The 2022 UEFA Women’s EURO competition has set attendance and viewing records. It’s been accompanied by a commendable and long-needed rise in campaigning against misogyny and online abuse, including Not Her Problem and Her Game Too. These are fantastic strides in the right direction, and send an overwhelmingly positive message to future generations of players and fans, of any gender, that they are welcome participants in the world’s most popular sport. It’s wonderful to see how far we’ve come in respecting women as athletes. But this progress also serves as a stark reminder to me of my participation in a shameful culture of holding women back.
Social media and online discussion have brought with them an entire lexicon of terms that can help us to understand ourselves and, in my case at least, feel embarrassment at our past behaviour. One of the terms I frequently see used nowadays is a “Pick Me”. This term refers to a woman who seeks to obtain male approval, often at the cost of solidarity with her fellow women. It’s an uncomfortable one for me as there was a time in my life when I was undeniably a Pick Me.
Anyone who went to a UK university in the 2000s and 2010s will remember the environment of “laddishness” that masqueraded as sexual liberation. Facebook was on the rise, pornographic imagery like the infamous “blue waffle” abounded, and it was common practice for your flatmates to post explicit statuses pretending to be you. The casual term bandied around for this latter prank doesn’t bear repeating here. What passed as university culture was undeniably male-led, and female students could gain a reputation for “being cool” by going along with these practices.
Over my time in school and university, I consumed a whole lot of alcohol and internalised a whole lot of misogyny. This led me to seek to be a “cool” girl in front of male students. One of the ways this manifested itself was when watching rugby. Rugby Union is hugely popular in Wales, and the Six Nations Championship was a big part of the second semester at my university. As with many activities, particularly sports, male students viewed themselves as the gatekeepers of rugby. Most of them, even the ones who’d never watched a minute of it before their first year, treated any female students watching rugby as falling into one of two categories: dumb girls watching it for attention, or lesbians who might know almost as much about it as the blokes. Unfortunately, I fell victim to this mentality and sought to prove myself as a “proper fan”. I’d make sure I was as clued up as possible on players’ stats and recent performances before going to the pub, and would even pick my outfits so that I looked pretty enough to be treated with fleeting respect, but not like I was trying too hard and just there to try and pull a rugby lad.
It didn’t just apply to rugby. I’d also feign a level of comfort with people showing me pornography that I didn’t feel, while at the same time “boasting” that I’d only had one sexual partner. I perfected a parallel park so that nobody could accuse me of being a “typical female driver”. I avoided being overly keen on “girly” things like pop music and make-up to prove that I wasn’t like other girls. I kept a smile on my face as men in pubs talked to me as if I was there by their permission. It makes me cringe to think about it. It's been almost ten years since I graduated, and it’s only in the last few that I’ve finally recognised these behaviours and sought to rectify them.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I realised that some people would never respect me, no matter how much I knew or did, simply because I’m a woman. It might have been one of the occasions when a man on Twitter tried to correct me after misunderstanding one of my jokes. It might have been after one of the ludicrous overreactions of male drivers when I was sticking to the speed limit. Or it might just be that three decades of appeasing this misogynistic nonsense was enough. Whenever it was, it’s been wonderfully freeing to stop caring what men think of me. If I watch a game of rugby now, I do it safe in the knowledge that I’m allowed to do so without having to prove my credentials as a spectator. If someone wants to question that, that’s a reflection on them, not me. If a man screams and shouts at me for something he wouldn’t even notice another man doing, I laugh in his blotchy face. I’m at peace with myself and my life and have no time for chauvinists. I recommend that any women still labouring under the illusion that they need to prove themselves simply stop giving a shit.
I wish campaigns like Not Her Problem and Her Game Too weren’t necessary. I wish we were all free to enjoy the spectacle of sport, and music, and all forms of entertainment without judgement or gatekeeping. Perhaps by the time my daughter is my age we will be able to. In the meantime, I’m proud of how far we’ve come, and although I’m a bit ashamed of my contribution to sexism, I’m proud of myself for recognising it and no longer wasting my life worrying that I’m too much like other girls. Who, by the way, are wonderful. #NotHerProblem #HerGameToo
About the Creator
Fiction writer with some non-fiction opinions. Writing often about that funny old thing called grief. Also trying to represent the wonderful, and often woeful, world of LGBTQ+ love.
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