I’LL admit I’ve always wondered what it would be like to grow a beard. As a woman with natural follicular talent, I’d always assumed if I’d been born a guy, that I’d be rocking a particularly majestic plumage right now. While I thought it’d look great, I’ve never really experienced the social benefits of looking that manly. Sure, in my short-back-and-sides days, I got the odd “sir” from behind, but I never imagined the possibilities a little hirsutism might offer …

Yesterday I made the mistake of stepping out of my lane. It was my bad, really. I’d assumed that as a woman, I would be allowed to watch the Fifa Women’s World Cup and talk about it on Twitter – the World Cup that plenty of blokes had taken great delight in decrying as rubbish over the previous weeks. So I thought we might have it to ourselves. Wrong again. After tweeting during the England v Cameroon game, and talking about some unpleasant racial stereotypes appearing in the commentary, I enjoyed the spectacle of wound-up lager louts having digital paroxysms in my feed.

Oh, there was the usual laughing at a woman talking about sport – a men’s sport – and I can’t really fault them for losing it. In their circles, I’m a dog on my hind legs claiming to understand the contest of competitive sport. There were the inevitable quote tweets about me not knowing the offside rule, or understanding how VAR works, and the free-form apoplexy of laughter and emojis understandable to no-one. And of course, the sea-lions who appeared to politely enquire as to which team I support. The Gordon Ramsey gif with “you stupid fucking bitch” underneath it was a highlight.

Anyway, back to beards. Since eight hours of sleep had not quelled the bloodlust of the angry mob, I thought I’d try something. The tweets were being transmitted at such a rate they were visible far beyond anyone who actually reads my work, or crucially, knows I’m actually a woman. Given how often my gender ambiguous name prompts a “Dear Mr LeClerc”, I decided a little impromptu social science couldn’t hurt. With the help of a ponytail, a Snapchat filter, and a strategic “Call of Duty” Twitter banner, I presented myself to the Twitterverse as a bloke. Would it make a difference?

Reader, I would laugh it if wasn’t so utterly depressing. The change in the tone was instant. Instant. There were still plenty who disagreed with my comments – but all traces of sexism evaporated. What surprised me most was how even those who were vehemently opposed to my initial tweets were perfectly reasonable when engaged in further chat, unlike any of those from the night before. Literally, the first exchange after I changed my pic to bloke-Vonny went like this:

Mark: “It was serious and says more about you than anything else. Utterly bizarre.”

Me: “I think it says more about your understanding of structural racism, Mark.”

Mark: “That’s fair enough, and I appreciate your calm and sensible reply. We’ll agree to disagree. Take care.”

Umm, what? Is it really that easy? Just grow an AI beard and be taken seriously when talking about subjects men think are theirs? Come on guys, at least pretend the sexism isn’t that blatant.

This is but one example of the very strange and yet devastatingly predictable turn my mentions took. Some general disagreement, the odd expletive, and lots of “I respect your opinion” type chat. Even when there was a quarrel over my stance, it was engaged with until both parties had some sort of resolution. A far cry from a sentient Arsenal Badge calling me a slag last night.

What’s blatantly obvious from this (extremely non-scientific) experiment is that there is still a massive problem with gatekeeping around things like football. There are still some men who feel the need to patrol and control access to a particular subject or community. To be taken seriously, you have to have to pass a purity test, whether that’s being able to demonstrate knowledge, or “true” fandom by some arbitrary and ill-defined measure. Or you know, just put on a beard and pretend you are a guy. They will then assume you know what you’re talking about.

Despite this being a women’s game, played by women, you would think that women would be allowed to have an opinion on what they see – yet there are still those who take it upon themselves to patrol the border of an activity that doesn’t need patrolling.

So what if I was a new fan? So what if I’d never watched a game in my life? It shouldn’t matter. But gatekeepers create an environment hostile to learning, that means you can’t be admitted unless you can already demonstrate the knowledge you would only get from being “in” the club in the first place. It’s elitism that intersects with sexism to keep things the preserve of a particular gender.

I’ve encountered it when writing about tech. I’ve come up against it when gaming. I’ve been given more pop quizzes to verify the extent of my Star Trek fandom than I can count. It’s no surprise to me that the same dismissiveness is being used to keep women from fully enjoying their own World Cup.

All in, it’s been a much more pleasant day online. Maybe I’ll keep the new profile picture up longer. I just wish it wasn’t the easy shortcut to a civil conversation it is.