Stereotypes about the differences between boys and girls are reinforced during PE lessons. Football-crazy girls quickly learn that they are less entitled to participate actively in the sport than their male classmates.
Laura Hills, social scientist at Durham university, found that although girls enthusiastically followed the World Cup on television, their attitude to playing was mixed. Many saw football as a PE activity for boys only.
She observed PE lessons involving 12 and 13-year-olds at a northern inner-city comprehensive, then interviewed the girls. Ameela said: "I'm not that keen on football. Boys tend to get football and girls tend to get netball."
Classmate Amy said: "I used to play football all the time, but it started getting kind of sexist, 'girls can't play football' and all of that."
Several girls felt that this gender divide revealed PE teachers' lack of confidence in their ability. Often, this was consolidated by boys'
condescending attitude towards football-playing girls. Lucy said: "No girl really wants to do sports. Because boys think girls shouldn't do it."
Many girls had played football in their spare time while at primary school.
By secondary school, this was felt to be no longer appropriate.
The artificial divide between boys' and girls' sports helped to intensify girls' lack of interest in PE. Hiding an interest in sport became an integral part of the girls' effort to present an image of femininity, and of female physicality that they saw as appropriate. Shamura said: "Girls like shopping, boys like football."
Ms Hills' report says girls should be offered PE lessons that focus on their strengths, rather than reinforcing social stereotypes. It says:
"Physical education represents a key site for exploring girls' negotiations of the relationship between gender and physicality. Physical educators have a role to play in creating curricula that allow girls to experience success."
"Playing the Field", Gender and Education, Volume 18 and Number 5