It’s the end of the day and instead of going home many athletes trail to the pitches for a game of football. At a complex in the City of Buenos Aires, there are men sitting around, talking and laughing and sharing some beers. Looking around you can see a sea of men, ready to play, excited to blow off some steam. Yet when the time for ‘mixto’ games comes, not more than five girls are around.
How can a country that plays football religiously not have the same amount of girls out there on the field, giving the boys a taste of their own medicine?
“It’s a culture thing,” says Megan Garrity, director of Marketing and Communications for BAFA.
Garrity is from the United States but has been living and working in Buenos Aires for roughly three years. Although she did not grow up in Argentina, she sees the clear difference in attention to women’s football in Argentina versus that in the US.
Having played college football in her home country, Garrity was shocked to come to “a football nation” and be constantly questioned whether she truly played football or whether she actually meant to say field hockey (the more accepted women’s sport in Argentina).
“What I understood, or what I see, is that football is a really butch sport here in Argentina. It’s always seen as macho,” said Garrity.
She explained that women aren’t normally invited to play a pick-up game with men.
“I use to play with my husband’s friends all the time and they told him they would stop coming if I kept going. That was pretty hard,” recalled Garrity. “I think it’s more, they feel like they can’t tackle as hard, they can’t kick as hard, they can’t shoot as hard.”
“Football is sexist,” said Adolfina Janson, a sport sociologist in Argentina who specializes in women’s football.
Janson has been studying women’s football since 1991. She explained that there is a large difference between the professional Argentine men’s team and its female counterpart.
“Women are bossed around. The representatives of women’s football don’t fight for the success of their own teams,” said Janson.
She explained that the environment is heavy with sexism and that whenever a woman comes along, she must know almost everything about football to be accepted into the football world.
“She has to be really well trained, with strong opinions, and with enough experience, so that in a sexist environment she can be accepted. Not only her presence but her participation,” said Janson.
Janson notes that women are too dependent on the men’s leadership and that for a long time women’s football has been stuck in time. According to Janson, women’s football receives no support and the media doesn’t pay any mind to them, whether to promote them or to simply speak about them.
She explains that there are two eras in football – “Play for fun and play for keeps.”
Unfortunately, she said that women’s Argentine football has not left the era of fun and passed on to the era of professionalization.
Feminism in Football
“It’s perverse,” said Mónica Santino, technical director of football and coordinator of La Nuestra Fútbol Femenino. “The same system that oppresses you in this way, when you return [from a game], with a large score against you…tells you that the Argentine shirt is not to be tainted, that the Argentine shirt has an international prestige that is very important.”
Santino is an advocate for women’s rights and works with girls in the Villa 31.
She said they work to “Empower adolescents and young girls with a sport that has been denied to them while talking about things having to do with the body, health, self-care, and learning that there are other options out there besides motherhood.”
Santino notes that women’s football has grown immensely and that there is a higher visibility of women playing the sport. More women have immersed themselves in what use to be a traditional space for only men.
Her organization is fighting to show women that they have a right to that space.
“We understand that football is a tool of transformation, of incorporating the rights of women and [we are] trying to demystify the gender stereotypes of our bodies,” said Santino.
She said that more and more women are tearing down past prejudice ideals and are realizing they have the right to play football just like any man does.
Unfortunately, Santino said that although the level of technique and visibility has grown in women’s football, the organization of it has not developed since 1991, when it started to grow in popularity.
“We need women who are gender conscious in places where they are making decisions in football, not just women who are reproducing patriarchal ideas,” said Santino.
She said the work she does with the girls from Villa 31 is not to change their conditions of life but to transform their reality. She said they can do this through the sport because football is a place where social concepts are played out on what it means to be a women and what it means to be a man.
“The construction [of football] is so patriarchal, so much of men, that even feminism has left the sport to the side as if it was something superficial,” said Santino. “In reality it is not because you are empowering yourself and are exercising your right to your body.”
Although women’s football is still not in the limelight in Argentina, Garrity said she’s seen a lot of changes in just the last few years and that now BAFA has a lot more women participating and asking to be trained.
Garrity observed that women in Argentina are starting later in football than other countries, such as the U.S., and are losing critical years of forming essential motor skills needed for football. She said there’s a football youth culture missing in Argentina for women.
“You look at all the billboards and there aren’t any women with a football on the billboards or the advertisements. There’s not really that role model to look up to,” said Garrity.
“Young girls have idols that are men and not women because they do not know about that history because no one talks about it,” said Santino.
There seems to be a lack of conscious that women’s football can be viewed more than just a game to play for fun and actually be considered a professional sport.
Yes, women’s football has grown in Argentina but it is still being cast away to the sidelines and still has a long way to go before it gets the attention and help it deserves.