After reading four books, three essays, lots of websites and all information at the National Football Museum, Manchester, on the History of Women’s Football, I am more and more fascinated by one seemingly small change in the language of the commentary on matches.
From 1890s to 2015, the players have gone from being ‘girls’ (or in certain media ‘harlots’) and ladies to ladies / sturdy young ladies / unmarried ladies to, more recently, women.
But this change from Ladies – Women seems to really hack some people off still.
When I was at the England / Germany Women’s match at Wembley, someone started talking to me about the England Ladies team and basically how shite they were, saying that they were worse than any men’s professional league teams, ‘even second divisions’.
When I said ‘Yeah I agree, they’re not as good as men’s leagues, the women’s team. But even those who play for the country hardly get paid so are never gonna be able to train a lot, have to have other jobs mostly and women’s football was banned for 50 years by the FA so they have a lot of catching up to do’. The person got that gutteral angry reaction I see when I mention anything to do with women, rather thn just agreeing with a shitty comment. But the reaction was mainly about me using the word ‘women’ when they had said ‘ladies’, as if I was deliberately correcting them:
The reply came roughly:
‘What is so wrong with calling it Ladies Football? What is this obsession you have these days with having to be called bloody ‘women’. Women women women. Why can’t it be ladies anymore’.
As much as it was a bit shit cos I wanted to watch the match and I got pissed off, I find these sorts of reactions so interesting cos:
1) It is not an obsession. Everytime people seem to want some change, you get accused of being obsessed with it as if you do nothing other than sit and get angry and shout at people.
2) What is it that makes the word ‘woman’ so fking aggravating to some people. To lots of people I meet. Way more than the word Man ever has. It’s like it’s a dirty word sometimes. An insult.
3) Why is it not obvious the difference in the tone / idea / reaction / language when you use the word ‘lady’ to describe a player, rather than ‘woman’. Because there is the EXACT equivalent for men. And it makes the exact same difference if you substitute for example:
The Gentlemen’s Cup Final
Gentlemen’s Hockey League
The Gentlemen’s Club Captain
It makes it sound like a bunch of tweed jacketed 19th century Etonites are walking around the pitches smoking pipes. Lady has the same historic connotations, ideas of class etc etc.
It amazes me when people react so violently on things like this
Man / Woman
Gentleman / Lady
It’s not rocket science.
They’re pretty similar comparisons.
Anyways, before I start researching more and trying to write commentaries from various matches through the last 100 years of women’s football, a few of my favourite quotes from some of the reading I’ve done so far, so thought I’d share:
(good books on it:
Tim Tate: Secret History of Women’s Football
Barbara Jacobs: The Dick Kerr’s Ladies)
– from the Pall Mall Gazette, 19th Century, when both women’s football and women being allowed to ride a bike was extremely frowned upon:
“Women may boat, women may ride – they can do so gracefully – but women may not ride a bike or kick a football. These pasttimes are beyond them….She is physically incapable of stretching her legs sufficiently…the smaller a woman’s foot is the prouder she is of it, and very naturally. I dearly love to see her feet come peeping in and out of her skirts, as the poet says ‘like little mice’.
– from the Victorian era, on the ‘publicly debated moral panic’ when middle-class women were attempting to take up cycling.
“ There were two immediate difficulties: The first concerned the obvious dangers of allowing a woman to straddle something. At this stage in the late 19th century ladies were discouraged even as children from sitting on see-saws or riding on hobby horses for fear it would either damage their reproductive organs or promote undesireable sexual pleasure….(on cycling) the results of sitting astride a machine and then leaning forward were too horrible to contemplate….One French expert pronounced firmly that cycling would ruin the ‘female organs of matrimonial necessity’.
And on the class wars of male football 19th century, something I was never aware of at all:
“The England sides selected…were resolutely stuffed with ‘gentlemen’. So much so that when a working class player, Billy Mossforth, from Sheffield, was selected to appear for his country, the rest of the team refused to once pass him the ball.”
Anyhows, just a thought. It’s a very interesting history, the history of football. x