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50 Shades of Sexism


I have long been an advocate for the eradication of racism in football. I typically speak out against discrimination in any form, whether at a personal level, as it pertains to players at my club, or anywhere in the world. But with Barbara Berlusconi being given more power at Milan, it seems that men all over the world have reverted thousands of years to the caveman days. And now even Gattuso has shown his true colors. First there were the books, which take women back to the dark ages, now women in football are subjected to 50 Shades of Sexism. Really?

Not a fetish, but rather a form of discrimination that is as old as the human race

Racism is still a touchy issue, so many people who have never been subjected to discrimination of any kind don’t understand it, saying “it’s only words” or justifying racial abuse of footballers simply because they are rich by normal standards. But for the most part, a growing majority of people see racism as, pardon the phrase, black and white. They understand when a player is singled out because of race, whether it be that bananas are thrown at them, monkey noises made at them, or other insults based on differences that they have no control over, it is obviously not fair. But sexism is far more prevalent and far less understood. Particularly in the world of football.

I have been acutely aware of sexism in the world of football, but never so much as I have been made aware since Barbara Berlusconi has been given more power at Milan. This despite the fact that she graduated from university with honors, and has been sitting on the board of Fininvest for ten years, since she was 19 years old. Many also forget that she has already sat on Milan’s board for over two years, too. So despite being only 29 years old, she has the brains and business experience of someone much older. But none of that is taken into account by fans, peers, or apparently people like Gennaro Gattuso.

And here I thought the caveman thing was just for the pitch

On various forums online and Twitter, I have seen her abilities and credentials questioned simply because she was born with differing genitalia to her male counterparts. I have also seen her called things that would make the perpetrators’ mothers roll over in their graves, even if they’re not dead yet. Others have discussed her as a sexual object, some offering specific details as to things they would like to do to her. Some just describe her as attractive or “hot,” yet I have never seen discussions of this nature regarding Galliani or any other Milan employees. Or the popular belief that as a woman, she is not capable of knowing anything about football. Because clearly gender is the only qualification for that.

She is not the first, let alone the only woman to try to make it in the incredibly sexist world of football. Some of you may recall that Rosella Sensi ran Roma for five years. Not only was she often and repeatedly told by peers in the industry that she didn’t belong in the football world, but rather in the kitchen. And those were only the kinds of comments that could be made in the presence of children. Go to any Serie A or Roma forum at the time, and her attractiveness and sexual prowess were discussed as only anonymous men on the interwebs know how to do.

Judge her for her policies, not her appearance

It would be one thing if these and other women were simply criticized for their policies, their words or abilities in the boardroom, as their male peers may be. But those types of criticisms are rare for women in football. Most criticisms are sexist in nature, or even worse, sexual. And what people don’t understand is that even comments like these that are perhaps intended as complimentary, such as Sepp Blatter’s legendary comments about women footballers wearing shorter shorts, they all serve to remove a woman’s power and demean her abilities at her actual job. Comments such as Gattuso’s rob a woman of the basic respect and decency they deserve and create a steeper mountain to climb than their male counterparts, often actually making it actually impossible to ever be considered equal. In fact, a woman can do a better job than her male counterparts and never be afforded the respect and opportunities that they are given, simply because she lacks a Y chromosome.

To be fair, there are so many more extreme cases of sexism. And so many cultures where sexism is more disease than learned behavior. But that doesn’t make it right. Just like racism or other discrimination, for one person or group of people to demean another person or group of people based on something that can’t be changed is wrong. And we are an enlightened society, this is 2013.

There are no Google searches for "Galliani hot" or "Galliani bikini"

But before you dismiss this post as just another feminist or sexism rant by a woman who is clearly oversensitive to the issue, consider what I personally have experienced simply by being a female football fan. I have been called names, insulted, bullied, sexually harassed, solicited, and more… simply because I am female. For the longest time, I refused offers to appear on podcasts because I knew that having a female voice would cause problems for me. And not to disappoint, I have seen everything from the more innocent “you sound hot” to requests for explicit pictures to descriptions of how men occupy themselves while listening to my “sexy” voice. And that’s just Tuesday. If some of you get tired of hearing me complain about these things, consider that I only complain after multiple or extreme incidents, this literally happens to me all the time. Yeah, I feel for you Balotelli. Discrimination gets really old.

Then there are those well meaning fans and friends who think that sexual advances or comments on my sexuality are complimentary. What they fail to recognize is that I am not here to hook up with people or seek that kind of attention in any way. I am here to discuss football, specifically Milan, and would like the opportunity to do so as an equal, a peer, not some sexual object or novelty. It is not a compliment when you tell me how sexy my voice is but refuse to offer any conversation as to what I said about football. Not only is it demeaning and insulting to the knowledge I bring to the table or the efforts I put into everything here, it takes away the level playing field of respect I deserve as a fellow human being and football fan. Whereas my male peers can simply write or comment and be judged by their words, I am not afforded that same respect.

Every sexist comment makes her task exponentially more difficult than her peers

Which brings me back to Barbara. Her plight is one I can relate to, even if hers is on so much bigger a scale. While people demand respect for the efforts of her male counterparts, in the same sentence, they take all respect away from her. Yes, I’m calling you out here, Gattuso. Sexism is one of the oldest and most pervasive types of discrimination in our society, and people like you setting society back hundreds if not thousands of years. If you want to compare someone who has been doing their job for 27 years to someone who was just appointed, that shows poor enough judgment. But when you make it about the gender and dismiss an entire group of people based on your Neanderthal belief system, people listen. And that is how, my friends, perfectly capable and qualified people are subjected to 50 Shades of Sexism.

Note: I apologize to those of you who saw the word “sex” in the word “sexism” in the title and did not find what you were looking for. And to those of you who want to help eradicate sexism in football and elsewhere, might I suggest not trying to defend the sexist people or their words or actions, but rather offering the women you know (or know of) the respect they deserve as a person, leaving gender out of the conversation? Or whatever.


This post inspired by the music of GLaDOS’ “Still Alive”

Our next match is
Livorno vs. Milan
Saturday, December 7 • 18:00 CET (12noon EST)
(preview will be up tomorrow)