By Francie Brown, University of Southern Mississippi
I wake up to the sound of the phone ringing in the hotel room, pick up the phone, and the automated machine tells me it is 6:30 a.m. Time to get up. The game starts at ten o’clock and we do not have to be at the field until 9 o’clock. It takes about an hour to eat breakfast and drive to the field. So why am I up an hour and half before I need to be downstairs for breakfast? — Because heaven forbid I show up to play a soccer game without makeup on and my hair fixed. If I was a boy, I could roll out of bed, throw on my uniform, and be downstairs for breakfast. However, this is not the case. A study done by Aina Chalabaev reports that “soccer is strongly considered as a masculine sport” (147). When both genders were asked to rate the sport on a scale of 1 (being the most masculine) to 7 (being the most feminine), soccer averaged a rating of 2.1 by men and 1.9 by women (147). While this rating may seem to indicate that only men play soccer, in recent years many women have taken up the sport. Women who play soccer put a feminine spin on the sport, however, that does not mean that women are inferior to men.
Even as a young child playing co-ed recreation soccer, the girls were set apart from the boys. We had colorful ribbons in our hair that matched our uniforms and we used a glitter stick to roll on glitter all over our faces. We painted our nails to match our jerseys. We rolled up our sleeves and put fashionable Velcro straps around them to keep them up. We would do cartwheels after we scored and make dandelion necklaces while on the sidelines. All of this was just part of being a little girl playing a sport. We dressed how our mothers wanted us to dress.
This in itself is an interesting concept. As young girls, we were very much influenced by our mothers. Even though we did not care what we looked like, our mothers made sure that we still looked like girls even though we were playing a “masculine” sport. Often, we were not the ones who decided to braid our hair or put ribbons in our hair. It was our mothers. As we grew up, we made our own choices regarding our appearances. While we were no longer dressed by our mothers, almost all of us continued to dress in a feminine manner to distinguish ourselves from (as well as to be admired by) the boys. While much of women’s first ideas to feminize ourselves (even while playing a sport) came from our mothers, media also plays a major role.
The year the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won the World Cup was the true turning point in the feminization of the sport. Little girls around the nation stared at the television screen as the team fashionably scored their way to victory. Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain became idols and posters of them were put up in impressionable little girls’ rooms across the country. They were on countless commercials including the well-known Michael Jordan versus Mia Hamm Gatorade commercial. After scoring a goal in a shootout, Chastain instantly gained even more publicity by pulling off her shirt and sliding on her knees in her sports bra to celebrate. Television captured the national team wearing makeup and jewelry on and off the field. As one could expect, these young girls, myself included, wanted to be just like them. They made it okay to “act like a girl” while playing a “man’s sport.”
While these women were unintentionally influencing girls to perhaps wear makeup and earrings, they also influenced these young girls to feel like they could hold their own in a masculine sport. Girls around the world gained some level of confidence and self respect. As in the Michael Jordan versus Mia Hamm Gatorade commercial, the sport phenoms play a variety of sports to the background of: “Anything you can do I can do better. I can do anything better than you…Anything you can be I can be greater, sooner or later I’m greater than you.” This commercial is so great because it has two athletes who are considered to be the best at their game. They are competing against each other but are seen as equals during the commercial where one is not out competing the other. This Gatorade commercial helps break the stereotype that girls are not good at sports (especially soccer) and that they cannot compete with boys (citation—Gatorade commercial).
Having commercials like the Jordan versus Hamm commercial work toward breaking the stereotypes that men are better than women at sports. Studies have shown that women are often less involved with sports, such as soccer, because of these negative stereotypes. Professional women athletes try to overcome the label that women are not as good as men at sports. The previously mentioned Chalabaev study is titled “Do achievement goals mediate stereotype threat?: An investigation on females’ soccer performance.” It states that while professional athletes try to overcome stereoptypes, studies have shown that many men and women often play into the stereotypic norms when reminded of them (147). When women are verbally told that they “can’t play soccer” so that the stereotype is fresh on their minds, they perform at a lower physical and technical ability than they would have otherwise (147). Interestingly there was a difference in the decline between physical and technical ability (152). Physical ability is considered a masculine feat because it includes strength, speed, and power (147). However, technical ability is considered a feminine feat because it includes fine motor skills such as coordination and precision (147). The results show that the women performed at a much lower physical ability but only performed at a marginally lower technical ability (152). Chalabaev’s study makes it clear that stereotypes in soccer truly do make a difference on an individual basis. If our society and the world can break these stereotypes, more women will be influenced to become active in the sport. Advertisers should also look into breaking sports-related gender stereotypes because the more women play sports, the more women will buy their products.
Before the World Cup, the media and advertising had not made a claim on women’s soccer. It was strictly a “man’s game” that a few women were playing. The market was aimed towards men and not women. All soccer apparel was in neutral or masculine colors. Jerseys were generally one color with the exception of a few that had stripes. Only after the Women’s World Cup did the market shift and expand to both males and females. As I grew up, more options to be “girly” while playing soccer emerged. Since girls generally care more about how they look than boys, the industry makes big bucks yearly by advertising and making feminine products available for women. Now soccer stores and magazines (specifically Eurosport) sell a girl version of almost everything that once only looked masculine. Soccer balls, uniforms and socks are available in pink, purple, polka-dot, and rainbow colors. Some products, such as soccer jewelry and accessories, are specifically marketed for women.
