Why Mary Wollstonecraft would be a fan of womens’ football today…

Can I get personal? I’m a 50 year old woman who hasn’t been into football until recently, and now I’m a fan. The reason is that last year Lewes FC guaranteed the same pay and conditions for its womens’ and mens’ teams, calling the pioneering initiative Equality FC. This was UNHEARD of in football. And the criticism inevitably came – why would you pay the women the same when they don’t attract the same crowds? Of course, this seemed valid, but when they looked into the history of the womens’ game and learned that the FA had squashed it, banned it, for 50 years in 1921 because it was more popular than the mens’, Lewes FC realised that they weren’t starting from a level playing field, so they’d have to create one – hence #UnlocktheGate. The campaign in which people are encouraged to come to Lewes’ womens’ matches and raise the gate figures in solidarity with the cause, timed to co-oincide with the centenary of the Represention of the People Act. And for me, that’s when things got interesting.

I went along to the matches and enjoyed watching the young women getting down and dirty; seeing them assertive and determined, strong and agile. It struck me that I didn’t normally see young women like that in public arenas. I liked connecting with friends at Lewes FC’s home ground, The Dripping Pan, over a tea or a mulled wine, and feeling united in our support for the team. More than all this, by going to a match and being counted on the gate, I was actually taking positive action about a state of affairs that I usually just accepted as the norm: inequality is the wallpaper of life, if you like.

You see, I know that as a women I’m at a disadvantage in our society when it comes to power. It’s accepted that we live in a patriarchal system. I’ve always made the best of it and not complained much, because amongst my friends and family I have relationships that are largely equal and non-sexist. Things are ok at home and in my own circles. I’ve brought my kids – a girl and a boy – up as equally as possible. Both are expected to empty the dishwasher, make their beds, apply themselves at school, etc, But it’s hard on the outside because I know that my daughter will be treated differently to my son. Look at last week’s news for proof of that – look at what happened at the Presidents Club, look at all the gender pay gap stories, look at the #metoo campaign; hear me having to tell her never to get a taxi alone, or to watch what she wears when clubbing in case people see it as a sign. I rarely have those conversations with my son – the world is a safer place for him in some ways. But not all!

You see equality can work both ways. Mary Wollstonecraft in her famous book A Vindication of the Rights of Women, said that she didn’t want women to be superior to men, she just wanted to give them the chance to take control of their lives, to self-determine. If you make one gender richer, the funny thing is you can free the other one up too. What I mean is that last year I was shocked by the figures that showed how very many men commit suicide. To my mind, it’s staring us in the face that as much as women need an environment which facilitates their financial success, so do men need one that facilitates their emotional success – the right to be vulnerable, to cry, the permission to express their feelings.

I believe that when I spend £5 on a ticket to watch Lewes Women play, I’m actually denting the patriarchy and loosening the restrictive gender stereotypes that don’t let people be themselves. Is that worth a Sunday afternoon and a fiver? I reckon Mary would have thought so, and joined us in the stands down at The Dripping Pan to cheer our team on.