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July 24, 2013
Post-conference reflexions by Post by Yağmur Nuhrat (Brown University)
and Başak Alpan (Middle East Technical University).
The FREE Conference in Copenhagen saw two days of pithy exchange on the multifarious phenomenon of women’s football – as players, fans, coaches, administrators, wives and girlfriends (not to mention football academics). One particular problematic seemed to arise continually without a concrete or fully convincing answer: How do or how should women cope with forms of hegemonic masculinity in a space which has traditionally been defined as a male realm? Should they actually?
There was a near consensus among the conference papers about how football in general remains a ‘masculine space’. Moreover, various conference sessions seemed to depict football as a realm firmly under the reign of the socially hegemonic forms of masculine attitudes and behaviour (i.e. hetero-normative masculinity that allows certain masculine forms to dominate over other masculine or feminine forms).
There are certain (albeit limited) alternatives for women in terms of how they might exist in this space. The conference thus included various discussions on the notion of ‘resistance’, since resistance emerged as one of the more conspicuous choices for women who were confronted with hegemonic masculinity. However, when trying to identify possible forms of resistance, it seemed like the scholars concerned found themselves between two equally depressing choices:
a) Women resisting hegemonic masculinity by assuming hegemonic masculine roles themselves, thus perhaps (we would argue: not always) reinforcing hegemonic masculinity in society; and
b) Women resisting hegemonic masculinity by assuming ‘traditionally feminine’ roles in football to highlight the possibility of their presence in football as ‘essentially feminine’.
One discussion in which this paradox seemed to crystallise was swearing in football chants and cheers. Can we criticise women’s swearing in stadiums with the argument that women’s contribution to the circulation of sexist language shows their complicity in their own oppression? Or would stopping women from swearing put us on the same page with a particular language ideology that equates women with propriety in speech and ‘the art of conversation’? Also, can women swear at themselves, deconstructing the actual content of the language so that referential obscenity is no longer insulting to them? But then again, would this not amount to women playing the old card of acting ‘cool’ in order to exist in a predominantly male space?
All in all, faced with the normative options of being men or women, it seemed like women in football had actually less choices for socio-political presence than women in extra-footballing spheres. The name of a female-only football fan group in Denmark, ‘pink lions’, which was at the focus of one of the presentations, is an excellent illustration of this: even if women can be ‘lions’ trying to co-exist alongside others, they cannot afford to forget their essential ‘pinkness’ in the form of the eternal gender stereotype. In other words: even playing ironically with stereotypes does not really help to escape them.