We have to show girls they can be anything they want to be
Laura Beveridge on women's football and the need to challenge stereotypes
When I found out I was pregnant with my baby girl, Maia, I was excited at the prospect of giving her a childhood full of happy memories and importantly, with the opportunities that I never had.
And since Maia was a baby, I’ve made sure that I’ve given her a broad range of options: little cars, trains, dolls and My Little Pony. I never limit her, encouraging her to be an adventurer and to try new things. Maia’s favourite character is Alice from the new Alice Through the Looking Glass, an adventurer that challenges the status quo.
I believed that many of my values around equality and feminism were filtering through to my daughter. I believed that Maia felt like nothing was off limits – after all, this is a four-year-old who wants to be a police officer when she grows up.
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But one day Maia, Steven and I were watching football on TV and I suggested that Maia try giving football a go. She looked at me like I had just told her that the trees are made of cheese. “Don’t be silly, Mum, girls don’t play football!” she said with a big cheeky smile. I almost choked on my cup of tea. “Maia, of course girls play football!” I told her. My daughter was shocked. Admittedly, I don’t follow football and was never good at playing either, but I never believed my daughter could think that this, like anything else, was off limits because she was a girl.
On the 20 January, I attended the YWCA second annual Status of Young Women in Scotland report launch in Perth. The First Minister’s foreword to the report stated: “I believe that young women in Scotland can and should choose their own futures and pursue their own dreams. They shouldn’t be held back by outdated ideas about what women should or shouldn’t do. Gender equality isn’t just good for women, it’s good for all of us.”
The event was inspiring. I met one of the speakers, Donna Shaw, a football coach who became professional with a host of achievements under her belt. Donna had faced many challenges and barriers on her road to professional football. Bullied at school and labelled a lesbian just because she loved playing football, nothing stopped her because she had a team around her. As a teenager, she surrounded herself with good friends, they were like the Spice Girls and she, of course, was Sporty Spice. She focused on her goal and despite the challenges, she went on to enjoy a career in football, playing for a number of clubs, including Glasgow City, where she met head coach Anna Signeul.
Anna is said to have revolutionised the successful women’s game, taking the Scotland women’s team to the UEFA Euro 2017 finals this summer in the Netherlands. Anna will be leaving after the finals, but her legacy is in girls like Donna who still remembers being nine years old and being told by her head teacher that girls didn’t play football.
I met with Donna after the YWCA event, making time for a cup of coffee in between juggling her work supporting primary school children with additional support needs and being there for her 12-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter, who both share their mum’s passion for football. In 2016, Donna’s daughter, Rachel, joined the Jeanfield Swifts as a substitute in a competitive game against Glasgow Girls – this was an incredible moment for them and the team. And Jeanfield Swifts Ladies Football Club has, I am pleased to report, recruited their youngest mascot in April this year – Maia Beveridge.
Maia got the chance to meet the team and to her delight, one of the players, Danni McGinley, is a police officer as well as being a footballer – Maia’s dreams all rolled into one. Maia adored watching the game and left with rosy cheeks after running around the pitch while cheering the team on and left knowing that girls definitely DO play football.
But I realise we need to see more media coverage of women’s football, more women in parliament, in our councils and on our public boards, because girls like Maia need to see what they could be. We need to challenge generalisations and stereotypes, encouraging adventure in and the ambition of girls, broadening their view of the world, showing them all the possibilities. As Donna says: “Girls can’t be what they can’t see.”
If women and girls could see all the things they could be, imagine the world we could give them.
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