Bleachers Full of Women: Debate over Timbers Army chant shows why words matter


The Timbers Army is well known for its treatment of women, both in terms of the their inclusion in the group — such as the use of female capos — and in terms of their turnout for Portland Thorns games, which saw an average attendance of 15,639 last year. Recently, however, the group has made headlines for a different kind of treatment.

On Friday, Jamie Goldberg published an article in Oregon Live detailing the protest against a chant that has been making some female members of the group uncomfortable for years. At issue is the line that goes “Shag your women, drink your beer!” One argument the opposition has faced is that the song is a longstanding tradition in the group — and even more so in European soccer, where it can be traced back to English teams like Chelsea — which is valid insofar as nothing in the history of civilization has ever changed. But eradicating the chant as a whole isn’t even the goal of the protest. As Goldberg reported, member Faolana McMullin would be fine with just removing the word “your.”

Though simple, McMullin’s solution would seem to be effective; removing the possessive pronoun no longer posits women as objects, which is the main reason the line has come under fire. Similarly, the Army has been known to replace “shag” with “steal” to address the concern that women were not only referred to as objects, but specifically as sex objects. The fact that so much can be accomplished by changing one or two words highlights the larger reason why women are hoping to have the chant changed: words have an impact, whether part of a tradition, meant seriously, or not.

This concept is not new to sports, or to the world at large. In March, the Mexican National Team launched a campaign against the infamous “puto” chant. Even more recently, a viral video in which men read messages female sportswriters Sarah Spain and Julie DiCaro received showed the true impact of words that women have to deal with on a daily basis. The backlash against the video was similar to that heard about the Timbers Army chant: as commenter “schmugly” on Goldberg’s piece aptly said, “Get over it.” Either that or “just log off.” Or “don’t sing that particular chant if you don’t like it.” In other words, women should change and words should not.

Although women shouldn’t have to face degrading or — as in the case of DiCaro and Spain — downright threatening behavior in the first place, they also shouldn’t have to plug their ears, stop singing, or delete their accounts when they do. Members of the CF7 Sirens certainly don’t.

The Sirens is an all-female social group connected to Section 8, the Chicago Fire’s supporters’ association. The female-only forum was established by fans “in the hopes that we will inspire, unite, motivate & encourage one another in a culture that is male dominated.” Founded in 2013, the group aims to enable women to have a “louder voice in the Chicago Fire community,” because there are always those trying to drown theirs out. The Sirens received the same kind of sexist “BS,” as co-founder Nicole Hack puts it, that New York City FC’s Blue Ladies did when commenting on their team’s forums. This has largely come to a head, as it has for Spain and DiCaro, on Twitter, where words can be both vicious and anonymous.

“Most of these individuals are not as vocal in person,” Hack says, adding that the anonymity of the internet makes it “easy to hide.”

One Sirens member, Maud Amanda Squiers, found herself the target of social media abuse when she was “concerned about a front office policy that’d gone ignored, or maybe something in the community was gendered in an unnecessarily offensive way, or maybe [when she] was just musing about life in general.” Whenever she posted, she was on the receiving end of vitriol. She wasn’t the only one.

“At the forefront of the attacks you’d always find a [male Fire fan that] I’d heard about over and over from women within and without the soccer community,” Squiers says. “He would get intensely personal with his attacks, and would excuse himself as just wanting to banter.”

The ever-present idea of “banter” is just the same, tired “just get over it” trope. It is also a backtracked acknowledgement that what you’ve said is hurtful and unnecessary — if, of course, it wasn’t “just a joke.”

The whole point of the what is said to women online is that they are not easy things to “just get over.” These statements are not only hurtful, but purposely so. And in the face of these things, like the Timbers Army women who won’t stop until something changes with respect to the chant, Squiers tried finding ways to be as steadfast as possible. At first, the abuse was too much, and so she made her Twitter private. Then it got even more overwhelming, and she eventually stepped down from her position as Merchandising Director.

“All of this seemed to inspire more ire, like how dare I not appreciate their ‘banter,’” Squiers says. “It kept up, so I figured if I left the board, maybe then they’d leave me alone.”

They didn’t, at first. But the best way to beat a troll is not to feed them, or to give in to them, but to just keep on. Squiers is still an active part of the Fire community in real life and on social media, with an again-public Twitter account. “I still participate,” she says. Backlash won’t stop her from “support[ing] this sport in this city I love.” After all, that’s why the Sirens were established in the first place.

That’s what it all comes down to: support. The Timbers Army is bonded by words like “Rose City Til I Die,” and so is Squiers to the rest of the Fire fans. More broadly words bond the Sirens to Section 8. If words didn’t matter, slogans would be meaningless — and so would whole chants, rendering the entire Timbers Army issue pointless. But because words do matter, they should be taken seriously and used to bring soccer fans together rather than tear them apart.

Follow Gaby Kirschner on Twitter @GabyKirschner.


Originally published at www.howlermagazine.com on May 23, 2016.