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March 21, 2019

Hofstra Prof Likens Latin American Women’s Soccer Activism to #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter

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Prof. Brenda Elsey, history, Hofstra University, gave a wry and lively lecture on the rising call for feminist reform in Latin American soccer culture Tuesday evening. That’s right — soccer and feminism.

In her presentation, entitled “Fútbol Feministas,” Elsey drew a historical parallel between women being prevented from playing soccer in Latin America and suffrage movements within that same region.

She cited that in Brazil, women were legally prohibited from playing soccer for 40 years, from 1941 to 1981.

“It would be hard to overstate the importance of soccer in Latin America,” she said, describing soccer’s prevalence in Latin American popular culture both as a pastime and a symbol of national identity.

Women’s soccer in Latin America is the theme of Elsey’s forthcoming book Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America, which she co-authored with Prof. Joshua Nadel, history, North Carolina Central University. Elsey also co-hosts a feminist sports podcast, Burn It All Down.

“We wrote [Futbolera] to recover women’s history, both as a meditation on the history of gender in the region but at the same time to challenge popular ideas,” Elsey said. “Popular ideas that women’s sports have no history in the region.”

However, most of the notable icons in soccer are men, Elsey said. Not even the military, she pointed out, is as segregated by gender as soccer.

Elsey additionally discussed Eduardo Galeano’s seminal book on soccer in Latin America, Football in Sun and Shadow, and noted that it mentions neither female players nor soccer’s violently misogynistic and homophobic culture.

“Women’s supposed antipathy toward and lack of history in [soccer] has been used as a justification for denying them resources and asking them to endure significant abuse,” she said.

This oppression persists today despite calls for reform from players and activists throughout Latin America. As a result, female soccer players have begun protests on the soccer pitch, drawing more mainstream attention, according to Elsey.

For example, during the 2018 Copa América Feminina, the Argentine national women’s soccer team posed for a photo with their hands cupped behind their right ears; signifying that they wanted to be heard.

Elsey compared this protest-in-sports phenomenon to football player Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the U.S. national anthem and to the #MeToo movement. Elsey also mentioned the solidarity between Latin American women’s soccer and the Argentinian feminista movement #NiUnaMenos.