Overtly misogynistic attitudes towards women’s sports can be common among male football fans, according to new research using online message boards.
The Durham University-led study, based on a survey of 1,950 male football fans on UK football fan bulletin boards, found overtly misogynistic attitudes to women’s sports among those surveyed, regardless of age.
Progressive attitudes among men were also strongly represented, but were not as common as hostile and sexist attitudes.
This comes in the context of the increased visibility of women’s sport in recent years, especially since the London 2012 Olympics and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
The researchers suggest that these dominant misogynistic attitudes backfire on progress towards gender equality. They argue for increased coverage of women’s sports to promote greater gender equality and promote social justice.
The survey was completed by 1,950 male football fans who responded to a call for participants on 150 UK football fan message boards.
The research, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), is published in the scientific journal Sociology and was guided by Durham University with researchers from the University of Leicester and University of South Australia.
Lead author, Dr. Stacey Pope of Durham University’s Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, said: “This is the first study to examine British football fans’ attitudes towards women’s sport in an era when women’s sport has seen a significantly increased media profile. .
“Our research showed that attitudes towards women in sports are changing to some degree, with attitudes more progressive. However, the findings also reflect a patriarchal society in which misogyny is pervasive. There were numerous examples of men from all generations exhibit very sexist and misogynistic attitudes.”
Based on the responses to the open-ended questions in the survey, fans could be roughly split into three groups that exhibited either progressive masculinity, overt misogynistic masculinity, or concealed misogynistic masculinity.
Men with progressive attitudes showed strong support for equality in the media coverage of women’s sports, with many saying the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup had been a positive turning point in terms of representation of women’s sports. Raising awareness of women’s sports was seen as a way to change attitudes for the better, inspire grassroots girls and challenge assumptions about the perceived inferiority of women in sports. Media was seen as responsible for promoting women’s sport more.
The fans who openly had a misogynistic attitude towards women’s sports viewed it as inferior to men’s sports, especially with regard to football, and some suggested that women should not participate in sports at all, or if they did, the “female” Sports should be like athletics. There was also extreme hostility to the increasing media coverage of women’s sports, which were seen as “positive discrimination” or “PC nonsense.”
The latter group of fans, who were outnumbered, were said to publicly express progressive attitudes, but in more private moments reveal a misogynistic view of women’s sports, adapting what they said to the social situation or who they were with.
Co-author, John Williams of the University of Leicester, noted: “The increase in media coverage of women’s sports on both the BBC and its subscription channels has been openly supported by some men. But for others it also clearly poses a visible threat, an attack on football as an arena for “doing” masculinity. This is at a time when there are more widespread fears circulating among men about establishing and carrying out satisfying masculine identities. For men like this, there was a decidedly anti-feminist response towards the women’s game.”
While the study looked at the specific area of sport, the researchers say it may also help understand men’s different responses to women in other settings, such as the workplace, education or creative industries.
Football has been largely a male domain for much of the sport’s history and has arguably remained one of the “last bastions” of male domination.
While women’s sport still accounts for less than 10 per cent of annual print and TV coverage, there is a new era in women’s sport coverage in the UK. Developments include the launch of the professional FA Women’s Super League, the success of GB female athletes at the London 2012 OIympic Games and Sport England’s This girl can campaign.
Women who like sports don’t necessarily go to more competitions
Stacey Pope et al, Men’s Football Fandom and the Performance of Progressive and Misogynistic Masculinities in a ‘New Age’ of UK Women’s Sport, Sociology (2022). DOI: 10.1177/0038038521063359
Provided by Durham University
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