Women footballers face femininity questions

I knew that we would experience our share of the crap that Semenya is going thru, here our baller girls are getting questioned about there aesthetic and gender identity in today’s Gleaner. A wah dis man?

Mel Cooke

MANY OF Jamaica’s female footballers can empathise with the South African, Caster Semenya, as they have faced similar questions about whether they are male or female.

But for most of these female footballers, the questions come because of choices they make.

“Many dress like men. They walk with a sort of male swagger, while their language could make male sailors blush,” a football referee told The Sunday Gleaner.

“There have been matches where I see the girls and I have been tempted to ask for gender tests,” the referee added.

Jean Nelson, one of the managers of the female football teams with the Jamaica Football Federation, has a long history with the sport in Jamaica.

She managed the first Jamaican female team, which played an international game in the 1991 CONCACAF tournament, held in Haiti.

When The Sunday Gleaner asked Nelson if she had ever heard comments about the female footballers looking like men, she said she had.

“It is how they dress and carry on. Off the field, it should be a different thing,” Nelson said.

shorts halfway down

Then there was an instance, not quite off the field but still not quite on it, that reinforced the issue of dress and how a standard needs to be enforced.

“I was at a game in Mandeville. A girl was warming up, with her shorts halfway down,” Nelson said.

Still, it could be a case that too much femininity in a player could be a disadvantage in football, as Nelson said she had seen players “look that way and other girls try to cow them”.

Pointing to former world female footballer of the year, Mia Hamm of the United States, Nelson said she had no doubt that a woman can play what is considered a man’s sport at the highest level and remain overtly feminine.

Women’s football has come a long way in Jamaica from when the Jamaica Women’s Football Association was formed in 1990, with Nelson heading that organisation.

Accessing sponsorship was difficult and “women playing football was seen as a big joke”. For the 1991 CONCACAF tournament, they did fund-raising themselves, with Portia Simpson Miller integral in funding the airfare.

After starting out with six teams in the initial year, two dropping out to leave only four, last year, there were two female football leagues, a premier and an ‘A’ league. This year, there is a premier league and a knockout competition involving 12 teams, with KSAFA having a five-a-side competition as well.

coaches speak harshly

Nelson has heard players complain about how the coaches, all male, speak harshly to them and says, “A whole paradigm shift has to take place.”

She says nearly all the players come from the inner city and “there is this aggressiveness in the society and the inner city”.

“At the inner-city level, there is so much anger, and I am seeing that many of these girls are playing it out,” Nelson said. “It is not just the female footballers, but across the society.”

Charlene Bryanknows just what impression a female footballer’s masculine appearance can make. Her niece, who lives in the United States, plays football and “out here, she would have a harder time. There, she fits right in. Here, she would be stereotyped as butch and maybe gay”.

However, even in the US, she has had to deal with repercussions from her mannerisms and appearance.

One of her male classmates is going through a sterilisation process on his way to becoming a woman. Her niece was asked to share a room with him on a school trip. “Her mother said no,” Bryan said.

Name changed on request.


Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

One thought on “Women footballers face femininity questions”

  1. I'm pretty fed up with how the media and the IAAF have handled Caster Semenya's case. It is downright ridiculous and I agree that it borders on a violation of human rights. When it comes to female football athletes, it is more of the norm for them to behave more aggressively. The sport is high impact, and with the type of work out it takes, these women, much like Caster, will probably show higher levels of testosterone than the average woman. Nothing is wrong with that. The average woman does not play football. I don't see what the big deal is really. So what, if they appear butch, or gay.

    The only thing is that they should still carry themselves in a way that shows respect to themselves while representing their sport. I don't know if they do or not, but that's the bottom line.

    Too much is being made out of this…way too much


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