Differing Perceptions of Gender Roles and Feminism: Transnational Discourses

Both Merve and Ayla are examples of young women in a football environment that has been a male domain for a long time and has only recently become a place that is more open for women. Ayla therefore often related to football discourses about female fans in Turkey. I experienced Ayla as a person with an expressive personality who openly says what she thinks and wants. She often watched matches in the Fenerbahqe Pub with her younger brother (19 years old) and male and female friends. Ayla is a good friend of one of the younger bartenders in the Fenerbahqe Pub. When Emre (owner) and Alper (main bartender) found out that I was asking her for an interview, they started yelling across the bar that I should not interview her because she is a hooligan. When they started laughing about their joke, Ayla responded simply and with a hint of irony:

You see how popular I’m here. I am always here.[1]

She is well-known in the pub and has a high social capital. She was introduced to me by the young bartender as the ‘right’ interview partner because she ‘has a lot to say’. When Ayla talks about her interests and her life she describes herself as an active, feminist woman who fights for women’s rights. Ayla takes her younger siblings to football places in Vienna and other places in Europe and encourages them to be fans.[1] The empowerment of women is at the top of her agenda.

The definition of feminism and women’s rights, however, as well as of gender roles can be diverse and sometimes contradictory. This became very clear when Ayla discussed a controversial incident in the Turkish football league. It has been common practice in Turkey to ban away fans from Istanbul Derbies due to ‘safety reasons’.[3] In 2011, the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) even started to ban male fans from the stadium for certain matches.[4] They introduced a women-and-children-only-policy as ‘punishment’ for those fans that ‘misbehaved’. This was a response to incidents where fans had been swearing and violent - and assuming those were only men. Yagmur Nuhrat emphasises the sexist rigour of this ‘punishment’. By introducing women-and-children-only matches, the TFF implied that women do not use swear words and have better manners than men do and therefore they are ‘naturalizing societal expectations from women’s language and behavior’ (Nuhrat 2013b, p. 3). Nuhrat further points out that:

Not only does it assume that football is naturally and normally a site for men and that men are the “real” fans in football, it also frustratingly relegates women to the spheres of the home and the family by calling upon the much outdated and offensive images of essentially peaceful women likened to innocent children and colorful flowers. (Nuhrat 2013b, pp. 6—7)

Whereas this sexist ‘punishment’ has been very critically received, also by other scholars and in the media (cf. Regev and Rapoport 2013) with critiques similar to Nuhrat’s, Ayla has an overwhelmingly positive opinion about it:

Ayla: At Fenerbahfe, there are often times when men are not allowed in the stadium (Nina laughs). Really, when the audience consists of women only. I can show you many videos and pictures of that. My aunt in Istanbul and my uncle, they have, I don’t know what it’s called in German, they have VIP seats and pay something monthly. They attend every match in Istanbul and when only women are allowed to go and men are not allowed to go, then my uncle looks after the children and my aunt attends the match with her girlfriends. [...] There are so many pictures (laughs) where, for example two girls, when only women are in the audience, yes where two girls, let’s say there are about 17, 18 [years old]. They had a poster, people took a picture of it and it was shown on TV, it said: “Dad, food is in the fridge, today it’s our turn!” (Both laugh). There are many of these kinds of slogans. It is fun for women to leave their men at home when the husband is maybe totally crazy about the match. But women are allowed to attend and not men. Yes, it’s fun.

I know it also from my aunt, my uncle cannot go and she makes fun of him, saying: “Well, it’s an important match, but your uncle is not allowed to go so I will go.” Deliberately. “So he has to stay at home with the children and I can enjoy myself.” Women really make use of this.31

In Aylas view the policy of the Turkish Football Federation is a method to empower women and to provide an escape away from women’s everyday lives. She particularly likes it that traditional gender roles are reversed (husband looks after children, wife goes to the match). Ayla has an entirely subversive reading of the ‘punishment’. Even if Fenerbah^e might have partly had the intention to empower women, they still wanted to underline that women ‘naturally’ behave ‘better’ or are more ‘civilised’ than men, which Ayla also subversively ignores when she proudly talks about her aunt losing her voice because of yelling too much in the stadium:

Ayla: [...] well, my aunt, when she talks about it [being only women in

the stadium], she is all smiles. She says it’s just different when you are among women only and you can cheer, scream out loud and let all your stress out and at the same time you can be happy and rant.

It’s a totally different atmosphere; women really get going then after having so much in their everyday lives: kids, school, meals, job. It’s a totally different atmosphere where you can unwind, where you can feel adrenaline after a long time, where you can cheer loudly. I remember calling my aunt two days after the match and she still had no voice because of cheering so loudly (both start laughing).[1]

These stadium experiences, Ayla was telling, were stress releases for her aunt because of her busy life. She even interpreted Fenerbah^e’s punishment as a direct support of female fans and women in society and links it to Fenerbah^e’s charity work for women.

Ayla: Fenerbahfe does look after its female fans a lot. Well, they donate a lot to shelters where they care for children and women.[1]

Although, these interview sections do not address the issue of swearing directly, Ayla also reproduces gender stereotypes to a certain extent: women need external help to be active fans. Ayla, however, does emphasise how loud her aunt and other women were screaming and celebrating in the stadium, which is in contrast to the controlling image of the

‘civilised woman’. In her narration, her aunt and other women become the very incarnation of the protest against expected behaviours of women by showing men that women can scream as loud as men can and thus are at least as good fans as they are.

The controlling image of the ‘civilised woman’ is a recurring type in conversations and interviews. It is also often used in othering practices to underline differences between the two teams. When Fenerbah^e was playing Eskifehirspor[7] Emre pointed at the screen, explaining to me that Fenerbah^e fans are much more ‘civilised’ than Galatasaray fans or supporters of the other teams because, as I could see on the screen, there were many women and children in the stadium, whereas there were many more men there for the other team. These discourses are not specific to Turkey. Attempts to ‘civilise’ fans in football stadia are widespread in Europe. This includes all-seater stadia, alcohol bans and campaigns that specifically try to invite families, the very stereotype of peacefulness, into football stadia (cf. Selmer and Sulzle 2010).

In the different examples, it became clear how ethnicising practices and discourses about swearing and societal expectations are used to produce and reproduce gender hierarchies in terms of concrete access to places and also to fan activities in general. The next subchapter will focus on intersecting negotiations of social class, ethnicity and also subculture.

  • [1] Interview Ayla, 25 years old, female, Fenerbah^e fan, 30 April 2013, her work place, Vienna,afternoon.
  • [2] Interview Ayla, 25 years old, female, Fenerbah^e fan, 30 April 2013, her work place, Vienna,afternoon.
  • [3] For more information: Hurriyet Daily News [Yilmaz, ^. C.] (2012).
  • [4] Taylor (2011): http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2011/sep/21/women-children-men-fenerbahce-ban.
  • [5] Interview Ayla, 25 years old, female, Fenerbah^e fan, 30 April 2013, her work place, Vienna,afternoon.
  • [6] Interview Ayla, 25 years old, female, Fenerbah^e fan, 30 April 2013, her work place, Vienna,afternoon.
  • [7] Fieldnote from 14 April 2013, Fenerbah^e Pub, Vienna, with people in pub, Fenerbah^e vs.Eskifehirspor (Super Lig), evening.
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