Male coaches are often threatened by the feminine apparel that many girls wear. Coaches and even some girls would make a big deal about wearing girly apparel. A specific few coaches would say that if we bought pink shoes that we would not be allowed to play, as if it truly made a difference in our performance. They did not want to lose the masculinity of the sport or they felt that by feminizing the sport for girls, it would further instill the term “soccer fairies” on boys. They felt that if the sport is made feminine it is no longer as valid as a sport. But the girls that wanted to wear this girly apparel were not thinking about anything beyond looking cute. The items just spoke to them more than dull boring hues that most men wear. Often for girls, making your surroundings more colorful can make things more fun.
However, feminizing the sport does not necessarily mean that women want to show off their bodies. They want to be respected for their abilities instead of just how they look. FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, has been quoted saying, “Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball […] They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?” (Christianson). Women were enraged by the remarks made. Female soccer players DO play by the same rules as men and have no intentions of changing how they dress (Christianson). They claim they have to dress practically and that “it’s completely irresponsible for a man in a powerful position to make comments like this” (Christenson). Soccer is a sport where women can be feminine without having to be scantily dressed to get recognized.
Culturally, we believe that men should be better than women at sports, but many women have found that through soccer they are often just as good, if not better than the boys that they play alongside. Before reaching maturity, boys and girls are pretty much on the same strength level. Therefore, during elementary co-ed recreation sports, many girls manage to become some of the strongest players on the field. As a left midfielder, I was able to use my speed and skills to dribble down the side line, past the male defenders, and either assist or score a goal. Countless times I remember running back after scoring a goal, getting high-fives from boys and girls alike. At that age boys had not developed their “I am better than girls” mentality. While it was still a competition, most of the boys did not have issues with a girl taking the spot light.
However during high school soccer, with hormones raging, the playing field changes. The boys have matured and are easily stronger and faster than the girls. The girls however use their extensive skills and finesse to keep up. When playing together both genders try extra hard to beat or not get beat by the other sex. The mentality of a boy is often to not get beat by the girls, while the girls mentality is often focused on proving that she can beat him. In high school, I played travel soccer on a very competitive girls’ team. We often practiced with a boys’ team, who was also competitive throughout the east coast. With the same trainer, both teams were often integrated together to do drills and play small sided games. There was a constant competition between the genders, no matter what the actual drill was. Both teams got a better work out and accomplished more during practice because of the struggle to prove our abilities to each other.
Soccer will probably always be considered a man’s sport. Only in the past twenty-five years have women even been integrated into the sport. The movie “Gracie” is based on the true story of a young girl who decides to play soccer during a time when only men played soccer. In the movie we see Gracie face the discrimination, predominantly from the referees, that was seen in the 1970’s and 1980’s by women who played or wanted to play soccer (Puig 6). Since then great strides have been made as the United States is one of the top countries that have been able to break down gender barriers both on and off the field. Now the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) are working together to help break down gender barriers in other countries through the “Goals for Girls” campaign. This campaign is aiming to end the injustices girls face and allow girls to have the same opportunities that boys do. They claim the campaign will continue until gender equality is reached throughout the world (UNICEF-FIFA Gender Barriers). Girls who used to not be allowed to play are now playing alongside the boys. They are being taught to have a high self esteem and confidence. Soccer provides role-models and allows girls to know they can achieve whatever they dream (Koch). According to Foer, author of “Soccer vs. McWorld,” soccer is the most globalized institution on the planet (32) and with any luck, it will not be long before girls around the world will be allowed to play soccer.
While in other parts of the world girls are just now being allowed to play, girls in the United States are now being shown that girls can play the sport at the same level and still maintain a girly image. I can get dirty, be rough, and still be a girl. And just because I play a masculine sport does not mean that I have to lose my feminine image. When I go on the field, I wear makeup, have ribbons in, and giggle, but that does not mean I cannot keep up with the boys. This idea is carried off the field. Girls may be more fashionable than boys, and boys may be stronger than girls, but beyond that we are equals. I find that boys think that just because I am a girl, there is no competition, but I always set out to prove — Anything you can do I can do better.
Chalabaev, Aina, Philippe Sarrazin, Jeff Stone, and Francois Cury. “Do achievement goals mediate stereotype threat?: An investigation on females’ soccer performance.” Journal of Sports Psychology. 30 (2008):143-158.
Christenson, Marcus and Paul Kelso. “Soccer chief’s plan to boost women’s game? Hotpants.”The Guardian. (16 January 2004). 24 April 2008. .
Foer, Franklin. “Soccer vs. McWorld.” Foreign Policy. 140 (2004): 32-40.
Koch, David. “Goals for Girls” campaign kickoff. UNGEI. .
Michael Jordan Mia Hamm “Michael vs. Mia” Gatorade Commercial. YouTube. 24 April 2008. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liKnJ-ejztw>.
Puig, Claudia. “‘Gracie’ falls short of goal.” USA Today 1 June 2007: E06. “UNICEF-FIFA Underway to Break Down Gender Barriers.” UNICEF. 24 April 2008. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K62XUtol9-U&eurl=http://video.aol.com/video-detail/unicef