When the idea for this article first materialized, I initially envisioned writing a mostly sarcastic piece peppered with anecdotal stories and examples of my more “memorable” moments on Football Twitter. But as I broadened my research to include other female perspectives, I realized there were layers to this story, and not all of them were funny… or even close. So draft after draft, I struggled with presenting this topic: how do I best represent the females who selflessly shared their experiences with me, while likewise maintaining my original intent to simply share a unique perspective and avoid a hypocritical “man-bashing”? I realized that the answer was simple. Tell the truth. So with that being said, I feel it’s important to preface that, while this article may end up highlighting more of the negative interactions, overall, the females (including myself) agree that the males generalized here are a minority. Thanks for reading.
“How do you know so much about football?”
Since joining Twitter almost two years ago, I am fairly certain I’ve been asked that question at least 20 times. Whether engaged in a conversation about transfer targets, tactics or simply discussing the results of a recent match, it became concerning to me that knowledgeable females must be somewhat of a rarity. But as I started to spend more time on Twitter, it wasn’t long until I started to recognize the ubiquitous culture that “football Twitter” entails, and realized that within this social-media microcosm, females are not only out-numbered, but are faced with “challenges” unique to our gender. Both positive and negative, being a female and active participant on Twitter (football related or not), has brought about some interesting situations. And after reaching out to other females who likewise engage in this footy-dominated cyber world, I started to recognize “behavior patterns” worth further looking into.
Whether male or female, if you use Twitter for football-related content, you’ve likely come across the term “football Twitter”, or FT for short. While not an official subset of Twitter, the convergence of millions of football fans worldwide creates such a mass of similar accounts that there is no doubting its existence- and influence. Unsurprisingly, there is no official definition, but the few I found on UrbanDictionary.com pretty much reflected how many would describe it. JimmyConway123 defined it as:
“A subsection of Twitter where accounts solely tweet about football. It is full of fatuous, pseudo intellectual, pubescent virgins who claim to be football experts. Accounts spend their days playing FIFA Ultimate team, watching YouTube compilations and arguing over who is the best player in the Premier League. Everyone here steals tweets, aims to be controversial, and call people frauds when they have a bad game.”
User Ladfromsomewhere added in his definition that “Football Twitter experts never go to games and rarely watch them on TV, but they base their opinions on stats from livescore applications…A big section of those accounts love to harass women by calling them slag and mock people for how they look whilst hiding behind a footballer’s avi. In conclusion, they think being sexist, racist and controversial is edgy and cool.”
Needless to say, these definitions don’t profile EVERY FT user (I personally don’t fit any of the characteristics besides not attending games), but they do reflect a general, widely-shared (and perhaps too brutally honest?) perspective. The fact that harassing women was mentioned was particularly interesting, and further reinforced my suspicions that (for some male users) lingering prejudices are an ingrained part of the “culture.”
Playing a (Wo)man Down
When I first decided to explore this subject, I estimated that a huge consideration would be the fact that women are largely outnumbered. According to a FIFA survey conducted in 2006 of its then 207 member associations, 265 million people played, including 5 million referees and officials, making the total number involved in the sport 270 million people (or 4% of the world population). Only 26 million female players were recorded in 2006, but numbers are currently estimated to be closer to 30 million or more. Football fans, on the other hand, are much harder to quantify worldwide, but considering that 3.572 billion people- over half of the world population aged four and over- tuned in at some point to watch the 2018 FIFA World Cup, it’s safe to say that the sport generates an immense, and highly dedicated fanbase. Experts estimated that 309.7 million people utilized digital platforms to watch or stay up-to-date on the World Cup, and Twitter released reports that WC-related tweets generated 115 billion impressions (i.e. views of tweets). In other words, there is a massive amount of people interacting within the realm of FT.
Furthermore, according to third-quarter reports released in 2019, Twitter attracted an average 145 million daily users. 38% are between the age of 18 and 29, 26% are aged 30-49. What I found particularly interesting, and unexpected, was the fact that only 31% of those global users are female. After analyzing all these numbers, it’s not hard to logically deduce that the ratio of male to female on FT must be staggering.
Anecdotally, it’s not hard to back this hypothesis up. I’ve personally seen numerous tweets asking to “name the best female FT account,” reinforcing the fact that such accounts are outliers and easy to remember. Perhaps if there were a delineation between female-player football FT and male-player FT the numbers would be more equally represented, but it’s safe to assume either way that females fall into the minority.
Understanding this discrepancy is important for several reasons. Similar to real life, discrimination largely stems and escalates due unequal numbers. Being “different” creates a target, and -unfortunately- allows gender-based prejudices the numbers to spread, or even become an unspoken “norm”. My conversations with fellow females revealed that nearly ALL of those I spoke to had come across the tired-and-true insult “get back into the kitchen.” Believe me, I completely understand that it’s often meant more jokingly (or to “trigger” the recipient, to use Twitter vernacular), but my point is that if the majority (males) use this term continuously- jokingly or not- it becomes universally accepted as normal. Personally, whenever I see this uncreative insult hurled my or another female’s way, I RARELY react. If anything I welcome it- saves me the time I potentially could have spent engaging with someone who clearly isn’t worth it. But the fact that so many continue to use this same (boring) insult, leads me to believe these individuals know they can without facing any sort of repercussion- in other words, the FT culture accepts it. Let me clarify, however, that I’m not shaming those who see it and do nothing- I’d be the first to shoulder blame as I just said I rarely react when I see it. I just mean to point out that it has become common “noise” that many of us have learned to filter out.
