Do We Want To ‘Have It All’?

The workshop ‘Who Cares? Gender, Care Provision, and Inequality’, put on by the Centre of Gender History at the University of Glasgow, was a follow up event to the WWV workshop that took place in April. Using a similar structure of bringing together care practitioners, academics and policy makers, the workshop addressed issues around the gendered assumptions and implications on the paid and unpaid care economy.

An emerging idea, highlighted by Professor Jane Mair of the University of Glasgow, was the issue of a new stereotype of independent, self-sufficient individuals, which ignores the care commitments that large numbers of society hold. This idea that ‘you can have it all’, implies everyone should be able to have a high profile, highly paid career and live exciting lives while simultaneously and effortlessly raising a happy family. Professor Nicole Busby showed images put out by the EU of women, working while preparing food or holding a young child. While this is a lifestyle choice that people should be able to make, participants at the workshop seemed to think it is not one we should be expecting, or imposing on women. It suggests that those who choose caring for children, elderly or ill relatives, over a career, as a higher priority, or see it as just un-reconcilable with working life, as somehow doing it wrong. In this model, where is the place of care?


Italy’s MEP Licia Ronzulli, with her daughter Vittoria in the European Parliament. The Telegraph called her ‘a poster girl for working mothers’, but is this what women should have to do?

This conversation echoes the individualist/ relational arguments that have coloured feminism since the time of Mary Wollstonecraft; do we advocate complete, uncompromising equality with men, or do we create policy and perceptions that cater to ‘differences’?

Recent feminist thought has obviously nuanced this debate significantly, acknowledging individual experience and ‘difference’ between all people, rather than either side of a defined gender line. Particularly differences in experience that have been formed through institutionalised discrimination against certain groups, women of course being one. However, the persistence of this ‘have it all’ stereotype, worryingly seems to miss these ideas.

It was suggested that this stereotype seemed to echo the male breadwinner model, of an autonomous individual who ‘has it all’ at the expense of their care obligations being fulfilled by others: men who achieve high status careers while their wife cares for the family; wealthy families who succeed in their jobs while their children are cared for by others; etc. This ideal sees care as a burden or a disadvantage, and this is reflected in the legal terminology. Perhaps women, and in fact everyone, should be striving towards an ideal where care is acknowledged as an essential foundation of society and valued respectively.

This idea that care work, both paid and unpaid, is undervalued in society, resonated throughout the workshop, with all the speakers addressing issues ranging from the low pay given to care workers, to the lack of quantitative value for the care work done in relationships. In all the cases looked at, women were disproportionately the ones fulfilling the role of carer.

Later discussions raised the question of the feasibility of commercialised care; whether the role of supporting vulnerable people should be assessed through an economic lens or whether we need a new way to value care.

Speakers agreed on the need for interdisciplinary, intergenerational and interdependent thought on care work, so we can provide support for vulnerable people that fulfils their needs, giving them respect and dignity, without negatively impacting the care giver’s mental or financial situation.

Maybe we need to re-think our perception of what it really means to ‘have it all’.


Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow


Behind the Silver Screen: Women’s Work in the Film Industry

“If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore it as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies” – Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker.

Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow 

From the claims Sony paid Jennifer Lawrence less than her male co-stars for the hunger games, research that shows female characters speak far less than their male counterparts in a lot of Disney films, to the discussion over the fairness of the Bechdel test, there is growing awareness about how women are under-represented (or badly represented!) and under-valued in the film industry.

However, the gendered debate in film goes further than the characters we see on our screens. Inspired by papers given at WWV conferences, an insightful talk given by the Leeds based Feminist Archives, Feminist Futures, and my involvement in a Women’s Home Cinema Club that dedicates a night a month to watching and discussing films made by female directors, I have recently become increasingly aware of the challenges women face working behind the screen as well.

