Have your opinion. Just not that one.

“Women have always supported football. It would be nice if football supported us, too.” – My favourite battle dinosaur. 

I made a pretty simple tweet. I didn’t swear, I commented that I wanted more youth playing time, and I pined over a packed stadium and 4 goal thriller that ended in a penalty shootout and red wine spilled all over me. 

When tweeting that comment, I certainly did not expect a CEO and Coach of a football club to respond to me. But they both did and at first, I laughed, engaged with their responses, and got a little angry at how my comments were belittled. Then I got a bit worried, noticed that I was being searched more, all my articles were being scrutinized, and then my employment was brought up. I tried to stand up for myself, got a little more worried, and then flat out scared.  

Some of you may think that I was over-exaggerating the issue, making it up, or worse (in my opinion) getting what I deserved. I had the audacity to respond to a team’s messiah and I was simply getting my comeuppance. But when was the last time you had someone stalk you at work because you wrote an off-handed comment on twitter? When did you have to apologise to your boss for the embarrassment it might cause a well-known organisation because you got into a few twitter replies? When was the last time you had to call security because a creep reminded you how easy it is to find you? 

My name is super identifiable so this troll did not have to put in much work to harass me but my anger is not only directed at this. It is also at the men in power who decided to take issue with my specific comment and make an already out-of-balance situation so much worse for me. But do you think it had any impact on them or the club? A connect-four-game would say otherwise. 

I am not going to spend this whole article discussing how I feel. This story is not so much about me. Rather, it is about the issues of social media, the ‘gender driven dribble story’, and the powerful people who seem unable to handle opinions.  

Twitter is a beautiful and scary place. 

In all honesty, I probably re-joined twitter (fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ….) just to follow Thoughts of Dog. The translator we wish we all had for our friendly pups. I then followed The Ladies League and admired their work on She Kicks Like a Girl and soon enough I was wrapped up on dogs thoughts, sausage dog fan accounts, and football memes. It was a beautiful place, as long as I played by its ever-changing rules. 

My first interaction with the scarier side of twitter was when I saw Samantha Lewis receiving hundreds upon hundreds of replies to her argument that the Macarthur FC bull logo and name excluded women. Her argument was that by picking a stereotypically masculine animal as their name and icon, they put women on the back-burner, an afterthought to the men’s team. Did I agree? Not entirely. I thought the argument was a bit of a stretch but could see her point that a brand-new team had the chance, unlike others, to be more inclusive and they failed. What I was horrified by was the vitriolic comments that followed – labelling her with every nasty name under the sun and claiming that this is why women could not comment on sport.  

She said it best herself “The pile on that happened afterwards was a variation of the same theme: the men who dominate Australian football culture get to decide what is and isn’t acceptable, who does and does not belong, and that is the whole problem and the point”.  Like me, you may not have agreed with Samantha’s comments, but you probably did not need to vilify her and reject her opinion outright because it brought in a feminist argument.  

And then the most astounding thing happened – no one piled on those who threatened and harassed her. Why? It is one thing to be annoyed by what you see as an invalid argument, but should we not at least be as equally annoyed by someone who then says all women should refrain from commenting on sport?  

One of my favourite books is ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ by Jon Ronson. Ironic, I know. It recounts the stories of Jonah Lehner, Justine Sacco, and Lindsey Stone – all people who had made mistakes or stepped out of line on twitter and were then vilified by the mass public. They lost their jobs, had their lives threatened, and were scarred for life with our new found love for ‘cancel culture’. But no one pounced on the death threats and many stood by as the women received rape threats and calls to action to take them out. 

We appear to be biased in thinking that someone’s opinions are very real but the death threats are not. We realise that our online world is different to our real world but draw arbitrary lines when we say we would not discuss this face-to-face but then very real, call a person’s workplace. The rules make no sense but the consequences can be very real. 

The anonymity of twitter, power of 1.1 million followers, and 280-character limits reduces us to our basic instincts, getting a high when a stranger agrees with you and joining in the online slacktivism. But twitter merely provides cheap opportunities to win temporary stardom. It creates a flurry of rage when the circle builds closer to the character limit and reduces us to petty name calling, quick accusations, and broad stroke arguments.  

 ‘Gender driven dribble story’ 

When my twitter thread first started, I did not think it was about gender. I thought maybe someone was holding a small grudge against me because my articles were rarely favourable of my team’s performance but surely it was not because I was a woman commenting on the men’s game. And in all honesty, I still do not think it started because I was a woman, but it sure felt like it was continuing because I was. 

