We Spleen: “Sexing Up” Women’s Soccer

Marco Aurelio Cunha, a Brazilian’s women soccer official, has a lot to say about the Women’s World Cup currently underway in Canada.

Brazil has the potential to win the tournament, but Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail recently reported that Brazilian media has shown little coverage of the games so far because Brazilian fans just aren’t interested. According to Cunha, media attention will shift once the fans start paying attention—to the women, not their skills.

Cunha shared his wisdom with The Globe, explaining why he thought Brazil’s interest in women’s soccer might soon grow:

Now the women are getting more beautiful, putting on make-up. They go in the field in an elegant manner … Women’s football used to copy men’s football. Even the jersey model, it was more masculine. We used to dress the girls as boys. So the team lacked a spirit of elegance, femininity. Now the shorts are a bit shorter, the hairstyles are more done up. It’s not a woman dressed as a man.

If the cringing sensation you’re feeling is familiar, perhaps it’s because Cunha isn’t the first to come up with this brilliantly sexist idea. Maybe you’re remembering the words of embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter in 2004, when he said that more people would watch women’s soccer if the players wore “tighter shorts”:

Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball … Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men—such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?

Besides the fact that Blatter, the president of FIFA at the time, was wrong about the “lighter ball” statement, his words and Cunha’s demonstrate extreme ignorance: Women don’t want more viewers tuning in just because their outfits are skimpier—they want (and deserve) to be recognized for their tremendous talent on the field.

Sexist comments like Cunha’s are just another reminder that during this Women’s World Cup, there are fundamental issues of inequality at play between women and men’s soccer. And with men like Cunha in charge, it doesn’t look like things are going to get better anytime soon.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user Larissa Leite licensed under Creative Commons 2.0


Emma Niles is a recent graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz and an editorial intern at Ms. Follow Emma on Twitter @emmalorinda.