Considering the history of the film industry, there has been a significant improvement in recent years. Sharon Hooper, a senior lecturer in Visual Communication at Leeds College of Art, told me that 40 years ago, women were assumed to only be able to work in typically ‘female’ roles such as costume and make-up. Many film sets would not even have female bathrooms. In response, in the 1970s, feminist scholars such as Laura Mulvey started writing about the impact of who was making films on what we see on screen. [1] She claimed that the male dominated industry was producing film from the perspective of the ‘male gaze’, which often presented female characters as merely love interests or sexual objects.

Although this perspective has since been nuanced by scholars and challenged by some film makers, Sharon Hooper still believes there is a link between the under-representation of women in key roles behind the screen and what we end up seeing on it. She commented on the lack of positive female characters for children: “The lack of involvement in decision-making and creative roles in media production in general has to have some bearing on the poor representation of women and girls. Prescribed gender assumptions creeps in early and are hard to combat.”

The statistics demonstrate that women are still massively under-represented in the industry. In this years ‘Celluloid Ceiling’ report, Martha M. Lauzen found that in 2015 in the US “women comprised 19% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.” [2] There are many other statistics that show a worrying lack of women in these creative industries.

As with all issues of this kind, there is no definitive answer as to why we see these discrepancies. Kathi Kamleitner, a Film and TV Studies PhD student at the University of Glasgow, pointed out the importance of looking at where it is that women are dropping out of the system. Almost half of the graduates from film school are women, yet there is still a huge disparity in women working as directors, producers and writers in mainstream filmmaking.

The factors preventing women from entering these fields often include difficulty in getting funding and a lack of confidence in women directing films, particularly within certain genres, like action movies. Kathi noted that women directors are more prominent in experimental and short films, comedy and documentaries and speculates this could be because these are cheaper films to produce and because women are more likely to make issue-based films, which are often documentaries. Looking at the paths taken by recent Leeds graduates, Sharon Hooper agrees that it seems to be more acceptable for women to direct and produce artists films, but it is harder to make a living in this field.

It is clear that, as a society, we still have gendered assumptions about the areas in which women are likely to work, within the film industry and elsewhere. Director Liza Johnson has spoken about how people have often assumed a man was the director, rather than her. This seems to be consistent throughout the industry; I spoke to a woman working as a technician, filming interviews with Gaelic speakers, who said most people assume she will be doing the interviews and the man she works with must be the one behind the camera.

Another important consideration is how women’s work is valued within the film industry. The concept of the director as the auteur, the artist/author behind a film, ignores the collaborative nature of film production. Kathi highlighted that this is problematic when considering women’s representation in the industry: “We mainly speak about female directors not getting enough spotlight and some women’s film festivals only accept films directed by women. How ironic is it that these festivals want to empower female filmmakers by giving them a platform to show their films, and at the same time they ignore women working on other creative roles – and by that under-value women’s work as cinematographers, editors, writers etc.”

Within the film industry, the drive to increase women’s representation is becoming more visible. Festivals such as Sundance and the Edinburgh International Film Festival are including higher number of films made by women. Places like the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds are dedicated to showing less mainstream films, which are more likely to be made by women and the wider issue of diversity in film has been publicly highlighted recently in the criticism of the ‘whitewashing’ of the Oscars.

An LA based group, Women in Film, have pledged to watch 52 films directed by women, one a week for a year. Have a look at their suggestions and start bringing female film makers into mainstream culture, while enjoying some interesting films made by awesome women!

Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow



[1] Mulvey, Laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Screen vol. 16, (1975)

[2] Lauzen, Martha M., ‘The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2015’,   Women in Film and TV, [accessed 3 June 2016]


History is in the past: the social relevance of historical research

In scholarly research, it is possible to construct a world out of your towers of books, built on a foundation of statistics and references. We can create distance between the scholar and the subject. We risk writing for and about, rather than with. Replacing voices with our own.

