French satire magazine targets women's soccer during World Cup

June 13 (Reuters) - Taking aim at women’s soccer and gender equality, France’s best known satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has caused a social media storm with its latest provocative cover cartoon, which depicts the female genitalia with a football in it.

Captioned “we’re going to eat it up this month”, some branded the cover insulting to women just as France hosts the World Cup and women’s soccer strives to put an end to gender discrimination in the sport. Others defended freedom of expression.

In the U.S. team’s camp, the initial reaction was one of surprise.

“Yikes!” exclaimed U.S. midfielder Samantha Mewis, pausing to look at the skin-colored cover. “It’s obviously not the kind of news that we would have wanted to see,” she told Reuters, struggling like many to interpret the cover’s message.

“I hope that through our play, people can kind of catch up to the times and understand that what we’re doing is awesome, and that we deserve a lot of respect.”

The magazine regularly divides opinion in France and beyond. In January 2015, a cover featuring a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad was hailed as art by defenders and a provocation by critics. Another cover in 2016 depicting an earthquake in Italy and a plate of lasagna was criticised by some as tasteless.

The latest edition hit newspaper kiosks on Wednesday.

“I consider myself a feminist and I think it’s important to be able to laugh at yourself,” passerby Odile said in Paris.

“It’s too much, it’s not subtle but it’s Charlie, it’s always that way but sometimes it’s nice to be able to laugh on something that’s not exactly subtle.”

In an editorial disparaging of the commercialisation of the modern game and at times abstract, the magazine said: “Equality has become the religion of modern time”, before adding: “But there is a multitude of people advocating the right to “differences”. How can we claim to live in an absolutely egalitarian world and at the same time defend our “differences?”

The office of France’s gender equality minister, Marlene Schiappa, did not respond to a request for comment. The organisers of the women’s World Cup declined to comment. (Reporting by Rachel Joyner; additional reporting by Reuters Television; editing by Richard Lough and Marie-Louise Gumuchian)