Sticks and stones may break my bones….
Though I didn’t directly ask the question in my survey, the results indicated that we all understood- and accepted -the fact that women involved in FT faced unique circumstances. From the 24 responses I received, 17 of the females used Twitter for more than just football, with 12 of them indicating that their interactions with males were markedly different: When it came to going to head-to-head specifically over footy, several of the survey respondents reported an increase in gender-related abuse as opposed to discussions on other topics. Whether this is true for all sports and not just football, is beyond my knowledge; but I will surmise this occurs often when there is unequal representation of gender (i.e. male-dominated sports for example).
Now, it’s without saying that FT isn’t exactly rainbows, sunshine and positive energy. The toxicity is indiscriminate, and I know the sexist abuse can go both ways. If it were not for Twitter, I doubt I’d ever have heard the term “simp” or “simping” which has become a popular form of banter amongst males. Urbandictionary.com defined simp as “a man that puts himself in a subservient/submissive position under women in hopes of winning them over, without the female bringing anything to the table.” I’ve seen many instances where males innocently compliment a female, and in return receive an onslaught of responses/memes calling him a simp. I realize the general purpose is for “bantz” and not to be necessarily cruel, but it is further proof that women can sometimes (jokingly or not) be objectified as sexual pursuits, rather than fellow football fans. I’ve had male friends compliment my edits and be called-out for simping. According to the males who say this (again, jokingly or not) my edits are not what generates the praise, but rather their intent to get into my pants. It’s an experience I’m going to assume my male-editor counterparts do not deal with…
Also, the fact that nearly half of my respondents admitted that at some point they felt too intimidated to even share their opinion in fear of gender-directed retaliation, further indicates our unique position. Premier League presenter Olivia Buzaglo (@oliviabuzgalo) shared some examples indicating why this hesitation likely exists. After a simple tweet stating who she was considering for POTY, a handful of males who clearly didn’t agree, attacked Olivia, specifically targeting her gender. Again, I realize that male presenters see their fair share of abuse as well, but I’m yet to see one of them being told their opinion is invalid simply because of their sex.
The females who participated in my survey had their own stories to tell as well. Elizabeth (@elizabethhhh_28) shared with me that after being announced as the next guest on Alex Goldberg’s podcast, someone replied that she had only been chosen because Alex wanted to sleep with her. Another instance that stood out was from Sana (@Arrizabaelaga) who was actually told she “should be raped” for her opinions.
A picture is worth a thousand words…
Aside from “women belong in the kitchen”, the next most common insults are probably ones attacking a female’s appearance. 22 out of the 24 female respondents use their personal photo for their Twitter avi (myself included). This was one of the most intriguing angles for me to explore, as I’ve had my theories on the unspoken influence this has within FT. From my personal perspective, and from what I’ve gathered from the other females (and males) I’ve discussed this with, “face-revealing” on Twitter is somewhat of a catch-22: on the one hand, sharing your picture can lead to deeper connections/friendships as you are able to get a better feel for a person by seeing them; and (not always, I admit) can prove you are not a bot. Furthermore, it is often disputed that females on FT get followers simply because of their gender, so for someone looking to grow their account this is a positive side effect. But at the same time, showing your face does create opportunity for insults, unwanted criticism (positive or negative), and (for females particularly) can even impart a certain reputation based on what photo is used. (A profile picture with a bikini-clad female is likely to generate a different reaction than one where she is cuddling with her child.)
I’ve often considered conducting an experiment where I change my avi to some random footballer, as is the norm for most FT users. Would my follower count change? I’m guessing yes, as there was one instance a while back where, after losing a bet, I had to change it to some random, unattractive female posing for her mug shot. I lost over 20 followers because I changed my avi for 24 hours, and even received some comments when I changed back that I had embarrassed myself, and to “never do that again”. It was enlightening to see the affect a profile picture change could have on my account, to say the least.
In fact, over half of my survey participants agreed with me in some respect, that revealing your face (and gender) has an impact on how males receive and interact on FT. Chelsea Babe (@Boitumelo_MB) felt that men would often blatantly ignore her comments when engaged in footy conversation, noticing that the men would seemingly only interact with each other. Hoping to test her theory, she even “borrowed” her male cousin’s picture and changed her username for a bit. Unfortunately the experiment confirmed her suspicions, as her comments started to be well-received, but immediately changed back to status quo once she switched back to herself.
