Misogyny toward female sports a common sight among male fans, study finds

DURHAM, United Kingdom — Researchers from Durham University have found that misogyny towards female sports may be very common among male football fans in Europe. Much of the negativity focuses on the growing coverage of female sports by the media in recent years.

Study authors analyzed online message board users to reach this conclusion. After conducting a survey featuring 1,950 male football fans using 150 online message boards, the research team discovered openly misogynistic attitudes towards women’s sports among respondents. Notably, misogynistic tendencies remained consistent regardless of users’ ages.

While the study found some progressive attitudes and opinions among male fans, misogynistic, hostile, and sexist views were far more common. Notably, these findings come as female sports are experiencing more visibility than ever before, with the research team citing both the 2012 London Olympic Games and the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup as major steps forward for gender equality in the world of sports. Now, study authors can’t help but interpret these findings as proof of tangible backlash against advances in gender equality.

“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,” says lead study author Dr. Stacey Pope from Durham’s Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, in a university release. “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.”

Male backlash against ‘PC nonsense’?

The research team explains that survey respondents fall into one of three categories: those who display progressive masculinities, those who display overt misogynistic masculinities, and those who show more covert misogynistic masculinities.

Men who are openly misogynistic see women’s sports as inferior to male athletics, particularly when it comes to European football. Some men in this category even suggested that women shouldn’t be athletic or play sports at all. Men within this group also displayed more hostility toward the media for covering women’s sports regularly, often calling such coverage “positive discrimination” or “PC nonsense.”

Males placed in the “covert misogynistic” category spoke highly about women’s sports in public discussions but expressed more misogynistic opinions during private moments.

Men with a more open mind toward female sports, dubbed progressive, generally praised the recent changes in women’s sports coverage. More specifically, many shared the view that the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup was a major positive turning point for women’s sports representation.

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Men see a ‘threat’ to masculinity?

“The increase in media coverage of women’s sport on both the BBC and subscription channels was openly supported by some men. But it also clearly represents, for others, a visible threat, an attack on football as an arena for ‘doing’ masculinity. 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 towards the women’s game,” explains study co-author John Williams from the University of Leicester.

While this study focused on sports, its authors believe the results likely provide a peek into ever-evolving gender perceptions across all areas of life, from work and education to the art world. While some men support gender equality, it clear that others aren’t so comfortable with the idea of universal gender equity, especially when it comes to traditionally male-dominated domains like European football.

The study is published in the journal Sociology.