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Fans with their hands in the air cheering in a sports stadium

Openly misogynistic attitudes towards women’s sport may be common amongst male football fans, according to new research involving online message boards.

The study, based on a survey of 1,950 male football fans on UK football fan message boards, was led by Dr Stacey Pope from our Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences.

It found openly misogynistic attitudes towards women’s sport among those surveyed, regardless of their age.

Progressive attitudes amongst men were also strongly represented but were not as common as hostile and sexist attitudes.

Coverage of women’s sport

These new findings are set in the context of increased visibility of women’s sport in recent years. Although women’s sport still takes up less than 10 per cent of annual print and TV coverage, there has been a new age of media coverage in the UK.

Developments and major events include the success of GB women athletes at the 2012 London Olympic Games, the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, launch of the professional FA Women’s Super League and Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign.

The researchers suggest the dominant misogynistic attitudes revealed in the survey show a backlash against advances in gender equality. They call for more coverage of women’s sport to drive more gender equality and promote social justice.

Progressive and misogynistic attitudes

The fans could broadly be split into three groups who either showed progressive masculinities, overt misogynistic masculinities or covert misogynistic masculinities.

Men with progressive attitudes showed strong support for equality in media coverage of women’s sport with many saying that the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup had been a positive turning point in terms of representation of women’s sport. Increased exposure of women’s sport was seen as a way to change attitudes for the better, inspire girls at grassroot levels and challenge assumptions about women’s alleged inferiority in sport. Media was seen as having a responsibility to promote women’s sport more.

The fans who held openly misogynistic attitudes towards women’s sport saw it as inferior to men’s sport, in particular in relation to football, with some suggesting women should not participate in sport at all, or if they did, it should be ‘feminine’ sports, such as athletics. There was also extreme hostility against increasing media coverage of women’s sport, which was seen as ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘PC nonsense’.

The final group of fans, who were in the minority, would express progressive attitudes in public but in more private moments reveal misogynistic views of women’s sport, adapting what they said depending on the social situation or who they were with.

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