The first division, a complicated gender puzzle
Interview with professional footballer, Laura Strik.
For centuries sport has held a place dear in many countries and cultures, and is indeed a realm ruled by men. Reaching all the way from schools, living rooms, to bar floors, it has the power to make time to stand still just for a moments penalty shot. It’s clear it holds a large presence on our lives, but unfortunately casts a shadow on many of its’ participants; women.
Laura Strik is a professional female footballer, playing in the Dutch national team and is captain of SC Heerenveen. She is not your typical girl abiding by out dated female roles in society, even the contrary. In her opinion, the gender division in football is not as polarised as it seems to be. Football is one of the biggest and most influential sports on the globe, and when taking a closer look you’ll see it’s an industry with a rather complicated gender gap as Laura Stirk explains.
At a young age you wer a star in athletics and won several medals. What prompted you to switch to football? “When you turn nine years old you have to start shot put, something I wasn’t very good at and because of that I kept losing. Gently phrased, I’m a bad loser. So, I started looking for a sport I could win.”
Why football? “My brother played football and I always beat him while we played in our garden.
Are you still this competitive? “I’d say even more, but not just me. I think everyone who plays sports on a higher level is competitive or at least ambitious. Otherwise why make all the effort?”
And how about the difference between boys and girls? “It’s nonsense that girls are seen as less competitive. In my opinion women are more competitive and willing to go further to reach their goals. Men in the contrary are pretty laid back most of the time.”
It sounds like they’re not as tough as you would expect them to be, is this true? “For starters, men always exaggerate. When someone tackles them they role around for three hours, then they have to be nurtured for one hour and then they are finally able to continue. Women just get up and get on with it. Also, the amount of pulling shirts and insults during a mens football game is higher. They even get 68 yellow cards for yelling at the referee. Why would they even consider doing that?”
During your youth you played in male teams, how did you feel about that? “It always takes a while to get used to a new environment. Although I have never really been a typical girl. My life mainly evolved around sports. At that age kids don’t really care about. If you’re a good addition to the team you’re in. That is basically what happened in my football team too. I became one of the guys and they treated me no different than each other. Also, I have never played with just girls so I had nothing to compare it with.”
So there was no issue at all? “The funny thing is that the boys in the teams never made an issue out of me playing besides or against them. It was always the management, the parents or the media who would not accept the fact that a girl could keep up with their boys. That older generation is also the one pulling female football back in my opinion.”
Which generation do you mean? “The one that cannot get used to iPhones. The same way they cannot get used to women being good at sports. Unfortunately, that is also the generation that has a lot of influence in the sports industry, especially in football. They sit on the boards of associations like FIFA, KNVB and UEFA.”
And when the next generation will replace them? “I think it will make a huge difference. The current generation is more used to equality between men and women. Therefore they’re more supportive towards it. You already see that the amount of female football supporters within those companies is rising.”
How about the amount of women? “As well, but to be honest I don’t think that even matters. As long as they stand for equality and innovation within football I don’t care if it’s a male or female making the decisions. It’s more about the vision than the sex.”
Next to that, what else is pulling women back in soccer? “Salary is one of the biggest causes of inequality between sexes in soccer. I am not addressing the fact that I cannot afford a brand-new Mercedes while my male colleagues can. Money is truly the core of this issue.”
What do you mean by that? “Look at performance differences between men and women. For men, football is a full time job. It get’s to be that because they get payed like it is a full time job. They do not have additional jobs. All they have to focus on is their sport. They think it is normal that they can ride expensive cars. They act like they are little kids. We are not privileged like that. Our payment does not cover all our costs. Nine out of ten women have to work or study next to soccer. We have to hand in so much more but we get so much less. Not just in money also in recognition.”