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Women: Not Just For Ironing Shirts Anymore?

Where's your father,
where's your father,
where's your father, referee?
You don't have one,
you're a bastard,
you're a bastard, referee.

Perfectly above board!

Where's your girlfriend,
where's your girlfriend,
where's your girlfriend, referee?
You don't have one,
you're a wanker,
you're a wanker, referee.

So far, so good!

Where's your penis,
where's your penis...

WHOA! Stop right there!

Canadian football fandom can be remarkably schizophrenic sometimes, and a minor sideplot is doing a good job illustrating it. In a week that's seen Toronto FC playing for its playoff lives against Antonio Ribeiro and Frank Yallop, Asmir Begovic becoming Fredo Corleone, and Montreal taking on Vancouver for all the marbles, the incomparable Two Canadian Guys and Ben Knight Talking About Soccer and the stalwart Andrew Bates of the 24th Minute have both spent time on Impact - Whitecaps referee Carol Anne Chenard, her lack of a 'Y' chromosome, and how much that really totally doesn't matter at all seriously so why are we even talking about it.

I don't often notice referees, but I tended to notice Chenard in USL-1 and Voyageurs Cup matches because (let's face it) she has boobies. And I think she's a fine referee; the Voyageurs Cup was dying for good refereeing and most of the good calls came courtesy Chenard. Saturday night was not her best, though; the red card against Martin Nash was well-earned and it transpired that Peter Byers's goal was legitimate, but she seemed to struggle calling fouls consistently. This wasn't an awfully officiated match, but it wasn't perfect and a few tough-if-accurate calls went against the home team, which is always going to draw interest. Bates and Knight were concerned that Chenard would be getting more sledging than usual because of her gender - Bates, a card-carrying Southsider, provides an anecdote of a few Southsiders on Saturday trying to start a chant impugning Chenard for her gender and expresses gratitude that it failed.

Now, I'm going to state the obvious so bear with me. Of course Chenard being a woman has no bearing on her competence as a referee. I think we've moved past the nineteenth century. No more than ten, maybe twenty percent of sports doctors still think that a woman will lapse into feminine hysterics when confronted with a tough foul in the box (forgive the expression). Knight was correct to say that on the Canadian Guys podcast, and he was also correct when he added that no sensible fan would pick their referees based on race, either. That sort of thing is reprehensible and if somebody in a league office kicks Chenard off a refereeing crew because she's a woman, that guy should be buried under the north goal at BMO Field when they put the grass in.

What we've seen regarding Chenard over the last few days is once again revealing an odd contradiction in football society. Many supporters pride themselves on being anti-authoritarian and working class. When the Whitecaps and the City of Burnaby asked the Southsiders to pretty please not set flares or smoke at Swangard Stadium, the reaction on the Southsiders forum could be summed up as "you're not the boss of me." Half the fun of being a supporter is, to quote a shopworn line of Mr. Knight's, "ten thousand people chanting the F word" - to say things en masse that would get you punched in the testicles if you said them to somebody's face. So it's always seemed peculiar to me that football and supporter's culture draws this neat little dividing line between what is good offensive and what is bad offensive.

My problem is when fans are criticized for bellowing chants about a referee's gender. We have no problem with stands criticizing the referee's parentage or marital status. Giving the goalkeeper a "you fat bastard!" is practically de rigeur in Southsider culture. When you chant at somebody on the pitch for being overweight, you're not submitting a thesis that fat people are drains on society who couldn't call an offside correctly because they'd be distracted by the smell of hot dogs. To quote the Godfather trilogy for the second post consecutively, it's nothing personal. It's strictly business.

I'd never see Carol Anne Chenard at a coffee shop and say "your refereeing is as bad as your parallel parking", but, then, I'd never grab Bill Gaudette one-on-one and say "you fat bastard, Brett shagged your wife." The problem with sexism (or racism or any other form of discrimination) in football isn't yelling things from the stands that might hurt somebody's feelings, it's the guy on the 24th Minute post linked above who said that his teammates wouldn't respect a female referee because of her gender. It's not a guy who's had a few beers yelling that the Algerian player is a terrorist while he's trying to take a goal kick, it's the guy who's perfectly sober saying that he doesn't want one of "them" on his team. The issue isn't somebody saying "you like it in the ass!" to an opposing striker. The issue is a manager saying that if somebody who actually likes it in the ass is in his dressing room it'll upset chemistry, and the ignorant players who make it true.

Carol Anne Chenard is a professional referee and a good one. That's what matters. If she fucks up and I'm in the stands, I will yell everything I can think of at her. That's not. If you honestly have a problem with that but are totally fine with all the other invective hurled from the stands, you should really re-evaluate things.