In recent years, the UK has witnessed a shift in the perception of what it means for women to play football. For example, the 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup was broadcast with full coverage on the BBC for the first time. Moreover, in the same year, Steph Houghton, the team captain, achieved mainstream ‘role model’ status, appearing in Virgin’s new ‘Inspired’ advertisement, alongside other more generally accepted icons, such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Billie Holiday. Such televisual and internet presence demonstrates that the professional women’s game therefore has an audience; it is now a sport-to-watch, with all the corporate and consumer power that such viewing figures engender. Perhaps similarly to the social/cultural effect of ‘spectatorship’ created by the 2012 London Olympic Games, there has been an apparently symbiotic drive to encourage and support women into the amateur game, in the shape of the nationwide campaign ‘This Girl Can’. Most notably these girls show that they can through self-aware, yet defensive, though also apparently stereotype-challenging slogans, such as, ‘I also know the offside rule’ and ‘I kick balls. Deal with it’.
It is worth highlighting the tension/conflict between growing acceptance of the professional game, while the push to encourage girls and women to play for enjoyment or fitness is still in difficulties. Drawing, somewhat unusually on Mikhail Bakhtin’s sadly sidelined theorising of ‘grotesque realism’ (1965), this will allow for a discussion of the different, and potentially distinctly female, ‘bodily’ problems for women when wanting to engage in sport; problems that are socialised into women and girls very early in life. In particular, the body, any body, is unpredictable and hard to control during exercise, which is in direct conflict with what women/girls learn they-can-do with their bodies throughout the rest of their public lives. This Girl Can is, of course, semantically and thus actually, very different from This Girl Will.
Overall, I would suggest working to emphasis and expose the implication that women are not really meant to have ‘real’ bodies at all. Informed in part by my own experiences as a woman who plays football for enjoyment, I wish to utilise a ‘bottom-up’ cultural studies reading of the ‘This Girl Can’, and associated sports campaigns, as well as a materialist/ethnographic engagement with the body and, specifically, the gendered body within sport.