Sexism and Soccer Balls

The other day my friend asked me if I thought a true feminist can support the World Cup. Until this year, I probably would have immediately answered yes: I just associated the World Cup with a somewhat rarefied joy and excitement. Over the years, I have loved witnessing the passion other countries have for their nation's team and choosing a team to root for with my family (we usually just hop onto the bandwagon of the favored champions since our country, Peru, has not been in the World Cup since 1982). But this year -- maybe because I'm older, maybe because it seems more obvious than ever before -- I've noticed various sexist dynamics surrounding the World Cup.

The World Cup has had a significant impact on women's lives all over the world. In Brazil, sociopolitical issues that impact women like the displacement of the favelas and allegations of increased sex trafficking, have been augmented by the World Cup. When England was eliminated from the World Cup, domestic violence reportedly rose 38%. Iranian women have been historically banned from watching the World Cup at all (though some are defying that ban).

Additionally, the World Cup has perpetuated the objectification of women and men. Sexualized images of women are widely used to advertise and sell the World Cup and Buzzfeed articles like “The Definitive Ranking Of The Hottest Guy From Every World Cup Team” or quizzes that tell you which World Cup player you should hook up with are hugely popular. These types of objectification may not be new -- to the World Cup or elsewhere -- but thanks to the ever-growing prevalence of social media, they are images and attitudes that now reach greater audiences than ever before. Objectifying both men and women doesn't make either okay or “cancel each other out”: we shouldn't be objectifying anybody in the name of promoting or celebrating a sports competition

Finally, I've noticed sexist attitudes towards female viewers of the World Cup. My mom recently told me about how when she watched the World Cup as a child, her brothers would mock her for gasping or shrieking “like a girl” when her team was playing badly. That impulse to constantly prove ourselves and our knowledge of sports is something women face today and have for years.

Despite these dynamics, however, I still feel that my family, friends and I can still be feminists and fans of the World Cup. If you ask me to hang out during a game, I will definitely be unavailable. I know that for these few weeks my dad is not Dr. Renique, but a teenager giddy with excitement for the next soccer game. I know that soccer brings together people from all walks of life: watching fans coming together in the televised stadium as well as coming together with the ones you love to watch a game makes this evident. Call me idealistic or a dreamer but, at the end of the day, it's that feeling of unity that compels me to keep supporting the World Cup. While I'd like to see the aforementioned sexism change, and think it's important for all of us to raise awareness about and push back against them, I don't think that any of those points make the World Cup itself inherently bad. I don't see the point in denying myself, or asking others to deny themselves, the happiness and togetherness the World Cup can and does provide. I am a feminist through and through and I feel that I can stand up for those beliefs while still being able to enjoy this special event.

More articles by Category: Feminism, International, Media, Misogyny, Sports, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexism, News, Gender bias, Domestic violence, Discrimination, Trafficking, Title IX, Sexualized violence, Women's leadership, Europe and Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa, Television, Americas, Advertising



Ines R
Sign up for our Newsletter

Learn more about topics like these by signing up for Women’s Media Center’s newsletter.