“Because There Are So Few of Us”: The Marginalization of Female Soccer Referees in Ontario, Canada

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Soccer today represents the “game of choice” for women and girls in Canada. Because it has not been discursively constructed as a “male preserve” in the North American sport landscape in the same way it has elsewhere, the women’s game has grown dramatically, along with its favorable reputation in Canada, showcasing not only female talent as players, but also as match officials. Yet the low proportion of female soccer referees in Ontario exemplifies the continued challenge of ensuring that women reach all playing and non-playing positions. Drawn from our larger study intended to document Ontario women’s experiences as match officials, this article empirically illustrates how the “soccer referee” endures as a male- dominated subject that relegates women to the margins. Our research contributes to the scant number of studies on female soccer match officials by complicating this picture and showing that the “soccer referee” remains predominantly defined as masculine, even in a context where playing soccer is discursively constructed as gender-neutral. Our analysis highlights how the female soccer referee was constructed as an outsider by soccer players, coaches, and referees through stereotyping. Consequently, the women we interviewed described a variety of instances in which they were the focus of particular attention and, paradoxically, sidelined at the same time. Throughout her experiences on the pitch, the female soccer referee becomes aware of her marginalized status as she confronts normalized sexual discrimination, and may even come to internalize the sexism she faces.

Reid and Dallaire are with the School of Human Kinetics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Dallaire (Christine.Dallaire@uottawa.ca) is corresponding author.
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