As historians, we have the privileged power of hindsight. We are able to label actions and events as causes and consequences, trace narrative threads that were invisible to contemporary actors. This can add another layer of distance. Another filter on our perspective, coloured by what we know happened afterwards, events these actors could only speculate about.

Yet scholarly work is obviously invaluable and the social relevance of historical research is crucial. The advantage hindsight gives us the possibility of predicting the future. R. G. Collingwood wrote “nobody knows what he can do until he tries, the only clue to what man can do is what man has done”. Nuanced and thoughtful historical perspectives are one way to form positive and effective policy.

What use is the world of theory if it does not intersect with a world of action?

The Women, Work and Value workshop, that took place on Monday 25th April, aimed to address this issue of distance. Set up as a knowledge exchange between scholars and experts in the field of care, the event took steps to bridge potential gaps between these groups. It aimed to bring scholarly and historical research into line and into conversation with the work of social actors.

Helen McCarthy from History and Policy discussed the importance of conveying historical work effectively and creatively to politicians and civil servants. A running theme throughout the workshop was the idea that scholars and experts from NGOS and non-profits organisations must work together. Only then can we put forward strong cases for effective policy change.

The importance of this kind of collaboration is becoming more and more visible and is a central pillar of feminist research. In June, the Centre for Gender History at the University of Glasgow is putting on a similar knowledge exchange, also aiming to connect scholars and practitioners working on in the field of care and the care economy.

joint poster

For more information about the event and how to attend, contact Dr Valerie Wright at the University of Glasgow:


Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow

‘We Try Harder And Get Paid Less’: Visiting Glasgow Women’s Library

The next Women, Work and Value workshop is taking place on April 25th at the University of Glasgow. The event will focus on women, gender and the care economy and feature contributions from local non-profit organisations Work/Care/Share, Engender, and Close the Gap. Preparations are well under way and everyone is excited to see what comes from this event.

final wwv poster.png

However, we couldn’t hold an event about women’s history in Glasgow without taking a little trip to the Glasgow Women’s Library. The GWL was established in 1991 when a feminist group called Women in Profile decided to take women’s history off those dusty shelves marked ‘miscellaneous’ and create a space where it was a central focus. The GWL, situated in Glasgow’s East End, now has a large lending library and a fascinating archival collection of historical and contemporary artefacts relating to women.

To honour this amazing institution and resource, we decided to use an image from the GWL’s archives in our promotion of the Glasgow based WWV workshop. The image shows a collection of feminist badges that formed part of the GWL’s Badges of Honour project in 2014. People across the world were invited to share important badges from their lives and the stories that accompanied them.

These political badges are interesting artefacts because not only do they embody a range of campaigns for women’s rights, from the national to the very small scale, but they also represent the individual women who wore them with pride, purpose and possibly fear. Each has a specific and unique story, whether we know what that is or not.

womens library badges.jpg

Badges are a fitting form of feminist protest because they are worn on someone’s clothing, making the body itself a site of resistance and place of political discussion. These badges come from the collection of Peter Gilpin, who had been collecting political badges since the 1970s. Like the feminists of this period advocated, these badges literally made the person political.

The range of campaigns and slogans in this collection is broad. From the funny to the fiercely aggressive, each of these badges, whether advocating for access to abortion or lesbian rights, is representative of a group of people who felt passionately about issues affecting women. As a singular image, these badges show us the variety, scale and commitment of feminist campaigns of the past.

The upcoming WWV workshop is titled, ‘Gender, Work and the Care Economy: historical perspectives, contemporary challenges.’ Some of the badges from the GWL’s collection give us valuable insight into women’s work and the care economy at the time they were created and worn. Many of them focus on women’s right to work, with obvious slogans like ‘women on the peoples march for jobs ’83’, and ‘a women’s right to work’. Some of them address the more subtle issue of the women’s expected role as carers and housekeepers. One badge reads ‘wages for housework’ and another shows a woman hung up on a washing line with the word housework below. These badges clearly show the desire that some women felt to be freed from the social obligation to stay in the home and care for their family. Others read ‘woman’s place is in the house and senate’ and ‘women make policy, not coffee’, playing cleverly on social expectations and stereotypes.

