Scotland’s Most Successful Women’s Football Team Wearing A Message Of Empowerment In New Kit

Scotland’s most successful women’s football team (that’s soccer, for the non-Europeans!), Glasgow City FC, have brought new meaning to the phrase “wearing your heart on your sleeve”. In a recent unveiling of their new away team shirts, they have included a distinct message of female empowerment which indicates the type of win the hope to achieve off-field – inspiring young girls with female sports role models.

The purple and white shirts feature the saying “you can’t be what you can’t see”, something that has been widely used elsewhere in the current movement to elevate the status, representation and visibility of women in public spaces globally. Most notably, Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis and her Institute on Gender in Media often refer to this when they are explaining the importance of showing a more diverse range of female characters on screen, especially in programming and content aimed at young kids.

In the same way, the Glasgow City FC team and its managers recognize just how vital it is for young girls to see more women in sport talked about and discussed in mainstream media. The team manager Laura Montgomery together with Carol Anne Stewart set up Glasgow City FC in 1998, and have proved this team means business.They have won 10 Scottish titles in a row, allowing them to become the most successful Scottish women’s team of all time.

Over the past few years, with major global sporting events such as the Rio Olympics and the Women’s World Cup have increased the discussion over the disparity between the way male and female athletes are treated, from the issue of equal pay to sexist conversations perpetuated by commentators and mainstream media. It has motivated many high-profile athletes to pull double duty (so to speak) and use their platform to emphasize the need for society to stop treating female athletes like a public service announcement, or eye candy.

For Laura Montgomery, she takes the role of team manager seriously, especially knowing the impact the players can have on the next generation of potential Glasgow City FC MVPs. She gave a TEDx Talk in 2014 called ‘City of Dreams’, in which she said the challenge these days isn’t so much the opposition they face on field (after running through an impressive list of titles, accolades and trophies they have racked up since formation), but how to get girls all over the world to know that the sporting field, any sporting field, is just as much their playground as men’s.

“I want every woman’s football team, ever woman’s sports club, every female athlete out there to inspire a generation of girls to be who they want to be, to feel that they have equal opportunities in life,” she said.

And while they can feel this during a Glasgow City FC match without a doubt, it is the constant bombardment of messages that will surround a young girl on her way home from the match, for instance, that becomes a barrier for them.

“Pick up a sports newspaper and turn to the back page. Tell me if you see an image of a female athlete on it, or if you see only a male…Turn inside the newspaper and yes there are lots of images of female athletes there. But is the talk about what they’re wearing, how they look, or is the conversation about who they’re dating?” she said.

Laura referenced a startling Parliamentary inquiry into body image which found 25% of girls in the UK have tried to diet before the 7th birthday. Just think about how ingrained the messages about physical appearances advertising must be for it to affect girls this young. This has a knock on effect, especially in the area of sporting participating. The same study found 60% of girls in the UK avoid playing sports because of anxiety over their bodies.

Ironically, there are numerous studies showing how playing sports can be a powerful antidote to body image woes and build stronger leadership, confidence and communication skills in girls when they are older.

“So how do we change it?” asks Laura in her TEDx Talk.

“Well quite simply, you can’t be what you can’t see. Without visible role models, how do girls grow up thinking they can be anything other than sexualized objects, which is how the media currently portrays women,” she said.

Currently, women’s sports only received around 7% of all media coverage in the UK, according to a Women in Sports study, so its little wonder we have entire generations of girls staying away from sports, being more preoccupied with their physical appearance, and believing their value to be based on that alone. The lack of visible role models is compounded by the fact that sponsorship investments in women’s sports made up a mere 0.4% between 2011 and 2013.

It’s not that the talent doesn’t exist, it is that the standards continue to persist. When the US women’s national soccer team won the World Cup for the 3rd time, it became THE most televised soccer game in US history (men’s or women’s), yet they are still paid less than the national men’s team, who have never won a World Cup or made it as far as the women. Similarly with Glasgow City FC, it’s hard to argue that a team with trophies and titles to spare can be accused of not being talented enough to attract sponsorship deals.

We’re not sure about you guys, but we are endlessly frustrated at the amount of professional female athletes who are forced to hold down a day job because they don’t get paid enough to do what they love full time.

Laura argues that if there was more media coverage of women’s sports in the same way it exists for men, it would change the way female athletes are viewed not just by girls, but also how an entire generation of young boys view women in general. Why is it perfectly acceptable for a girl to wear a sports jersey of her favorite male sports star, but not necessarily the other way round, she asked.

Glasgow City FC are certainly leading by example and doing their part to engage the youth. They currently have 8 teams in total, 7 of which are youth teams.

“Every single youth player that we have absolutely idolizes all our first team players and that’s because they want to be what they can see,” she said.

In fact, one of their youth players, 8 year-old Zara Colquhoun, was interviewed by a newspaper and asked what made her want to get into soccer. She said it was after a stint being the team’s mascot, then seeing first team player Julie Melrose and realizing she wanted to be like her. In the opening segment of her TEDx Talk, Laura used that interview as an example of the power of visible role models.

Despite the lack of mainstream media coverage, Laura and her management team (who are mostly all volunteers) utilize social media to try and attract more audiences and fans. So far it is working, with attendance up and ticket sales going fast, especially for their bigger matches. Now imagine what would happen if Glasgow City FC were a main fixture in the sports headlines of every nightly bulletin across the UK, a place where football is almost like a religion?

To be part of the change in creating more demand for visibility of female athletes, and to show support for Glasgow City FC’s badass new away team shirts, you can read more about it on their website, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. You can also see Laura Montgomery’s full TEDx Talk below:

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