“Watching women, including lesbians, be the best – the best of all our sporting heroes – is both an inspiration and validation”
BY CHRIS PAOUROS, IMAGE VIA @LIONESSES ON INSTAGRAM
I’m still buzzing from last night. The Lionesses have inspired a nation of girls and women to play football and that matters. It matters for our health outcomes, it matters for smashing gender stereotypes and what it means to be a girl. We can’t underestimate the impact the result will have; we thought things would push on after the 2012 Olympics, but now with the infrastructure of the WSL and Women’s Championship and the FA’s strategic objective to ensure that every girl has the same opportunities as boys to play football at school by 2024, either in PE lessons or extra-curricular clubs, we’re in a much better place to push on.
On Boxing Day in 1920, 53,000 fans congregated at Goodison Park to watch Dick Kerr’s Ladies play in a charity match. Women’s football developed during the First World War and teams like Dick Kerr’s Ladies travelled the world playing exhibition matches. Their star, a chain-smoking, besuited Lily Parr broke goal-scoring records and in one infamous story broke the arm of a male goalkeeper who said her penalty kick couldn’t beat him. Women confounding what it meant to be a woman in the 1920s was clearly too much of a threat and in 1921 the FA banned women from playing on FA affiliated pitches, declaring football “quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.”
We all know that gender stereotypes limit women and lesbians are often marginalised by them; we’re also often at the forefront of confounding restrictive stereotypes of what it means to be a woman and now the Lionesses are right with us. Yes, there are players who are out in the team, but guess what, there are also many women footballers, across the game, who don’t need to be out because they have never been in. And that matters, for all the little girls who are figuring out who they are and for all the women, many of them lesbians who have blazed a trail before them. And women’s football has a thriving culture, often driven by LGBTQI folk (I’m looking at you, Studs) which we have to protect at all costs as we develop the game and give it the platform and reach it deserves.
Watching women, including lesbians, be the best – the best of all our sporting heroes – is both an inspiration and validation. Validation for all the women who have come before and those who have worked tirelessly, often in the face of hostility, bigotry and ridicule to develop the game and inspiration to all the women and girls who now know football is for them, whoever they are.
It’s home. Let’s make sure the house is in order so we can keep it here.
Chris Paouros is co-founder and co-chair of Proud Lilywhites, trustee of Kick It Out, Football’s anti-discrimination Charity and Trustee of Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity.
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