One badge states in bold, red letters: ‘we try harder and get paid less’. It is difficult to trace the campaign that this badge was part of, but it seems to have originated in America, most likely created in the 1970s by a woman named Jo Ann Evans Gardner who lived in Pittsburgh.[1] This badge struck me as especially relevant because the point it is making is still seen by many as an issue in today’s society. Not only is there still a significant pay gap between men and women in many jobs. Not only are many women still expected to take on the brunt housework and childcare, often as well as having a job. Many women also have to bear the burden of extra emotion labour; a second, third or even fourth shift that is usually unpaid.

The WWV workshop aims to investigate this field. We will look at care as a profession but also as an expectation imposed on women in other types of employment. How is the care economy central to the wider gender structures and gender inequality of work, in the workplace and on the labour market? Are women still expected to be more caring than men and how does this affect how they are treated in their jobs?

The GWL’s badge collection shows us that these are questions women have been asking for decades. They challenge us to ask, what has changed? How have these inequalities been improved, or have they not? They encourage us to question, what still needs to be done?

Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow

[1] Jo Freeman, ‘Say It With Buttons’, Ms. Magazine, (1974)

The Relevance of Academia

Public Engagement Intern Sarah Brodie (Left), Public Engagement Intern Graihagh Goode (Right)

Public Engagement Intern Sarah Brodie (Left), Public Engagement Intern Graihagh Goode (Right)

Before commencing my History degree at the University of Bristol, I had many preconceptions about what it would be like. Somewhat skeptically, I imagined a department full of ancient professors whose interests matched the age of the dusty books they read.

Yet on coming to Bristol this soon changed. Not only was this due to the excellent standard of teaching I received from the History Department but also as a result of my participation as a Public Engagement Intern in the Women, Work and Value project. The research network, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, brings together academics, members of the public, interest groups and policy makers to discuss the relevance of past experiences of work for the challenges facing today’s society.

My role was simple, a Public Engagement Intern aiming to communicate academic ideas to a wider audience. Admittedly the words ‘public’ and ‘engagement’ were not the first thing that came to mind when thinking of a historical research project. How wrong I was. Instantly on meeting Josie McLellan, the project’s coordinator, I was blown away with her enthusiasm for communicating the projects findings to the general, less academically focused, public. As well, the subject itself resonated profusely in a public context. Mainly why women’s work, past and present, mattered.

I was eager to get started as soon as possible and hit the ground running by increasing the network’s social media presence by creating a Women, Work and Value Facebook and Twitter page. Both of these were a great success including 333 followers on Twitter and 122 likes on Facebook. For a project that was initially only followed by a select group of academics, this was certainly an improvement.

Additionally the project held a public event at the Bristol Watershed entitled ‘Women and the Politics of Work’, to mark Women’s History Month. Speakers included Sally Groves, who played a key role in the Trico Equal Pay Strike in 1976, and Miriam Glucksmann, a sociologist who wrote Women On The Line after a year working in a motor parts factory. The event was chaired by Dr. Helen Mott, the co-ordinator of the Bristol Fawcett Society. The evening was sold out, again reiterating the project’s ability to resonate to a wider audience and the enthusiasm of such an audience to be part of the discussion.

A significant part of the project was also its academic workshops. I was lucky enough to attend two of these in Bristol and Florence. The subject matter was fascinating. Discussions were varied, touching on debates about why women’s breast milk should be included in GDP, the reality TV personality Bethenny Frankel, the impact of the First World War on female independence and whether it is ever possible for a woman to ‘have it all’. The relevance of all these discussions were striking and I felt compelled to communicate it more widely.

This resulted in the launching of a Women, Work and Value blog. Since its creation in March 2014 there have been many contributions from numerous academics. Most recently there has been a series on the Women’s World Cup, again highlighting the ability of academic thought to be presented in an accessible manner with content that is as relevant as current affairs are today.

