If a female/femme in the world of soccer told you they faced misogyny on a pretty regular basis, what would you say? Would you believe them? Would you tell them to ignore it and be the bigger person, or would you actively try to correct it?
I’m Sarah Robertson. I’ve been in leadership with the St. Louligans for more years than I’d like to calculate, and I’m a co-founder of The Thieves. A few years back I wrote an article covering some of the things I’d seen and heard in our supporters section, and in sections all over (see here). But sometimes, the stuff that hurts most isn’t always the loud, noticeable things. Yes the, “You play like a girl,” and, “Pussy!” screamed at games is atrocious and has to be stopped. But what about the little side jabs, the quiet comments, microaggressions, or non-verbal actions we receive?
I can tell you this: being a female leader in a heavily male-dominated group is tough. Very tough. I’ve been involved in male-dominated groups and fields for a number of years and you’d think I’d be used to it by now, but I’m not. It’s still frustrating, sometimes tear-inducing, and at times makes me question the future in general. But I’m very lucky in that I lead with two men who listen, empathize, and take these issues seriously. They’re my rock at times…many times.
Here’s a chance for you to hear what others around US soccer have to say. They were asked two questions with no knowledge of other responses: 1) In soccer, what has misogyny looked like for you, and 2) if you could help someone understand what it’s like to struggle with it, how would you explain it?
Meredith Miklasz – Chicago Fire Supporter, Honorary Louligan, Chicago, IL
Question 1: Misogyny has taken on many forms in my years of being a soccer supporter and it’s not always in the form we expect. I have been judged for the way I dress at games, harassed for my occupation by fellow supporters, and dismissed as someone who knows nothing about the beautiful game purely based on my gender identity. These are the “usual” forms of misogyny that we expect and continue to work on abolishing. However, the most damaging form of misogyny came from men I considered friends. It’s hard to carve out a space for ourselves as femme supporters — men will notice the powerful positions we fight for and hold, cozy up to us and find themselves green with envy, then the façade falls and the damage is done. Believing and supporting women and femmes starts with our own communities. Unpacking societal norms and toxic masculinity is key to fighting against misogyny in our own communities. The next time you see a woman or femme in power in soccer and you feel uncomfortable or jealous, ask yourself why and go from there.
Question 2: If I wanted to help someone understand misogyny in soccer, I would bring up The Myth of Sisyphus. In this Greek myth, Sisyphus is doomed to push a boulder up a hill for all of eternity. It’s an exhausting, strenuous cycle with no end in sight. All of our work, effort, and accomplishments as women and femme supporters feel like they’re not enough some days. But we fight on and keep pushing our respective boulders up the hill. Progress is not linear and we cannot remove misogyny from our communities alone.
Lindsay Kennedy-Eversmeyer – Fire & Ice SC Owner/Head Coach, First Woman to Play in MISL
-Male coaches think they know more or can coach better than me.
-Referees always assume the male coach on the bench is the head coach.
-People think that it’s OK for men to coach women, but not OK for women to coach men.
Question 2: Speak up! Fight for what you believe in. Never let anyone tell you you are less-than or can never do something. Challenge all those past “assumptions” of women in sport. Don’t do it just for yourself, but for the women of the future!
Michele Reise – Founder and Current President of LouCity Ladies, Louisville, KY
Before I answer I have a disclaimer and brevity isn’t my thing so I apologize in advance. I’m older (50 something) and am a 20 year active duty Army veteran. Those two things combine to give me somewhat of an aggressive, don’t take your shit, kind of personality so my experience is very much influenced by those things.
Question 1: It has been mostly microaggressions or condescending comments. Men who don’t know me at games, usually away games, are very quick to talk over me or cut me off when the conversation is related to SG leadership or rules of the game. Because of the items mentioned in my disclaimer I’m quick to give it back to them and they either apologize or go away. I’m real quick to say something like, “Oh thank you sport/scooter/slugger for speaking for me. Now let me introduce myself….” Recently there was an incident where me and a male supporter disagreed on a topic. He tried staring me down after he made his “statement”. I immediately recognized it as an intimidation tactic and internally laughed and said to myself, “Bitch please I’m a mom, that ain’t going to work,” and proceeded to hold his stare until he looked away. I have witnessed men commenting on women supporter’s appearances or getting upset when their comments haven’t been received the way they wanted them to. Thankfully we have a really supportive group so someone always steps up and stands by so things have never gotten out of hand.
Question 2: Growing a “thick skin” is what women of my generation were taught. We were often told, “It’s a man’s world,” and we had to find a way to survive in it. I’m very proud of the young women of today who don’t grow thick skin but demand that the men of the world adjust and meet them in the middle. So many women of my generation carry the trauma of having to be aggressively strong, independent and swallowing our emotions. A lifetime of being on guard and ready to meet aggressive misogyny with an equally aggressive response has stolen some of our ability to display our compassion and tenderness in public settings. Be strong, stand for what you know is right but never swallow who you are to fit in.
Malia Dunbar – American Outlaws-Saint Louis Chapter President, Co-Founder of Louligan Ladies
Question 1: It’s been a series of asking me who my favorite player is and assuming it’s someone attractive or explaining to me the game even though I’ve been in this sport since I was 5.
Question 2: STOP BEING A TURD (I half mean that but seriously). Please understand many women have been involved in this sport for many moons and assuming we don’t know anything or only watching because of attractiveness is asinine and demeaning.
