Gender and Football

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 2.19.27 pmA study of football in Indonesia forces us to think about how gender and football collide. Football in Indonesia is one of the many domains that is characterised by a heteronormative, macho culture. To talk about ‘football in Indonesia’ is to be come up against a sphere in which men largely dominate. The drafting of this book too fell into this trap in which I wrote about a mens game, watched by men (and boys) and administered by men.

Various Indonesian terms are shaped by gender. For example, siswa is for a boy student, while siswi is used for a girl school student. The term seniman for artist is presumed to be a male figure; while the figure of a penulis for writer, is presumed to be a man unless further defined as penulis perempuan (woman writer). There is little surprise to this, or indeed, gender discrimination which favours men is common in many contexts. In the case of football, both perempuan and wanita are used for women. Putri is used for girls or the teams based on age. Perempuan is woman, while wanita is a little more antiquated and evocative of the English term ‘lady’ – with its attendant expectations of acting appropriately in accordance with prescribed gender roles.

In my initial searches for stories on women’s football through the Kompas archives, there were many articles: but, they were largely to do with the womens’ leagues or championships happening elsewhere; outside of Indonesia. Curiously, there seemed to be quite a few stories from the early 1980s: perhaps women’s football was stronger back then. This research, however, focuses on football in the post-Reformasi era: an era which has ushered in a greater openness, fluiditity and contestation in the realms of the arts, politics and sport – and football in particular. Although the last twenty years has seen many positive changes in Indonesian society; much too remains problematic, perhaps particularly so in football.

In 2006, there was still no women’s league at a local level, provincial or national level. Different regions or cities hold their own competitions; but these weren’t rolled out as a part of a serious and constant program of investment from the PSSI. The PSSI in West Java could still volunteer the excuse of there already being a “full schedule of mens’ football” and the general “low level” of interest in participation as being reasons for not investing more seriously in women’s leagues (17th June 2006, Kompas, p.8).

Monika Staab, a former German international, who visited Indonesia in her role as an Expert Consultant stated that the regions have a role to play in increasing the quality of investment in women’s football. Despite the potential of many athletes, “women’s football had yet to be given adequate attention” (2nd May 2008, Kompas, p.9). Whatever problems there are within the men’s game, these are doubly so in the women’s game which gains meagre media attention and is not considered a worthy profession for women. Muhardi, a former coach of the national women’s team has also stated, that the PSSI has systematically ignored women’s football and that there is a lack of political will to improve it (“Diabaikan Sepak Bola Putri Indonesia”, 13th July 1999, Kompas, p. 13).

*Above photo of the Under-15 Indonesian women’s national team, via Srivijaya.

Reading Sideways