The African Cup of Nations is well under way with the continent’s sports fans waiting on bated breath to see who will emerge as the best in African football. This, along with the 2010 FIFA World Cup around the corner, football fever is surely on the rise. Oh, but wait, if you’re a woman just be careful not to get ahead of yourself at these sporting contests - it seems there is just a certain amount of enthusiasm society can accept from a woman...

Recent passion for the game shown by Ana dos Santos, the First Lady of Angola,  during her country’s match against Mali set many tongues wagging – including my friend Rita. Rita agrees with the so-called "etiquette experts", who lashed out against the buoyant expression of enthusiasm portrayed by a woman of such stature.

They say the First Lady disgraced herself by showing too much excitement, jumping up from her seat to cheer her national’s team’s goals.  After four goals, Rita says she lost all respect for Ana do Santos, who lacked etiquette as a woman in her position - the President’s wife.

How damning! So what is wrong with this picture?

Apparently, too much zeal is unacceptable, especially for women holding positions of high authority, such as dos Santos. Commenting in the media, the custodians of “politeness” deemed her behaviour out of order. Evidently, the First Lady needs to be aware of what the etiquette and image coaches refer to as “image stereotypes.” With media and photographers around high level people, one needs to behave accordingly, or so they say.

Mixed messages?
As we all know, men usually shout loudly, throw objects to the opposing team’s supporters,  and yell in the ear of the person sitting next to them. When a goal is scored by their team, some men even jump up and down, yell, and even kiss and hug each in celebration.

In some cases, men are even known to take off their shirts, waving them in the air. I know this because I have seen it on television and even at my first live soccer experience. I, myself was a bit offended that the man sitting next to me removed his shirt when a goal was scored.

But that is fine... I guess it is all part of the game? It seems, however, that “dignified” women should not be doing any of this, whether it's  shirt waving or jumping in celebration - especially if they are considered to be of a certain status.

What in the world is this gender discrimination?
Did the First Lady rip her dress or skirt off and wave it above her head? (If so, accidents happen and I am sure the Angolan government can at least afford another outfit, but no, that did not happen).

I guess some women watching felt let down? But what is this supposedly poor impression she gave? Can't a woman show a bit of excitement, like anyone else, without labels of judgement hurled in her direction?! 

We all watched the inauguration of South African President Jacob Zuma when he danced and jumped with Solly Muhloli and his gospel group... Where are these deportment gurus when he dances? No noise is made about the lack of grace there.

And, these expectations of women and girls as pretty, polite and poised are not just limited to the politically famous.  For example, boys can throw stones at girls and girls need not retaliate by returning fire.

Not lady-like
Society dictates that girls must talk sense to the boys or lie low in a foetal position looking vulnerable. At some point one of the boys will hopefully get sense in his head and rescue the girls, keeping the girls’ images clean from any accusations of rowdy behaviour.

I guess women are not supposed to have too much fun. Rita even says it is not lady-like to laugh out loud, especially if people actually get to see your epiglottis.

She adds that people can actually tell the size of your vagina by how wide one opens their mouth when they laugh. This is unreal, and now it makes sense as she often sucks her lips in when she laughs or covers her mouth.

Really, what standards do all the etiquette coaches, Rita included, want for women? I am sure Rita will be furious when she reads this, but it is often fellow women who cruelly undermine other women for the sake of poise and refinement. This truly perpetuates the stereotypes of how women should behave.

Why not let people enjoy the games and dance as they wish, jump up and cheer on a goal of their favourite team? Maybe Rita and the etiquette coaches should laugh out loud every once and a while, it might do them some good.

Glenda Muzenda-Raftopoulos is the Care Work Coordinator working with Gender and Media Southern Africa. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.

Do you agree with the author's friend, Rita? Should women act with more dignity and poise? Share your thoughts in the box below.