Ellie Bledsoe – American Outlaws-Saint Louis Chapter Treasurer, American Outlaws National Chapter Management Coordinator
Question 1: I think that manifests itself in two ways which are remarkably similar. Often in groups of people that don’t know me from the pre-transition era I tend to get mansplained more often on what soccer is and some of the finer points of the game in the most childish and simplistic ways. Which is often coupled by folks who haven’t seen me since I started my transition, and they forgot who I am and lean into that mansplaining. Then one of my favorite recent examples was, as a member of AO staff and a trans-girl, I made the request for folks to wear Pride themed USMNT stuff to our game in Orlando. One of the members of leadership of a Chapter on the East Coast told me I need to focus on the game between the lines… so after the Mexico match in the AO StL group I posted a meme of Gio being annoyed at Pefok for missing a glorious opportunity, and this leader posted on our page, “You can’t be posting things like this, you have to support our team.” And it’s all I could do to laugh at him.
Question 2: I think it’s as simple as being taken seriously, or even just listened to. So many men assume we’re here just to look at the pretty things, or that we simply don’t know what we’re watching. And I think we’re making moves, look at how many women are in leadership positions in SGs (Malia with AO StL, Crystal in San Jose, myself on the AO board, Heather Borjon in LA with Angel City) and the ownership across NWSL, and CKB here. But the problem is it’s not happening quick enough and we’re getting pushback from the older cis males (love you Brad and Mitch, hat tip to you for what you do and how open you’ve both been). So it’s better but we have miles to go. We just need to support each other and continue to build.
Katherine Tucker – Real Salt Lake Supporter, Salt Lake City, UT
Question 1: My experience with misogyny in soccer has ranged from the near-benign comments like, “I bet you’re only here because you think the players are cute,” and, “can you name xyz player/coach/obscure rule, etc.” to much more harmful and pervasive attitudes. I’ve been harassed online and in person. I’ve seen the same things happen to my friends. As a woman and a survivor of sexual assault and intimate partner violence, I’ve been told to keep my mouth shut on issues that affect me most. I’ve watched people I respect disregard credible allegations against players, coaches, and fans–all because they’d rather watch their teams win than create a welcoming environment for women, femmes, nonbinary people, and survivors of gender-based violence.
Question 2: I think what I would say is: imagine loving something you know wasn’t built for you. Imagine pouring your heart and soul and time and money into something that sometimes made you feel unwelcome at best and heartbroken at worst. I think what people don’t understand is that silence in the face of misogyny ensures these attitudes will be perpetuated, and that the only way to eliminate it is to actively and vocally fight against the structures, comments, and actions that perpetuate misogyny and gender-based violence.
Nancy Carver – St. Louligan Charity Lead, Co-Founder of The Thieves, Saint Louis, MO
Question 1: Misogyny is a word that many either really do not understand or simply refuse to understand. If you don’t understand it and are willing to learn and do better, I applaud you, if you aren’t you are part of the problem. You are the one cutting off my sentences when I am speaking, or slowly moving in front of me to cut me out of a group. Or going to the male standing next to me to ask a question about something that I am clearly the one running. Being a female in the sports world in any capacity rather on the team side or the SG side is hell. When we moved to STL, and decided to dive into the soccer SG world I was lucky enough to land with Sarah as a Leader and two other males that empathize, listen, and work with us to make change. Not against us. I am also lucky enough to be married to a man that understands, empathizes, stands by my side and fights for me and our daughters to have a voice. Misogyny can mean ideas, thoughts, expressions being pushed off, then praised after being brought to life by the male counterpart. Or my favorite, “you don’t know what you’re talking about, here let me mansplain it.” Up until now, I had learned to accept that “it is what it is” but as my girls are getting older, I realize they not only deserve better but I as well as others deserve better. So it’s time to use our voices to work for better and demand better.
Question 2: The best way I can explain to someone what it’s like is you don’t really know it’s happening until you talk to someone else about it. Until you share your experience with someone else. Have you wondered why a certain person or group of people seem to talk over you or slowly push you out? Brushed it off? But then talked to someone else who has had the same experience with the same group? Yup, that is a misogynistic group. My advice, that I still have to remember myself…Just. Keep. Talking. Don’t give up, you were given a voice for a reason. Do good with it, use it for a purpose.
I’ll throw this out there: if a female/femme supporter breaks down those social and learned barriers and expresses an issue of misogyny, DON’T put it on them to fix it. It’s not their job to tell you when to stop talking, or to stop interrupting them, or to stop trying to intimidate them. Be an adult and learn to do it yourself.
As Miklasz said in her contribution, don’t be afraid or uncomfortable or jealous of women in leadership roles. And as Reise mentioned, women in those roles still have compassion and tenderness. After all, if we didn’t would we help guide our SGs or help organize and run charitable events or fundraisers? Would we put in our literal tears, sweat, and huge amounts of free time if we didn’t?
My last thought: sometimes we have to make choices between staying silent and keeping relationships or speaking up and potentially ending them. And sometimes they are ended without our input; just gone… done. Think about that: because we’re women/femmes in leadership roles, sometimes relationships are ruined simply because of our position. I’m sure each contributor to this article had something similar happen to them. It’s not easy to think about or overcome, but we’ve all done it. We have to. We may feel sad about what we’ve lost, but we strive to continue organizing things for our SGs, making game-days an amazing experience for the newcomers and fun for our OGs, and help the underserved in our community in any way we can. Carver reminded us to keep using that voice you were given for good. And as Kennedy-Eversmeyer stated, we don’t do it just for ourselves, we do it for the women of the future.