The success of each of these channels tells us many things. Primarily, the importance and relevance of academic thought and the necessity for it to be communicated more widely. Whilst I am not continuing a career in academia beyond undergraduate level, I am confident that my interest will continue due to academia’s increasing relevance and accessibility. No longer is it the property of the educated minority but is a medium that is available to many more. If my role has achieved anything, I would hope that it has made a small contribution to this transition.

Graihagh Goode, Public Engagement Intern

Watching the Women’s World Cup in the USA

This guest post by Margery Masterson is part seven of our Women’s World Cup series with Sport and Translation.
Part 1: Matthew Brown and Josie McLellan, How to Watch the World Cup?
Part 6: Daniel Thacker, Las Cafeteras Wake Up The World

It’s about 73 minutes into USA v. Colombia when Morgan Brian sprints onto the pitch and replaces star striker Abby Wambach. The audience erupts into cheers. I am informed that these cheers are not for Wambach, who’s put a tough shift, but for Brian. She plays for UVA. That’s the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. And this means a lot to the assembled audience of at least 150 locals at the Paramount Theatre, several of whom are also watching the UVA men’s baseball team play in the national finals on their phones. The cheers turn to amused chuckles as Brian promptly passes the ball out of touch.

‘So,’ I had asked my friend a few days before, ‘been watching any of the Women’s World Cup?’ I had arrived in the States from the UK and this was an innocuous bit of catch-up chat. I received a confused look. She and her husband had been watching about two matches a day. This was a normal viewing pattern during the group stages of a World cup. They could watch on one the major network TV stations at home, head to a sports bar, or attend one of a dozen free screenings at the landmark Paramount Theatre. There followed a lengthy discussion of current rankings, cup upsets and the astro-turf debacle.

Despite considering myself a football fan, I did not know anything about the Women’s World Cup. I did not cavil when my favourite football chat thread mourned the end of the football in May. I would, like every other football fan in the UK, console myself with transfer window gossip and FIFA-related scandal until (praise be!) the Premier League once again monopolized the weekend television schedule. But within 24-hours of arriving in the US, I had two big questions. How was it that I knew so much about men’s football and so little about women’s football? More importantly, how had I forgotten that watching women’s sports is, well, normal?


I spent my childhood summers watching tennis-legends Steffi Graf and Monica Seles engaged in epic, ear-splitting battles before being herded outside, baseball mitt in hand, because my mother insisted I learn how to throw a ball. My grandmother, herself the daughter of a college track coach, loved women’s athletics. And basketball was her favourite spectator sport. Because of this, and because the tickets were cheap, I went to every home game of the UVA women’s basketball team between the ages of 8 and 13 with my grandmother, wearing head-to-toe navy and orange (UVA’s colours), my mother and my sister.


I started refusing to go to games as a teenager. Not because I didn’t enjoy watching, but because I had to go with my family. Nothing is more embarrassing when you reach a certain age than public confirmation that you do indeed have a family. And this is especially true when your mother roams the stands after the game, collecting the sturdy plastic cola cups for re-use as household beakers. But I can still remember the names of the starting line-up that made it to the Final Four three times in the early nineties: Tammi Reiss, a feisty guard with huge hair, Audra Smith, an impeccably poised centre-forward, Heather and Heidi Burge, two identically gargantuan Californians. Best of all was their point guard and captain, Dawn Staley, who would go on to captain the women’s national team.

When Staley received the biggest American sporting honour – carrying the flag into the Olympic stadium at Athens in 2004 – both Charlottesville and Philadelphia, home of Temple University where Staley coached, basked in this reflected glory. The collegiate athletes, like Morgan Brian, who come to Charlottesville are embraced by the city. They become ‘one of us’ and residents follow the rest of their career with a special interest. Women’s college athletes are of course still significantly underfunded when compared with their male counterparts. This is especially true when you take in to account that the single most popular sport in the nation, American Football, has no women’s counterpart. But the playing field is far more level elsewhere. For no sport is this truer than for soccer.

