"Do you even like football?": Confronting the stigmas attached to women in the game


Gaby Kirschner
Gaby Kirschner

With her new series, photographer Abbie Jennings is out to expose, and break down, the everyday issues that female fans and players face.

From a focus on pink merchandise to misguided — and frankly insulting — attempts attract more women to the game, female football fans in England can sometimes feel like the “other.”

Abbie Jennings, who’s been a Hull City supporter since her dad first brought her when she was four years old, wanted to make sure that she and any other women involved in the game feel completely comfortable and accepted as anyone else would. And so her yet-untitled photography series was born, exposing the barriers that women have faced to get there.

“It’s hard,” says Jennings, “but hopefully slowly it will all come together and it will just be accepted that females like football too!”

Below is our full conversation:

Here we go, new work⚽️⚽️ . There is still a huge stigma attached to women in football, this series stems from my personal frustrations of being a lifelong football fan. “Do you actually like football?” is a question I am asked way too much, and just because I am female it is presumed that I don’t know anything about the game. This ongoing body of work aims to highlight my personal frustrations and also help break down the stigma attached to women in football culture. . This (currently untitled) series includes images that are a direct response to the Sussex FAs recent suggestions on increasing female participation in football. Their suggestions included using pink whistles, having Twitter breaks, using female friendly branding and colouring, wearing colourful and nice smelling bibs, not using large heavy balls because “females are put off by the prospect of being hit by one” and having incentives to make girls want to attend sessions to play football, all of which were heavily accompanied by images of pink coloured items. . Another aspect of the project sees me challenging the idea that official pink merchandise is still widely on sale at English football clubs. It’s not necessarily the colour that’s the problem, it’s the fact that even today the colour pink is still highly associated with females. What if boys like pink too? All of these products are targeted at females, quit with the gender stereotypes! I have also gathered objects that I personally find degrading, like tight fitting low cut football shirts and an official barbie doll from the careers range who’s wearing a skimpy pink football kit. . Whether you agree with me or think I’m being completely ridiculous, this is a problem that I feel extremely passionately about and I want to push it to the boundaries and start to break the stigma down. I’m sick of feeling like I don’t belong in football just because of my gender. This girl CAN! . ⚽️📸 All images and accompanying essay up soon on www.abbiejennings.co.uk 📸⚽️ . #womensfootball #womeninfootball #femalefootballfans #femalefootball #footballgirl #femalefans #pink #photography #photographygraduate #femalephotographer #footballculture #thisgirlcan

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You say that all your “opinions and frustrations” come from personal experience – can you elaborate on that?

There is one particular comment I will always remember. It was probably about 8 or 9 years ago now, whilst at a Hull game with my Dad and Brother. There was a little boy sat behind me with his Dad, he asked “Daddy, why is there a girl here?”. It frustrated me and its stuck with me for this long, I was just so shocked I didn’t have a clue what to do so I just brushed it off. Now working in a football environment, I receive comments on a daily basis. “Do you actually like football?” is probably the question I get asked the most, I’ve learnt to just laugh it off, but at first, I used to get so irritated. I shouldn’t be made to feel that way—but then again, I shouldn’t have to think laughing it off is a valid response either.

Was starting this project sparked by some specific incident or just the function of years of built-up frustration?

I have recently graduated from a BA (Hons) Photography degree [and] my final project was all about my relationship with my Dad regarding football. Since then I’ve got a job in a football environment and I’m faced with sexism each day. I knew I wanted to create a post-university project, just to stay motivated more than anything, but then it all just came together and ideas were quickly circling.

In your Instagram caption, you say “Whether you agree with me or think I’m being completely ridiculous…” — how has the feedback generally been?

I’ve not currently had any bad feedback, it’s all been pretty positive. People seem to genuinely be interested in my project, and I love that.

To stop potential negative feedback and any form of backlash, I’m trying to make sure I go about this carefully without offending anybody. I’m aware many females probably like low cut and tight-fitting replica shirts, however, it’s the sexualisation and the fact that this is the only option that is the problem. I personally usually buy children’s sizes because the men’s ones are too big and the female shirts are often too fitted, and that’s not how I want to wear my shirts. Same goes with pink merchandise, it’s not necessarily the issue that it’s pink, it’s more the fact it’s all targeting at females. If a boy was to purchase a pink piece of club merchandise it would be deemed as wrong, I just can’t get my head around it.

But generally, yeah, I’ve had a really good network of support. People have messaged me and said they can’t wait to see more, which is amazing, I just want everyone to see it and hopefully help to make a difference.

Do you plan to expand this project beyond England, into sexism in Europe/the US/beyond? 

This project is still in its early days, but who knows where it could go! I would love to keep expanding it further, but the following and potential room for expanding it would need to be there. I am planning to exhibit the project and also plan to make a zine or book of the project when it feels more complete.

⚽️⚽️⚽️new work . There is still a huge stigma attached to women in football. This body of work aims to expose the current issues and controversy within the women’s game. . This is Manchester United’s ladies version of the 17-18 replica home shirt. They are the only club in the football league to still have such a low cut, revealing and tight fitting ladies replica shirt. (With Chelsea and Brightons ladies fit shirts sitting on the borderline) . *all opinions and frustrations are my own and come from personal experience* . #womensfootball #womeninfootball #femalefootballfans #femalefootball #footballgirl #femalefans #pink #photography #photographygraduate #femalephotographer #footballculture

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You can see more of Jennings’ photography on her Instagram and website.

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