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Women's World Cup: Back to the 1950s for Lionesses Turned Heroes

A well-meaning tweet on the official England Twitter account sparked outrage on Monday when England’s Women’s World Cup squad returned home from Canada.  

The tweet was an attempt to congratulate the players for thwarting Germany – the world’s No1 ranked women’s team – in the nail-biting third place play-off in Edmonton on Saturday. England converted their semi-final disappointment against Japan into triumph by beating Silvia Neid’s squad to bronze after 31 years of frustration against Germany. Fara Williams scored the extra-time penalty that secured England’s victory against the side that swatted them aside 3–0 at Wembley in November, ending their tournament on a high after the agony of Laura Bassett’s stoppage-time own goal on Wednesday.

The England Twitter account removed the tweet less than an hour after it was originally posted, but the damage had already been done. Some Twitter users called attention to the fact that it reduced England’s Word Cup side back to stereotypes. Another user missed the point and complained that the Women’s side have been given special treatment because they are women, but others quickly pointed out that in finishing third, Mark Sampson’s squad are the most successful World Cup team of either gender since 1966.
The FA told BuzzFeed that the tweet was part of a homecoming feature intended to reflect the many personal stories of the England squad, but was taken out of context. An FA employee made an apology via Twitter in which he rejected any accusation of sexism.

One Facebook commentator was baffled that the team had won third place in the World Cup and that was the headline the FA chose. She spelled out the problem, writing that the tweet insinuated that the England Women’s team were first of all mothers, partners, and daughters, and not professional athletes. A similar headline about male sports players, it should be said, is hard to imagine. The tweet appears to conform to the notion that the women’s profession is only secondary to the traditional role society has constructed for them, instead of applauding their talent. Women have historically been defined in terms of their relationship to men – as the wives and daughters of men, and as the mothers of children – before anything else. Equally insulting is the insinuation that women cannot be professionals and mothers, partners, and daughters at the same time – as if they stopped being those things because they are at work or on the pitch.  
An article about the US Women’s soccer team published on the Guardian website on Saturday provoked a similar reaction from readers. "The pursuit of a World Cup requires the three mothers on the US team to leave their children with husbands and parents, seeing them but for an hour each day before sequestering away in a secure hotel far from scraped knees and cries in the night...Then when the World Cup comes, the children must go." Must they?

The comment box is filled with cries of sexism. "Years of reporting on men’s football and suddenly it’s all about mothers abandoning their children?" asked one offended reader. "This article brought to you by the 1950s", quipped another. But a case can be made that unlike top level professional men, their female counterparts don’t earn a salary adequate enough that they can support their families from abroad. The winners of the Women's World Cup receive a $2m cash prize from Fifa. When the German men won the World Cup in Brazil last year, they were given $35m.

Most would agree that the FA’s tweet wasn’t intended to be sexist, but that it reveals in both event and reaction that the construction of gender roles is still to some degree intrinsically sexist. Yes, the Women’s World Cup team are mothers, partners, and daughters – but they are also footballers. When the women step off the pitch, they are still athletes – the two are not exclusive of one another.

  Aaron Waterhouse
Aaron is a recent English graduate from Durham University who is now working as a content writer intern. An enthusiastic traveller, he hopes to become a journalist and report from around the world. Follow him @AaronAtSMF

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Women's World Cup: Back to the 1950s for Lionesses Turned Heroes Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, July 08, 2015 Rating: 5

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