Dawn Staley of the U.S. holds the U.S. national flag during the opening ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.  Dawn Staley of the U.S. holds the U.S. national flag during the opening ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games August 13, 2004. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen - RTRUTAT

Dawn Staley of the U.S. holds the U.S. national flag during the opening ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Dawn Staley of the U.S. holds the U.S. national flag during the opening ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games August 13, 2004. REUTERS/Jerry Lampen – RTRUTAT

Half of youth players in the United States are girls. Looking around the theatre during USA v. Colombia, I noticed that while there was a smattering of replica jerseys many of the girls wore their own playing jerseys. I’m sure that watching a young woman from UVA make her first appearance on international television was pretty awe-inspiring. But I think the local context of that appearance was something closer to the real nature of ‘inspirational’. Girls that were in that audience know that whatever level their playing reaches, and whether they are in Charlottesville or in one of the countless other college towns around the country, there will be a community cheering them on. And they will think it’s normal.


Beyond gate receipts and sponsorship – the value of women’s football

This guest post by Deborah Withers is part 3 of our joint blog series on the Women’s World Cup with Sport + Translation

Part 1: Matthew Brown and Josie McLellan, ‘How To Watch The World Cup’

Part 2: Jean Williams, ‘Rise like a pheonix: the history of women’s football and the Women’s World Cup, 1869-2015’

Join us for a Twitter chat on these issues on Tuesday June 11, 8-9pm GMT. #WatchWWC

That we are even asking the question ‘why watch the women’s world cup?’ sums up the status of women’s football in early twenty-first century Britain.

Despite being ‘the fourth largest team sport in England after men’s team sports of football, rugby and cricket and most popular women’s team sport with 253,600 women regularly playing each month,’ we still live in an era where the legitimacy of professional women’s football needs to be continually justified and debated. [1]

To confront the sexist views informing the question we might turn it around and ask: why not watch the women’s world cup? But we’ll leave that question in the air, knowing there are plenty of trolls and haters who will rush to answer it.

The reality is that voting with one’s feet, whether that by going to international or domestic matches in person, or tuning in to TV or radio coverage, is one of the biggest ways to support women’s football at a critical stage in its evolution.

It is way of feeding what Helena Morrissey, founder of gender equality pressure group the 30% Club describes as ‘a virtuous circle’ where ‘more girls play sport, more companies sponsor women’s sport and there’s more consistent media coverage.’ These three key and mutually enforcing factors are being strategically pursued at policy level to ensure ‘equality in sport in this country becomes the norm.’ [2]

And who could argue with that? It is hard to grumble about encouraging greater participation for women and girls at grassroots levels, healthy commercial investment and increased opportunities to follow women’s sporting achievements in the media, now ‘normalise[d]…on our screens.’ [3]

The problem, however, is that the viability of women’s football in the 21st century depends largely on its commercial success.

By viability I mean the very possibility for women to play football as full-time professionals, and get paid a decent wage for it. For women to ‘be’ footballers, like men.

It is worth dwelling on the astonishing fact that in 2015, the most elite players in the women’s game can command a wage of £60,000 a year, which is made up of a central contract with England (worth £21,012 per year), club contracts and commercial endorsements. [4] On average though women earn £25,000 per annum and many players supplement their income with second jobs. [5]

The question of wages, and the value of women’s footballing work, is often entangled with audience numbers.

Chelsea and England forward Eni Aluko, who has recently qualified as a sports and entertainment lawyer, commented in a recent podcast on BBC 5 Live: ‘can we, as a female sport, demand higher wages, if we can’t justify fans coming to pay and come to games? It’s also a business model that we’ve got to be realistic about. It is important to tap into the resources in clubs that have dedicated marketing teams, that have experts who know how to transfer [digital] fanbases to physical fans and in that way it will improve and we will have a justifiable reason to demand higher wages.’ [6]

Yet should we accept this situation and ‘be realistic’ about it, as Aluko suggests?

