Football Under Cover (and Uncovered)

In a given nation, is gender equity in women’s sports a good measure of women’s status in general?

On Monday, Here on Earth‘s Jean Feraca interviewed brother and sister David and Marlene Assmann, who together created the film Football Under Cover (Marlene produced, and David co-directed with his filmmaking partner Ayat Najafi). The film documents their efforts to arrange a soccer game between Marlene’s German team and the Iranian National Women’s Team, as well as all the stumbling blocks they encountered along the way.

Jean Feraca hosts Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders on WPR

Jean Feraca hosts Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders on WPR

The historic meet-up finally took place in April 2006–about a year after planning began–on Iranian turf and under Iranian terms. In part, that meant both teams were clothed from head to toe, and no males were allowed to observe the game. (David Assmann and Ayat Najafi had to wait outside.) Also, the filmmakers had to agree not to screen the film in Iran.

Through the process, David Assmann observed: “I have the feeling that [Iranian] men kind of tend to settle for their little private freedom that they are granted–but the women are actually very strong and pushing their boundaries non-stop. So that’s where the change in Iran is coming from.”

Brother and sister alike voiced their admiration for the strength of the Iranian athletes–and Marlene Assmann added that soccer has been an empowering force in her life, too: “It can give you respect from other players and also, for example, from men because you can prove easily you can do something and also … try to be more brave on the football field and then put it in your social life …”

American women enjoy enormous freedoms that have been denied to Iranian women, but as some Here on Earth listeners who called in Monday pointed out, we still have a ways to go. While listening to the program, I couldn’t help musing that in the U.S., such an expose might be called American Football Uncovered–in reference to the women allowed closest to our football fields, cheerleaders.

This Inside Islam broadcast, along with others, is a collaboration between UW-Madison and Wisconsin Public Radio. Inside Islam is a new media initiative that challenges preconceptions about Muslims and Islamic faith around the world. The series regularly runs on WPR’s Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders program, hosted weekday afternoons by Jean Feraca. You can listen to broadcasts you missed online or see what Jean has lined up for the coming week at www.wpr.org/hereonearth/.

This year, the Wisconsin Film Festival will host a companion series of Inside Islam films. Football Under Cover is on the roster (Friday at 5:00 p.m. at Madison’s Orpheum Theatre), and David Assmann is slated to appear. The 2009 Wisconsin Film Festival will screen 199 films around Madison, April 2 (today!) through April 5.

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