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More than 70 women, 20 different countries and one passion: football. An exhibition traveling around Germany is aiming to make female football supporters more visible by telling their stories.
"You’re going to go hungry tonight because your girls are hanging around in the ground with you," read the banner from the Dynamo Dresden supporters during their visit to St. Pauli in December.
The actual language used was much more offensive, but the message was clear: Women do not belong inside a football stadium. Officials and supporters of both clubs, and fans across Germany, condemned the banner. But it wasn't just sexist, chauvinistic and derogatory; it was also completely at odds with reality.
Female faces are a common sight at Bundesliga matches, whether in the more expensive seating areas or bouncing around and chanting on the rowdier standing terraces. Almost 30 percent of stadiumgoers in Germany's top two divisions are female. More than 1 million women and girls are members of German football clubs and 40 percent of TV viewers for men's German national team games are female.
And it's these faces that are the subject of Fan.Tastic Females, an exhibition currently touring Germany and set to go abroad as well.
"We didn’t just want to point fingers and say 'sexism in football is bad,'" explains Daniela Wurbs, former CEO of Football Supporters Europe (FSE), who helped co-ordinate a team of over 70 fans from all over Europe to put together the exhibition. "We wanted to turn it on its head and put women on a pedestal and make them visible in football."
The exhibition achieves this via a series of video clips featuring more than 70 female fans from over 20 different countries – old and young, home and away, from the terraces to the boardroom – whose stories are viewable by scanning QR codes on a smartphone.
From 15-year-old Fortuna Düsseldorf ultra Dana to 79-year-old Arsenal fanatic Maria, and everywhere in between, the tapestry of female football stories hidden behind the QR codes is vast. Some stories, such as Lazio fan Claudia's experience of trouble at a Rome derby, aren't particularly unusual. Others, such as women's rights campaigner Zahra's fight for equality in Iran, are truly extraordinary.
Women in Iran face bigger challenges than most when it comes to football
'Yes, yes. And you look very nice'
Some of the women featured are more than just fans. Julia Düvelsdorf is a supporter liaison officer at Werder Bremen, while Anna Pierre is on the board of Swedish giants AIK Solna. Both have had to overcome hurdles to progress through one the most male-dominated environments in society.
The further women progress into leadership roles within football, the more gender becomes an issue, as Sandra Schwedler, chairperson of German second division side St. Pauli’s supervisory board, explains.
"When I was elected to the supervisory board, people would always say: 'Oh, you’re a woman! On the supervisory board!' But I also have qualifications. There's a reason I was elected, and it wasn’t just because I’m a woman."
Exhibition organizer Wurbs has also been confronted with her gender in her role at FSE, whether it be unsolicited requests to reveal a hotel room number or patronizing remarks following a presentation such as: "Yes, yes, and you look very nice."
"Particularly at some of the biggest institutions in football, I would be quizzed about my football knowledge," she says. "I wonder if my male colleagues would have been asked the same questions."
In organizing the Fan.Tastic Females exhibition, Wurbs has experienced first hand just how important female role models are in football – not just on the pitch, where the Bundesliga has its first female referee in Bibiana Steinhaus, but also in the media, in the form of female commentators and pundits, and in the stands.
"The representation of women in football in the media needs to be more critical and get away from the idea of sexual objects," Wurbs says. "The image of the young, slim, classically sexy woman simply doesn't reflect the average female fan. That's one of the aims of the exhibition: to represent the reality on the terraces."
That reality means highlighting some of the practical barriers female fans face on any given matchday. From the number of female security checks at the turnstiles, to the availability of toilets, to female points of contact within the stadium, women's concerns are too frequently neglected.
‘Don't make such a fuss'
In November, a Schalke supporter made headlines after she complained she had been sexually harassed at the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen. After reporting the incident to a steward, she was allegedly told to stay at home and watch on television if she couldn’t handle it.
On the other side of the Ruhr region, Anna Horstmann of Ballspiel.Vereint, the Borussia Dortmund anti-discrimination initiative that hosted the Fan.Tastic Females exhibition in December, says the scenario is all too familiar.