The Women’s Football Diary: Anita Asante
For Aston Villa defender Anita Asante, we are all the norm.
But, looking at the current state of society, we still see stereotypical views of what should be the ‘prescribed norm’.
For Asante, she’s had to go against that prescribed norm in more ways than one – from body image, to sexuality, to race or just by being a woman in football.
For her it’s time for stereotypes like that to change.
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“This is a big issue in general because I’ve had people on social media refer to me as a man and things like that,” said the former Arsenal and Chelsea defender, specifically with regards to body image.
“I feel like I have quite thick skin and I just deal with it but at the same time I’m like, it’s not really ok that people feel the need to refer to people negatively because of their stature or whatever.
“When it comes to body image it’s about visibility. The more we show women in different sports, different industry, who look different to me and you and anyone else, then we recognise that we’re all the norm.
“There isn’t a prescribed norm. That’s the problem, we have this general prescribed norm in society, whether it be in sport or out of it, that allows for people to feel that they can box us by our gender, our physique and our image.
“That’s the biggest problem and when you start to show images and talk about these subjects in a more regular, open, basis then it doesn’t even become a discussion.
“It becomes an acknowledgement that these are women, they’re athletic.
“They need to have muscles and strength so they can compete, so they can be explosive, so they can be strong.
“Otherwise we would be negatively reacting to the fact that they can’t do any of those things because their body doesn’t allow them to.”
“We don’t want to have our history erased”
October is Black History Month and following events earlier this year, as well as the prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, it feels more important than ever.
It also feels like we’re now in a time where people are more will to analyse and delve into the heart of racial injustice.
“It’s been something that has probably affected a lot of people whether you are from the black community or not, in a massive way,” said Asante.
“It’s really challenged our belief systems, our thought processes and the things we thought we knew that perhaps aren’t actually true.
“For the first time we are really delving into details, and trying to listen a little bit, and understand so we can educate ourselves about what – number one – this movement is about.
“I think that message is also being hijacked at times and trying to dilute it somewhat and polarise groups.
“But the message is very clear. It’s about human rights, making sure we want to treat all people as equal.
“It’s also about stopping police brutality, the abuse of power basically and it’s about equal opportunities.
“That’s what I understand it to be and I think from the core of this movement that’s what it’s about.
“I think it is going to take more time, and it is more about education, but it’s also about holding parts of our society and institutions to account and not letting it fly under the radar as an accepted part of the way things are.”
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As well as the movement having focus on the future, there is also an effort in making sure their stories are no longer erased.
The England international continued: “I read recently about John Boyega – the actor – talk about an advertising campaign he was on and it was about his personal story that they used to promote a perfume brand.
“In a different part of the world they completely erased him yet it’s his story.
“From my perspective this is what many black and non-white people are saying, is that we don’t want to have our stories erased any more.
“We don’t want to have our history erased, we don’t want to have our culture erased, we don’t want a re-writing of certain elements of the truth.
“We want it so that we all understand it.
“We all know, and that’s the only way we can really move forward positively.
“We’ve got to a point where we’ve hit this monumental moment and this window of opportunity has really opened for us to collectively see each other. But, really see each other, really recognise that actually I am no different to my LGBT allies and also other groups that are marginalised and treated poorly.
“This is for society to understand that no one is pointing fingers at any specific person.
“But they’re saying, ‘what can you do to make your environment more positive and more fair in every given situation?’
“There are elements of us that will live in a society with certain privileges, some of which we weren’t aware of, and some that we might be aware of.
“But when a group is telling you this is hurting me or this is upsetting me, how do we respond? How do we want to be remembered ultimately?”
“That’s always a challenge especially for me”
That word again – norm – has played a part in Asante’s life from her early years.
Regardless of the confidence she was showing on the pitch – an England debut at 19 as well as the 2007 Quadruple she won as part of that famous Arsenal team – she still wasn’t openly out to her parents when she left to play football in the US in 2009.
“Everyone’s journey is different and its quicker for some of us to realise or address these internal issues related to ourselves,” she said on her coming out journey.
“It takes some of us a lot longer. For me growing up I always knew I was a bit different to other kids in my school, or team.
“But at the same time there’s almost a subconscious part of you that knows what expectations are and what society expects from you.
“There is also what society, family, and people close to you have shaped as a norm – the family environment or what kind of life you’re supposed to have beyond your teenage years.
“It always comes back to those norms about gender and sexuality and family units.
“Like most people I was very aware of that early on in my childhood and that made it more challenging for me to confront it and discuss it with my family.
“Even close friends. I have made many friends that I had never actually said, ‘by the way I’m gay’ or anything like that until much later in my life.
“That’s always a challenge especially for me.
“I felt, when I was younger, being a black young girl also playing football puts you in that ‘you are different anyway’.
“You add my culture to that – being an African, Ghanaian woman – there’s still that conservative idea of family, what kind of occupation you should have and what kind of life you should build for the future.
“All of those things I think somehow inhibited me in a way in terms of my personal growth in confidence and my esteem to just be my authentic self.”
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She added: “Most of us would have liked a role model maybe, or someone from your community or background, that you can understand and discuss your feelings and experiences with.
“If I look back then I guess I could say I wish I had someone like that, that I felt confident and felt safe enough to share what I was going through.
“But now, when I get to talk about it more, and I’m more confident in talking about myself, I hope that has a positive impact on other young girls or boys from my background as well – especially to feel like they can come out.
“They can be their authentic self and they can pursue their ambitions whether it be sport or otherwise in the future.”
Interview: Alasdair Hooper
Words: Alasdair Hooper
Image credits: With thanks to Jules PR
All music in this episode is courtesy of Dan Henig
Extended thanks go Doyenne Sports and Jules PR for organising this interview
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