Could we argue that women’s football, at both domestic and international levels, has intrinsic value in and of itself? That players deserve long-term investment to enable them to develop as sports professionals and be sufficiently rewarded for the extra-professional responsibilities which often call on them to act as role models for football-keen girls, young and old?

Should the legitimacy of the contemporary women’s game be exclusively measured by the amount of people who go through the turnstiles on match day?

A lesson from history

A lesson from history may help us understand these issues more clearly.

Nearly 100 years ago women’s football commanded huge audiences. Of course this was in the exceptional circumstances of the First World War: the men’s league was suspended and women played matches to raise funds for the war effort. Women’s football was acceptable because it was charitable and patriotic.

But let me repeat: the audiences were huge. The (post-war) 1920 match between the Dick, Kerr Ladies FC and St. Helen’s Ladies held at Goodison Park famously had an attendance of 53,000.

Yet in 1921 the FA decided that playing football was an unsuitable pastime for women and the war-time football stars were duly banned from pitches they previously graced.

As Carrie Dunn and Joanna Welford point out, ‘from its early war-time boom, to its silenced years, to the takeover by the Football Association in 1993, women’s football has had a turbulent relationship with the male structures that govern the game.’ [7]

Those same sexist attitudes that led to women’s football being banned in 1921 are still in operation in the twenty-first century, they just take a different form. They are displaced into the vicious virtuous circle that ensures women footballers are still involved in a struggle for legitimacy. This time it’s not against the FA per se, but against the whole logic that something can only be feasible when it is commercially profitable, that old ‘business model that we’ve got to be realistic about.’

Before you call me a lefty idealist who has lost their grip on ‘reality’, let us briefly imagine a scenario in 5 or 10 years time when the marketing departments have failed to draw in audiences to women’s matches, and the last commercial sponsorship deal runs out.

Soon after, several clubs fold and many once professional and semi-professional players revert back to a ‘paying to play’ model. Quite quickly, women’s football drops into obscurity again because it fails to gain a foothold in a social, cultural and sporting environment that is remarkably hostile to it.

That would never happen, you might be spluttering.

Yet such a scenario is a realistic projection if we look hard at the fragile position women’s football occupies in the commercially-driven, enduringly sexist, sporting landscape. Let us not forget that funding for the FA WSL is only secured until 2018. Then what? It will be the audience, the marketing experts and sponsors who decide whether the women’s game can be a realistic part of Britain’s sporting culture.

So when we watch the women’s football world cup as a vote of confidence for women who deserve a better deal, let us not forget to make further demands for meaningful investment in women’s football. Investment that ensures women footballers have stable, full-time professional opportunities that enable them to develop and flourish regardless of whether there is an audience watching or not.

It is then, and only then, that a sustainable commitment to gender equality in football will become reality.

Deborah Withers is a writer, researcher and fan of women’s football.


[1] The Football Association, 2012, Game Changer: The FA Plan for Women’s Football in England, 2013-2018, available ,18

[2] Helena Morrissey in ‘Sports Minister urges to keep momentum up for Women in Sport‘, Department Culture, Media and Sport, 24 March 2015, available

[3] Women and Sport Advisory Board, 2015, Final Report of the Government’s Women in Sport Advisory Board, Department of Culture, Media and Sport, available, 9.

[4] Miranda Bryant, ‘On salaries, football is a game of two genders,’ London Evening Standard, 11 November 2014, available:

[5] BBC Five Live, Women’s Super League Special, 6 March 2015, available

[6] Eni Aluko, speaking on BBC Five Live, Women’s Super League Special, 6 March 2015, available

[7] Carrie Dunn and Joanna Welford, 2015, Football and the FA Women’s Super League: Structure, Governance and Impact. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 3.