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27 Aug, 2018 16:45

Lazio fans might be sexist, but why can’t men have their own ‘sacred spaces’?

Lazio fans might be sexist, but why can’t men have their own ‘sacred spaces’?

A leaflet asking women to stay away from a football stand where hardcore fans congregate is shocking in its disregard for modern sensibilities. But the hypocritical outrage at the idea itself doesn’t help either gender.

The single-page home-printed flyer, apparently authored by the leader of the Irriducibili, one of the most attention-seeking Lazio ultras groups, has provoked the might of the entire football establishment. The Italian football federation has promised sanctions, the police have opened a sex discrimination case, and women’s national football team striker Carolina Morace has called the incident “a return to the Middle Ages” and demanded stadium bans for the fans involved.

READ MORE: Italian police identify Lazio ultras who want women banned from stadium

Any account of The Eagles’ fans antics cannot ignore their well-documented history of racism and anti-Semitism, their fascist iconography and nostalgia, or their glorification of violence.

Unless its only purpose was to rile – an aim in which they succeeded on a global scale – the self-parodically macho statement itself does the ultras no favors. It begins with risible bombast – a Rome resident spending €30 and putting on replica shirt to stand in a fan sector for two hours is not really “in the trenches.” Then proceeds to a hint of sexism, referring to the unwanted guests as the possibly overlapping Venn diagram “women, wives and girlfriends.” It ends with weak banter about “those who choose the stadium as an alternative to a carefree and romantic day in Villa Borghese,” a public park in Rome.

But here is the core message: “The Curva Nord represents for us a sacred space, an environment with an unwritten code to be respected.”

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Is it so odd that a band of men want to follow their inside rituals, sing the songs they learned off a screen at home, bond as they share their emotions swaying as one, and unleash their passion, often aggressive and unsightly, untamed and untrammeled?

Is it also strange that while doing this they – often respectable bourgeois citizens in their everyday lives – would feel less inhibited and self-conscious if they were not watched by outsiders, specifically women, many of whom would likely find this behavior repulsive?

If anything, however stereotypical and reductive, this is an indirect compliment to women’s civilizing influence that men feel they can only be their wildest selves, “in the trenches” of their fantasies, when there are no grown-ups who make them feel like small boys or loudmouth louts.

Should they be prosecuted for this, or forced out? However pathetic they seem, as long as they are not unfurling Auschwitz banners or chanting about black players, what is the real harm of these fans and their hobby? How many actual women are going to be turned back from the cauldron of those first 10 rows mentioned in the flyer? And should they be forced upon the Irriducibili if they really don’t want them there?

But of course this isn’t a scandal about seating (or rather, standing) arrangements.

The battle for women’s inclusion is one of the leitmotifs of the feminist movement, and football is a symbolic stronghold of masculinity.

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But this is a conflict that has been formally won, whatever qualms about equal representation in every sphere. From the tech startup office to the boardroom to the cabinet, from the (former) Boy Scouts to the golf club to the army, women are welcome, backed up by the law.

The history of the past century is a relentless one-way march. But among the landmarks the nebulous and unmourned collateral damage has been the shrinkage of formal male spaces. Much as progress has liberated women from their unpaid chores, it has also itself eliminated the need for many activities that were once the preserve exclusively of men. The football stands behind each goal are not so much a bastion as an enclave. And when men do gather, they are often portrayed – in the media or everyday discourse – as old-school conspirators, breakers of laws of varying severity or sad-sacks in arrested development.

Yet, there is evidence that the feminists themselves recognize the value of single-sex spaces.

In the past year alone, almost every week there has been a headline about a women-only gym, or co-working space, or hotel, or professional network, and now even a luxury island retreat, where women can gather undisturbed after paying €4,000 and passing an interview to confirm their credentials.

The tone of the coverage for these nakedly discriminatory ideas – almost entirely aimed at affluent women, and often set up with the express purpose of helping their careers – has veered between admiration for their innovation, and chuckling at how daringly naughty it all is.

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The lack of remorse about the double standards from all involved suggests that the entire sex battle in this area is not about fairness. Proponents of these spaces argue that they are merely countering the male-dominated institutions, which concentrate all power at their expense. Though it must be noted that ranting at the referee from a sweat-drenched moshpit is hardly a route to world domination.

So, should these women-only spaces be shut down for the sake of equality?

Surely there is a better route than vengeful legalism that proclaims “If we can’t have it, neither should you.”

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Almost all societies through history have seen benefits to activities and places that separate the genders. From hunts to monasteries to girls’ nights out to the weekday five-a-sides. Arguably, dealing with the complex, multi-faceted and often contradictory demands of modern masculinity secure spaces for men can provide a respite and a safety valve, a chance to both be comfortable and to grow among peers.

After decades of politicizing spaces, and now that gender segregation seems an unlikely concern outside of Gilead, surely the real needs of those in them should also be considered. Let’s allow women to be with women and men with men, when and where they want to. Just don’t hire Italian ultras to handle the PR side.

Igor Ogorodnev

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