How a Female Referee Exposed Sexism in Sports

On August 14th of this year, referee Stephanie Frappart made history. She became the first female referee in soccer (I know, football is the correct term, but as an American, saying it just makes me sound pretentious) to officiate a major European final. Given the fact that soccer has been the dominant European sport since, well, forever, this couldn’t have come soon enough for a fan like me. My favorite team, Liverpool, played in that final (and won, just saying), so naturally, I gave it a watch. In my eyes, Frappart did an excellent job. Normally, I only really pay attention to the referee of a soccer game if I majorly disagree with their calls. For that reason, she didn’t really cross my mind all too much throughout the game. My team won, and I was happy, and that was that.

After the game, I went onto Twitter—as one does—to check out some of the reactions that fans had toward the win. What I saw completely colored my previously jovial mood in a wholly different light. Fans from both teams, as well as neutral viewers who simply were desperate for any and all Twitter viewers to get a first-person glimpse into their misogyny, barely seemed to care about the actual events of the match. It seemed to me that the vast majority of tweets discussing the game had one thing in common—the belief that female refs did not have a place in the game. 

I’m not going to spell out any specific tweets. I don’t want to subject myself again to the painful remarks directed toward a professional doing her job, and I don’t want you to go through that either. Rather, I’ll summarize the offensiveness that I saw in an overarching question that came to my mind that day: Why are women still treated as outsiders in the world of athletics?

After that depressing stint on Twitter, a flood of feelings came to mind. I remember feeling an eerily similar elation and subsequent disappointment following the U.S Women’s team winning the World Cup this summer. I was both delighted and proud of my country following that triumphant win; but, when I scrolled through social media later that day, I was confronted by an onslaught of posts and comments discussing how the women’s team still had nothing on actual athletes. In particular, one example meant to diminish the team’s historic win came up again and again: the U.S women’s team losing to FC Dallas’ under-15 boys' side. 

According to many-a-sexist, the U.S Women’s team should not have been given any credit for their World Cup win, as they are worse than a group of fifteen-year-old boys. By extension, these arguments also claim that women are worse than men, that women’s athletic teams are a joke, that boobs are a distraction, etc., etc. Let’s stop for a second, and call this “fact” out for what it is—a misconstruing of information used to take away the success of women in order to reinforce the (false) patriarchal idea that male athletes are stronger than their female counterparts. 

As a former competitive soccer player, when I first heard about their so-called “loss” against the U-15 boys, I knew something was suspicious about that story. My former travel team, when we were around fifteen ourselves, scrimmaged a boys team about two years younger than us. Let’s just say that that game went incredibly in our favor. So, when I saw that the most decorated international women’s soccer team in history apparently lost 5-2 to these boys, I knew something was up. Sure enough, the game was misleadingly advertised by the FC Dallas media site. First of all, this so-called game was actually a scrimmage. For casual fans, or those of you who somehow stumbled into this article without having watched a game of soccer in your life (welcome, by the way), a scrimmage is an extremely informal game between two teams in a practice capacity. Meaning—this wasn’t a real game. Upon further research, I determined that the very reason the two teams faced off was through an initiative by the U.S Soccer Federation’s Development Academy, which seeks to provide training and mentoring for youth teams through exposure to elite sides. Basically, the U.S Women’s team was doing FC Dallas a favor, all while gaining some extra minutes of training to help them get warmed up for their upcoming friendlies. 

If any of the online trolls perpetuating the idea that the U.S Women’s team was inferior to a men’s team (keep in mind that the U.S Men’s team’s best ever modern World Cup performance saw them losing in the quarterfinals) had actually done their research, things might have been different. But here’s the thing—it wouldn’t have served their interests to actually gain an educated perspective on women’s soccer. Because if they had, they would have realized that the basis of their sexist arguments against women’s soccer comes from the fact that they simply don’t like women participating in sports, all logic and reason out the window. 

When I saw the criticism against Frappart, surprise never came up for me. I expected this, despite my happiness at the game’s result, despite my optimism that having a female referee meant progress, even though the sexist backlash against the U.S team had only occurred a few months prior. Even though Frappart had an incredibly strong performance, it didn’t mean that the hate directed towards women in sports would stop. It doesn’t matter how objectively good a woman is within the realm of athletics—they will get hate just because they are a woman in sports. 

As a former soccer player and current soccer fanatic, hate like this makes me question my place in athletics to begin with. It’s easy to let constant exposure to sexism get in your head, make you believe for even a split-second that maybe women don’t belong here. The truth, though, is simple. Women do belong here. They’ve belonged ever since they first picked up a soccer ball, ever since they cried their first tears when their favorite team lost, ever since they fought to get field space just to be able to practice after school alongside men’s teams, ever since they’ve dedicated time and energy and blood and sweat and tears into perfecting their skills. They’ve belonged since the U.S Women’s team first was formed, and they’ve belonged since the team has consistently kicked ass (they’ve won a medal in every World Cup they’ve ever played in—can I get a hell yeah?). Words from bored men trying to bring women down don’t change a thing. We still have a place in sports, and we still excel in sports. Frappart’s history-making still made me feel inspired that women can achieve whatever we set our minds to. So let them talk. We’ll keep winning. 

 

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