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January 29, 2014
It’s increasingly difficult to read books about women’s football. Especially if you’re a white, bald male over 50. If you are, you won’t be able to put down Markwart Herzog’s excellent and very complete volume on Women’s Football in Germany without a tinge of bad conscience.
As a matter of fact, just like women’s football itself is victim to the eternal comparison with the same game played by men, male spectators of women’s football seem to be trapped in a discursive catch-22: whatever they say may be hold against them. They will inevitably be blamed for being unfair, or ignorant, or condescending, or outright sexist. Especially if they’re white, bald and over 50.
It must be acknowledged, though, that some of them are really stupid. The guys at FIFA that branded the 2011 World Cup in Germany as the ‘FIFA Women’s World Cup’ without even mentioning the term ‘football’ cannot be blamed enough for their incredibly inadequate (and very revealing) semantics. And the marketing guys paid on the same occasion by the DFB to invent slogans like ‘Fußball von seiner schönsten Seite’ and produce seemingly ‘ironic’ TV commercials with washing machines may think they are ‘postmodern advertisers’, but all they are is as has-been as ‘Manndeckung’ in the age of Spanish or Bavarian total football.
This being said, the average 50-year old bald male will still learn something from reading this book.
First of all, he will be impressed by the sheer variety of academic approaches to women’s football. The conference organised at the Schwabenakademie Irsee in 2011 and on which the volume is based probably attracted more researchers than an average game of the Frauen-Bundesliga. (Or was that yet another sexist comment that should be deleted by the mediator? I swear it was just intended to be a harmless joke!). There are theoretical reflexions based on gender study theory, followed by concrete, local historical case studies from Germany and Austria, spotlights on education in school and university, as well as analyses of women’s football in the media, in the arts and in museum exhibitions.
Secondly, he will get some food for thought. Not only about his own lack of sensitivity to the semantic pitfalls of his personal discourse on football, but also on the bigger issues that underpin these pitfalls and that make the discourse so immune to change and so difficult to emancipate from. In particular, the ten provocative ‘conclusions’ on the future of women’s football formulated by Matthias Marschik in his chapter are in fact challenging theses about the society we live in (or want to live in).
Finally, he will simply know much better what he’s talking about (if ever his haunting bad conscience does not prevent him to ever engage in a discussion on women’s football again). These are 360 pages of state-of-the-art research, well written in most cases, sometimes a little demanding, but in any case a reading experience that makes you feel you learnt something.
The narrative announced by the book’s wide-ranging subtitle ‘Beginnings – Prohibition – Resistance – Breakthrough’ is delivered, at least for the German-speaking world. And the implicit promise of the Schwabenakademie’s intelligent ‘dialogues’ book series – original interdisciplinary studies of complex sociocultural phenomena – is also kept. As usual.
Markwart Herzog (ed.). Frauenfußball in Deutschland. Anfänge – Verbote – Widerstände – Durchbruch. Irseer Dialoge. Band 18. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2013.