when there was a great spread of exposure for many sports who would not normally get much, or any coverage. As the Olympics gives pretty much equal billing to both genders. This was based on UK alone but even when you look at other nations the figures aren’t that much better, albeit they are better. Australia was 11%, so was the USA with Germany down at around 8%.
To consider how hard it has been for the women’s game to receive its rightful recognition, you need to remember what happened to the game in the twentieth century in this country. Women’s football was banned between 1921 and 1970. Yes that’s right, banned! They had been getting good crowds including on Boxing Day 1920 when 53,000 turned up to watch to watch the top team of the day, Dick, Kerr’s Ladies beat St. Helens 4-0 at Goodison Park. Rumour has it a further 12,000 were stuck outside trying to get in. Dick, Kerr’s Ladies were a works team based at an Electric Factory in Preston. Around 1920-21 there was a battle between the government and the miners, and as many of the team came from mining areas they held strong opinions on this issue. Given they were not even allowed to vote, there was obviously consternation at how women’s football came to be involved in such political issues. The FA then began a propaganda campaign against women’s football. They introduced a ban on women playing on Football League grounds, and soon extended the ban against women playing football at all. Unbelievable to think that today isn’t it?
In England the game in the seventies and eighties became a male-dominated world. Women went to matches in that time, my wife included, but the violence, language and ferocity of the atmosphere in some grounds, often put many off. Women still had to deal with the stereotypical “get back in the kitchen”, or “put the kettle on, love” comments. But in the past twenty years or so things have improved. The game is a far more accessible and a much more attractive product it is very common to see female fans around social media. This was what prompted me to wonder why more of them hadn’t taken the leap into writing about the game.
Now for some generalisations. Women are generally more empathetic than men, and in the macho, boasting world of football and/or journalism this can be a distinct advantage. Maybe a female can garner more information through an interview simply by demonstrating empathy or sensitivity and as Peter agreed maybe this allows the person they’re interviewing to open up a little more as there’s less to prove. Perhaps the player they’re talking to doesn’t feel a need to maintain an image of themselves, and that if they admit a sight weakness they’re not going to be laughed at or ridiculed.
My own opinion is men tend to retain a certain childlike obsession with their love of their chosen football club, whereas women have more of an ability to stand back and view things compared to everything else going on. Perhaps more subjective. This isn’t to say women football supporters are any less passionate and dedicated, but perhaps more equipped to deal with disappointments and setbacks.