These things take time, but similar stages have happened in football. The “linesman” (or the woman) became the “assistant referee” in 1996. Although this is to better reflect the function of the role, and some experts still refer to the outdated term, he still held to abandon the specific gender associated with the position. Although it remains a largely masculine space, more and more women are finding their way into arbitration and language has a small role to play in changing perceptions.
There are other examples in football that are ingrained in our vocabulary, which may well fall out of use in the years to come. “Man of the match” and “man tagging” remain commonly used phrases, and even in a Women’s Super League match you will often hear players shout “man on”.
“Seeing men as the human defect is fundamental to the structure of human society,” Caroline Criado Perez wrote in her book. Invisible Women: Data bias in a world designed for men.
Being historically male-dominated, sport – and the terms and roles we associate with it – are in tune with this same biased perception. This can extend to highlighting female differences in sport as well. In tennis, it was only two years ago that Wimbledon finally chose to abandon the tradition of the referee referring to players as “Miss” or “Mrs”.
Men are only referred to by last name, but “Game, Mrs Williams” was called by the referee in 2018, after Serena Williams married her husband Alexis Ohanian, but chose to keep her maiden name. . The reference to the marital status of the tour’s best-known woman highlighted enough of the tradition’s irrelevance to nip it in the bud the following year.
In Finland, they took this gender neutrality a step further in 2020, renaming their national women’s football top division simply “National League”. By not making any reference to the gender of their players, it was deviating from the norm across Europe, where top English, French, German and Spanish leagues all have female prefixes in their titles. “It is common to talk about sport and women’s sport as if the latter are less worth it,” said Heidi Pihlaja, head of women’s football development at the Finnish association at the time. “Football is football – it doesn’t matter who hits the ball.”
This could be the direction for things to come, if a somewhat confusing issue were to be dropped altogether. It is perhaps more likely that the prefix “men” will be added to teams and tournaments as the profile of women’s sports grows. While not neutral, this would deviate from the practice which considers men’s teams to remain the default in the media and even within teams.
On some major football club websites, for example, the team drop-down menus read “first team”, “under 23”, “under 18” and “women”. Even the way search engines are set up by default is that of men in sport.
A search for “Chelsea football club”, for example, assumes that you are looking for the men’s team, unless you specify otherwise, the obvious reason being the historically much broader profile of the men’s side of the sport.
This is why the Hundred is proposing a clean slate in this regard. All franchises have a male and female team, all will launch in the same year and will have a broadly equal profile from the start. The theory is that this means that the sides of both men and women will be referred to as such.
While the “outs” have been dropped due to the outcry, just calling the players what they are – bowlers and hitters – seems like a no-brainer.