You see, I am not the only one to say a performance was ‘dull and boring’ (hell I wasn’t even the one who said that). Take a quick scroll through twitter, fox sports reports, and facebook comments and you will see plenty of comments on performance, player positioning, tirades against coaches, and anger about substitutions. We all think we are coaches but only some of us are treated as second class for having the same opinion. 

A common misconception about the ‘feminist and leftie agenda’ is that because my gender was not explicitly brought up, it therefore was not sexism or misogyny. But that is not the point. What you need to question is whether a man would receive the same type of treatment for holding the exact same opinion as a woman? And the answer to that is pretty much, no. 

Though to my knowledge no research has compared exact statements made by John and Jane on twitter, we can take a look at the somewhat muted outrage to Mark Latham comments on the AFLW, that when Eddie McGuire says something racist it is a ‘slip of the tongue’ but an unknown woman makes a racist comment and is still paying for it to this day. Research also shows us that women receive three times the abuse on social media compared to men and that female journalists are almost always unfairly targeted in comparison to their male counterparts.

It may never be explicitly gendered but women are marginalised in sport commentary, participation and even research into sport and there is this feeling that we are invading a space that for some reason can only be occupied by men. This is not to say that men are treated perfectly online and never face criticism (I am well aware they do) but overwhelmingly, and especially in sport, women’s opinions are less valued and receive more abuse by the very people probably reading this article. 

Read Kate O’Hallaran’s experience when she made a mistake on twitter. The rage wasn’t that she misheard something, it was that she misheard something and brought in a ‘nasty feminist agenda’. The fact that she apologised for the error meant nothing to the thousands of people who mocked her beliefs, her sexuality, and all her work. As if this one error suddenly erased everything else she had accomplished.  

Sarah Spain and Julie DiCario are American sports journalists who share their experiences reporting on men’s sport and made a powerful video called #MoreThanMean – Women in sports ‘face’ harassment.  The list of women who have gone through so much worse than me goes on and on. This may not seem like a gender attack to you, but take a look at the research, read the experiences of women, and question whether you yourself have been faster to pounce on an error or comment women have made in comparison to men. 

It is important to note that not all men are the offenders in events like these. I was lucky to receive support from so many men but a common theme in their response to me was “I am so sorry this is happening to you. I have never experienced anything like this”. In addition, it is important to consider the attitudes of men in positions of power, over women in the world of football. Experiences like the many listed here remind women that they do not belong, that their opinions are not valued as much as a man’s, and they continue to exclude women from joining the beautiful game. 

Opposing opinions 

The thing that I found oddly hilarious was how many times I was told I was allowed to have an opinion but in the next tweet was belittled, told my opinion was wrong, and that no one agrees with me. Well duh, it is my opinion. I think pancakes are better than waffles. You do not have to agree. 

I was also told it was not my place. But whose place is it then to offer opinion, criticism, and feedback on the way a team plays? Because it seems to me like referees have been abused for making the wrong calls and not doing their job properly, journalists (not me) have been disparaged for lamenting on Brexit Ball, and fans (again not me) should be thankful for the much needed positivity boost they are getting from …. something. 

We do not live in a utopian world where we never disagree. This isn’t an episode of The Good Place. Disagreement makes you defend your beliefs in the face of others. It creates a room for open discussion, creativity, and growth. What doesn’t do any of these things is creating a culture of fear and a silo of thoughts.  

You may think it is an exaggeration to call this a culture of fear but that is what is being created if every person with an opinion is responded to in the way I and so many others have been. Fear and silence are very real when you think that everyone agrees with you and you cannot see that it is a major problem saying that as the Coach of a club. I made my point on twitter – I could not have an opinion lest I be called a child. What are the chances the players are allowed to speak honestly about their playing style? 

What are the chances now that anyone feels comfortable speaking up to management? 

The one thing we might agree on, though this point was never made in the discussion, is that we do spend more time focusing on the negatives than the positives. Humans have an inherent negativity bias that draws our attention and resources to the bad and easily forgets or diminishes the good. We need to write more on the good (struggle as we might) but you, the reader, also have to pay attention to this and not just cause a furore over the bad. 

You of course have the right of reply but your reply should probably be related to the points raised and not an attempt to discourage disagreement. My opinions on football did not deserve to be related to my employment and called out by a man with a million devout disciples.  This continues the culture of fear, stifles opinion and gives the impression that if you step out of line, your employment is used to intimidate you. We both understand that ‘my views are not the views of my employers’. 

Featured Image by By The White Line

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