I think we can all agree that respect, whether towards females or not, is rare when it comes to FT. Wishing death upon players, racism and overall just being as cruel as possible to each other, are par for the course. The thin line between banter and insult is about as delicate as Wayne Rooney’s hairline, so aside from just mass blocking, developing a thick skin is key to “surviving” FT.
As a female, this rings especially true, not only because of all the reasons already mentioned in this article, but also because there is another inherent obstacle that many females face on Twitter… the highly dreaded, inappropriate direct message (DM). Just to clarify, I’m not referring to the notorious “sliding into a girl’s DM”; I’m speaking more specifically to the select few who think initiating conversation by sending a photo of their genitalia, or making some crude comment about your appearance, is a good idea. This is absolutely not limited to FT, but I do think there is a niche appeal for females in football kits that certain men find irresistible. Last summer I posted a pic of me trying on the new kit over my bathing suit, a close-up shot with minimal skin showing, but still only wearing the kit (over my top) and the suit bottoms. I knew what I was getting into before I posted it, even laughed with friends that joked it would inevitably become a “thirst trap” on the TL that day. But some of the DMs I got in response were (surprisingly) more abhorrent than even I expected. One person offered me money to “have online fun”, and another sent me (very much) unsolicited shots of his privates, from multiple angles. BARF.
I have considered it myself, and have friends who have even tried putting “NO DMs” on their Twitter bio, but to no avail. The messages still regularly stream in. There is of course the option to just close DMs altogether, but that would cut off ALL communication, and I have made so many wonderful friends through DM I would be sad to miss the opportunity to make more. Along with unwanted DMs, there is also the possibility of being added to group chats, some with no other intention but to sexually harass. Recently I, along with dozens of other females, was added to a group chat largely composed of FT accounts. As the other females experienced, immediately certain members started begging for nudes and asking sexual questions. After being denied the content they were hoping for, or just abused that particular female enough to get a good laugh (or whatever the point was), the admin would just drop you and move on to the next one. It’s another unfortunate reality that females deal with on FT and Twitter in general, and surely men deal with similar abuse, my personal experience and interaction with others’ experiences, leads me to believe we might have it slightly worse.
The Blame Game
Noted trial lawyer Louis Nizer once said, “When a man points a finger at someone else, he should remember that four of his fingers are pointing at himself.” This quote resonates with me, especially in regards to this article, because I truly feel uncomfortable “pointing fingers” at my male counterparts (especially knowing that I, myself, am far from perfect). Anyone close to me knows that I maintain a philosophy on Twitter that we are each accountable for our own actions, and only our own actions. I get asked CONSTANTLY why I continue to follow certain accounts who tweet offensive things, even sexist things (highly suspicious and hypocritical considering I am writing an article about their behavior). But the answer is quite simple: I believe in the importance of self responsibility. What others choose to tweet, or how they choose to treat others on Twitter, is ultimately on them.
We all view Twitter differently- some don’t take it seriously at all and “troll” simply for the sake of inciting reactions from people. Others see it as a platform for spreading information they feel passionately about, hoping to connect with others and spur change. And in between those two there is a vast spectrum of reasons why millions choose to spend their time on Twitter.com. The point is, we are all so different, and trying to tell others how to think and act is never going to work on a platform like Twitter; the very nature of it encourages dissenting opinions and for people to focus on quantity of tweets, rather than quality. Not too mention that the insidious appeal of getting likes and followers can make even the best of us abandon integrity at times (and perhaps even easier to do for users who choose to remain anonymous).
So while I have spent a large chunk of your time elucidating the ways FT can be more toxic for females than males, I assure you, I am not trying to tell you how you should or shouldn’t act- that if you see people doing these things I have mentioned (or you yourself even partake in such things), that I demand you speak up and put an end to it. I do think, however, that holding ourselves responsible for our OWN actions will always be the right choice. If we truly and fully respect ourselves, that respect will resonate to others.
And when it comes to participating in Football Twitter whether you are male or female, as Harry Truman so aptly put, “If you can’t stand the heat, you’d better stay out of the kitchen.” No pun intended.
Special thank you to all the females who participated in my survey, or commented under my tweet with input. I wish I could have included all of you in my article, as each of your answers and stories were so important to this piece. There was SO much I didn’t even get a chance to touch on, and I hope (and welcome) that anyone who has further thoughts on this subject will share them. I’d highly recommend following these accounts, as each one is a strong, intelligent female voice I am proud to have by my side on FT 💙💙:
@Kofoworola__a, @Arrizabaelaga, @QueenOfDBlues, @mclean_marsha, @SerenaCFC, @mariakCFC_, @sophiacfc_, @meggaherne, @blackius94, @itsSniggy, @elizabethhhh_28, @elena_xha, @Boitumelo_MB, @TeemaNicholls, @c10410511611497, @sfjlobe_8, @TheAfrolucy, @cfcangelina, @EmCutmore, @PennyPennyrm, @QueenSandy_CFC, @molout, @ItsMisola, @USsoccermom1, @SayaTheBlue1, @AliaBatrisyiaa, @KratzmannBirgit, @Its_Boom_Boom, @sabetachichi, @OliviaBuzgalo