How to fight sexism when talking about the Women's Euros

Eileeen Barnard 29 July 2022

Women's football still faces sexism amongst fans, made especially evident around the Women's Euros. Here are some phrases to avoid, and what to say instead

Don’t say…

“Handbags”

As with any contact sport, there can be some jostling or barging in the course of play. These altercations are sometimes mockingly referred to as “handbags”.

This term uses a stereotypical representation of femininity to make fun of players when they are involved in pitch confrontations. Clashes can occur in any football match, so shouldn’t be treated differently in the women’s game.

“Not bad for a women’s game”

This kind of comment gives off the perception that women playing football are less skilled than male players or that their games have less value than men's matches.

"Football is football regardless of who plays"

Football is football regardless of who plays, and all professional matches should be judged on their own merit, rather than creating a false gender divide when it comes to the talent of those playing.

“I only like proper football”

The Euros offers a chance to see elite footballers performing at their peak. The persistent trope that women’s football isn’t “proper football” is completely inaccurate and extremely insulting as anyone who watches this year’s Euros will see.

This refusal to recognise the expertise of female footballers is also one of the many reasons women in football continue to unjustly earn so much less than their male counterparts.

Woman football player about to kick football in Women's Euros Scotland versus England game in 2017Credit: Ailura, CC BY-SA 3.0 AT. Scotland plays England in the Women's Euros, 2017

“Football is not a girl’s sport”

The fact that many women and girls still feel hesitant about playing football is in large part due to this persistent messaging that certain sports can only be played by specific genders.

The success of the Lionesses may help to dispel the idea that sports like football and rugby are best left for the boys, while hockey and netball are better suited to girls.

Sport is for everyone and it’s important that we empower people of all genders to feel capable of excelling in any sport they desire, football included.

“I hope they’ve learned the offside rule”

A common stereotype, which masquerades as “banter”, is asserting that female footballers and officials don’t understand the offside rule.

Such comments by official commentators about female officials have caused controversy in the past, and while you do hear commentary on this theme less frequently now, it is still present.

"A common stereotype, which masquerades as 'banter', is asserting that female footballers don’t understand the offside rule"

This kind of comment is often claimed to be “a joke”, but that is simply a way of gaslighting those who point out that this is unacceptable behaviour.

It is important to remember that the Euros should be seen as an opportunity to celebrate women in football, rather than denigrate their success.

Do say…

“It’s coming home”

With England storming to an impressive 4-0 semi-final victory in Sheffield, home to the oldest football club in the world, Sheffield FC, the chants of “It’s coming home” seem more appropriate than ever.

Sunday 31st July will see the Lionesses walk out for their third final, and fight for their first Euros victory, so fans will be hoping that third time’s the charm.

“Sweet Caroline”

One of England football fans’ newer traditions is belting out Neil Diamond’s classic hit "Sweet Caroline" at any match where the national team is playing.

Nobody is quite sure why the trend stuck, after first appearing during the men’s 2020 Euros, but it has carried through to the 2022 women’s tournament.

In fact, England manager Sarina Wiegman has even joked that she may need to learn the lyrics to the famous song ahead of the final, although she may struggle to find the time amongst preparations for the big match!

“Beth Mead’s on fire…”

One of the stars of the tournament has been Beth Mead, who gained her first England cap in 2018.

Through the tournament, the choruses of “Beth Mead’s on fire, your defence is terrified” from the England fans have become more and more common.

"The chant comes from a 1997 song 'Freed From Desire"' which was adapted into a football song"

The chant comes from a 1997 song "Freed From Desire", which was adapted into a football song by fans of the Northern Irish footballer Will Grigg.

Since then, it has been adapted to suit multiple contexts, none more fitting than Beth Mead’s formidable performance throughout the Euros.

This article was produced by Eileeen Barnard, Senior Organisational Culture Manager DE&I, at the language learning platform Babbel.

Read more: 5 Time the World Athletics Championships set a new record

Read more: How sport will change over the next decade

Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter