Talking to the Lads About Feminism

Parent, blogger and S&C regular Maddie Wallace talks to her two sons about feminism.

I think at nine and ten my boys are more than ready to begin to take on board the idea that girls and women, who may be anatomically different to them, are in no way less than equal to them. We came to this conversation via periods, because I also think it’s time they learnt that women have some stuff to deal with in life that they don’t.  That obviously makes boys no less equal of course. They just don’t have to deal with the monthly massacre in their underwear that girls do. Does that mean they can’t be understanding of periods? Hell no.

Their big sister explained to them that feminism is the campaign to gain equality for men and women, and to their credit they couldn’t understand why that is even a thing. ‘Why,’ said Zaki, ‘Aren’t men and women already equal?’ Good question. We explained all about the pay gap that still exists in the UK (19.7% in 2013) and how for many years in our society women were thought of as less important than men. I asked them if it would be fair if I payed them £1 every time they do the washing up but only gave their sister 81p for the same job. They were shocked.

In order to really get their attention we talked to them about  football, and how the FA originally banned the women’s sport in 1921 because they thought it damaged women’s bodies. They couldn’t understand how it could be any different to men’s bodies getting injured during the course of a match. We talked about the recent rise in popularity of women’s football since the FA reinstated it in the 1990s and the unequal representation it gets in pay, prizes and media attention.

Why is that? I know men who will openly state that women’s football isn’t as interesting as men’s. Maybe that’s because as little boys they weren’t encouraged to view women on the same level as themselves. Maybe it’s because as a national sport it receives very little media attention compared to men’s football. Maybe it’s because as a sport, football is still rooted in misogyny and in telling us that women can’t compete at the same level as men. In the UK, women’s teams pay more to enter the women’s FA cup than they receive in prizes. In 2015 the winning women’s team won £8,600. The men got £1.8 million each.

All this comes amongst the furore that is a European level football tournament, and the excitement little boys place in watching their national team win, OK draw, oh OK then lose against another national team. I told them our national women’s team came third in their last World Cup in 2015 in Canada, the best finishing position since England won the World Cup in 1966. I finally found a football statistic they didn’t know.

They told me all about the women’s league – their step sister is a talented player and supports the Arsenal women’s team. They told me about Marta, who they consider to be the best female player in the world – ‘She’s like Neymar’. Then they told me that they sometimes play the women’s teams on FIFA 16 and I was proud of them. Hopefully if the next generation of boys become men who view women as their equal there won’t be a pay gap, there won’t be this disparity of representation in sport, and feminism won’t be a thing anymore.

My sons are surrounded by strong women in their lives; their sister and step sister, their mother and step mother (who worked 4 days a week and attended college 1 day a week while pregnant with their brother and suffering severe morning sickness). I hope they are entering a world where Neymar and Marta are paid the same for doing the same job. If not, I hope they do something to change it, even it’s just at the level of telling their friends what is right and what is very, very wrong.

Image by Sarah Cheverton.

1 Comment

  1. Blimey that was an annoying process of signing in to comment. Almost lost my train of thought.

    Football and all associated organisations – EUFA (set up in 1954) and FIFA (set up in 1904) were both set up in a time when heteronormativity was, well… the norm. This in of itself isn’t great, but was given the ‘freedom’ to develop as such both internally and externally. That is the past – and we cannot change the past no matter how wrong it is. So it’s not ‘just’ the football establishment that needs to rethink it’s priorities. It’s multiple generations across numerous countries who’s infrastructure and cultural institutionalisation has reinforced these inequalities and the whole cultural realm of social life attached to just that one sport! The issue is of course much bigger than football.

    Even ‘just’ within the realms of football as one sport, it’s complicated. Multifaceted and deeply entrenched. It seems like an almost impossible task to change the hearts and minds of people regarding [sexual equality] in football. So maybe it’s the wrong task. This is the age of post-modernism. Rather than try to change the rigidity of the past, why not allow the dinosaurs to make themselves extinct as they inevitably will? Don’t punish them for corruption and inequality – encourage them. The corruption and scandals within these organisations will surely lead them to eat themselves. Let them. Their ideas of (in)equality will drown with them as they go.

    To address these issues it seems that we that seek change by always address the wrong issues. The children are indeed the future. They can form their own world. Progressives such as you and I try to hand the world to our children on a plate – but that plate is purposefully empty in the hope that they’ll create what appears on it for themselves. What is the point of trying to bend their will to something they clearly do not and should not want or accept?

    In short FIFA and EUFA will never change for the better, not in any real meaningful way – except in the death that they create for themselves within the pit of capitalism. We can’t change the fact that colonialism happened. We can’t change the fact that Emily Davidson felt the need to throw herself under horses hooves or that illegal backstreet abortions have happened… The future can always be changed though. Because little boys (and girls) that grow up being taught about the importance of equality will go forward to create a world that is more equal. Revolution is never just a change of heart in the old guard. Let them reign on their crumbling thrones built upon the faltering and outdated values of slavery, war, cruelty and all that is unequal. Revolution is the creation of a new future that the past simply cannot exist within.

    If we bring up our children teaching them the importance of equality, education, the environment and healthcare for all then the revolution for women, for the poor, for society and for the earth will be a non-violent transition that will not be noticed any more or less than the mere changing of the seasons.

Comments are closed.