The trouble with the Women’s World Cup
The sanitisation of football in the name of feminine values is bad news for women's football. And for society.
Since childhood, I’ve been a passionate football fan – I still play in a local amateur team. And since school, I’ve known that girls and women can play football quite well and with plenty of passion. So why would I have a problem with the Women’s World Cup, currently being held in Germany?
The players on show are better than me, so my concerns are not about the quality of the football or I’d never set foot on a pitch ever again. In fact, women’s football has improved greatly in recent years, becoming much faster, technically more mature and more athletic. I even thought the German team’s opening game in the current World Cup, against Canada, was quite entertaining – although having gone two-nil up, Germany came far too close to letting Canada grab a draw. Then again, I’m an Eintracht Frankfurt fan, so I’m accustomed to my team squandering good chances.
What distinguishes the women’s game from the men’s isn’t so much the speed or the technical quality, but the fact that it is less ‘physical’. Women’s football emphasises skill and fairness, and for some people that makes it a more attractive proposition than the men’s game. Just as women in business and politics are claimed to be ‘fairer’ and more conciliatory, so female footballers are supposed to be nicer on the pitch, too. But I don’t think that’s such a good thing.
In short, my antipathy towards the Women’s World Cup has little to do with women’s football in itself and even less with women playing football. Rather, it is the widespread reputation of women’s football as non-aggressive and less passionate that I refuse to applaud. That doesn’t mean I approve of ‘dirty’ play; I don’t want to see every game reduced to a brawl. But the idea that the tepid women’s game should be seen as a template for the future of men’s football is enough to make me see red. For me, it’s the team spirit, risk-taking and passionate attitude that make football so great as a sport and as a symbol of basic human attitudes.
Many of these values are generally referred to today as ‘typically male’ and in negative terms. Risk-taking is considered irresponsible and a precursor to blind fanaticism; the testing of limits is viewed as a senseless and futile rebellion against self-restraint and the acceptance of objective constraints. So-called feminine values – balance, restrained emotion, sensitivity and consideration – are hailed as modern and virtuous. Such values fit into a society in which risk-avoidance and restraint are regarded as the way forward, best summed up in notions of sustainability and of living in ‘balance’ with nature. The fervent pursuit of one’s own interests and an unconditional commitment to bold ideas are regarded as outdated and disruptive.
Of course, the simple depiction of bad, old, aggressive attitudes as ‘masculine’ and caring, nurturing qualities as ‘feminine’ is ludicrous. There are plenty of sensitive men and kick-ass women who defy such stereotypes.
So it’s not the fact that women play soccer that troubles me but the celebration of ‘feminine’ values that threatens to emasculate football – and the rest of society. The signs of this trend abound: on the pitch, rule changes in recent decades deliberately attempt to penalise unrestrained emotion and restrain aggression with the aim of making the game more ‘family friendly’. Football fans face draconian penalties for politically incorrect behaviour. Apparent misconduct by small groups of fans is used to paint a picture of football as the inherently violent pastime of ‘trash’ members of society.
That’s why the German Football Federation has been so desperate to promote the Women’s World Cup as a family-friendly event. This not only suggests, incorrectly, that the 2006 World Cup was not suitable for women and children – there were plenty of both evident in the grandstands – but also that families must be there to keep the dangerous male football culture in check. And if mum and the kids don’t keep dad quiet, there’s plenty of police and surveillance cameras, just to be sure.
This sanitisation of football is bad news. The football crowd is perhaps the last place where someone is completely free to say and shout what they like. The promotion of women’s football as a bloodless, tame pursuit would rip much of the joy out of watching a match.
The tragedy of this development is that the football-loving players and fans at the Women’s World Cup, who enjoy the men’s game and want full equality with it, will suffer the consequences of this increasing politically correct cleansing of football culture. While men’s football has many groups and traditions that will make complete sanitisation difficult to enforce, the women’s game is only just emerging as a mass spectator sport and it will be far easier for the authorities to impose their dreary vision upon it.
For the sake of women’s football, and society in general, it’s time to show this promotion of ‘feminine’ values the red card.