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A study of football fan message boards has found “openly misogynistic” attitudes towards women’s sport among male supporters.

Researchers from Durham University surveyed 1,950 male football fans who responded to a call for participants on 150 UK online forums.

The results showed that progressive views were “strongly represented” but “not as common as hostile and sexist attitudes”.

The researchers suggest these attitudes show a backlash against the increased visibility of women’s sport, particularly since the 2012 London Olympic Games and the 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup.

They have called for more coverage of women’s sport to “drive more gender equality and promote social justice”.

The study, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), is published in the academic journal Sociology and was led by Durham University with researchers at the University of Leicester and University of South Australia.

Lead author Dr Stacey Pope, from Durham University’s Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences, said: “This is the first study to examine UK men football fans’ attitudes to women’s sport in an era in which women’s sport has experienced a significantly increased media profile.

“Our research showed that attitudes towards women in sport are, to some extent, changing, with more progressive attitudes. However, the findings are also reflective of a patriarchal society in which misogyny is rife.

“There were numerous examples of men from across all generations exhibiting highly sexist and misogynistic attitudes.”

Based on answers to the open-ended questions in the survey, the fans could broadly be split into three groups who showed progressive masculinities, overt misogynistic masculinities, or covert misogynistic masculinities.

Men with progressive attitudes showed strong support for equality in media coverage of women’s sport, with many saying that the 2015 Fifa Women’s World Cup had been a positive turning point in terms of representation of women’s sport.

The fans who held openly misogynistic attitudes towards women’s sport saw it as inferior to men’s sport, particularly in relation to football, with some suggesting women should not participate in sport at all, or if they did, it should be in “feminine” sports, such as athletics.

There was also extreme hostility towards increasing media coverage of women’s sport, which was seen as “positive discrimination” or “PC nonsense”.

The final group of fans, who were in the minority, would express progressive attitudes in public but in more private moments reveal misogynistic views of women’s sport, adapting what they said depending on the social situation or who they were with.

Co-author John Williams, from the University of Leicester, said: “The increase in media coverage of women’s sport on both the BBC and subscription channels was openly supported by some men.

“But it also clearly represents, for others, a visible threat – an attack on football as an arena for ‘doing’ masculinity.

“This is at a time when there are more widespread anxieties circulating among men about how to establish and perform satisfying masculine identities.

“For men like these, there was a pronounced anti-feminist backlash towards the women’s game.”

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