Researchers have claimed that more than two-thirds of male football fans harbour hostile, sexist or misogynistic attitudes towards women’s sport.
A study led by Durham University, based on a survey of almost 2,000 male football supporters, detected what it terms “openly misogynistic masculinities”, irrespective of age.
Although progressive opinions among men were strongly represented they were not as common as hostility and sexism and the researchers suggest this indicates a backlash in advances in gender equality.
The study was set in the context of increased visibility of women’s sport in recent years, most notably since the 2012 London Olympics and the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, where England secured a bronze medal.
Dr Stacey Pope, an associate professor from Durham University’s department of sport and exercise sciences, was the lead author, with her team assisted by researchers from the Universities of Leicester and South Australia.
Their analysis was based on the responses of 1,950 male football supporters who regularly use UK-based fan message boards.
“This is the first study to examine UK men football fans’ attitudes to women’s sport in an era in which women’s sport has experienced a significantly increased media profile,” said Pope.
“Our research showed that attitudes towards women in sport are, to some extent, changing, with more progressive attitudes. However, the findings are also reflective of a patriarchal society in which misogyny is rife. There were numerous examples of men from across all generations exhibiting highly sexist and misogynistic attitudes.”
A sub-group of 507 respondents who answered particular questions were divided into three categories: those displaying progressive views, others harbouring overtly misogynistic attitudes and covert misogynists.
The first band of 24% expressed strong support for equal media coverage of women’s sport, with many saying the 2015 Women’s World Cup had represented a watershed.
Yet some of the overt group – 68% of those polled – suggested women should not participate in sport at all, or, if they did, would be better suited to more “feminine” pursuits such as athletics, rather than football. Media reporting of women’s sports – a sphere regarded as intrinsically inferior – was seen as “positive discrimination” or “PC nonsense”.
The 8% of fans branded covertly hostile comprised the smallest group. They typically expressed progressive attitudes in public before revealing more reactionary private opinions.
The co-author John Williams, from Leicester University, said: “The increase in media coverage of women’s sport was openly supported by some men. But it also clearly represents, for others, a visible threat.
“This is at a time when there are more widespread anxieties circulating among men about how to establish and perform satisfying masculine identities. For men like these, there was a pronounced anti-feminist backlash.”