Clare Wright’s speech to launch Breaking the Mould: Taking a Hammer to Sexism in Sport by Ange Pippos.
Breaking the Mould: Taking a Hammer to Sexism in Sport
By Angela Pippos
Book Launch speech
MCG, 16 February 2017
Let me begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands on which we gather today, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging, whose sovereignty was never ceded. I also recognise that this has always been a place of celebration.
It’s a great honour and delight for me to have the not-very-onerous task of launching Ange’s book here today.
I first met Ange when we were both speakers and a Women and Republicanism luncheon hosted by the Australian Republican Movement a few years ago. I learnt then what many of you who have long been acquainted with Ange, either professionally or personally, already know: that Ange is a feisty, intelligent, deeply political animal. Don’t be fooled by those twinkling eyes and Hollywood smile: her bite is as fierce as her bark. I’m certainly glad I encountered her at a posh sit-down lunch and not on a netball court.
It took about half a glass of prosecco for Ange and I to realise that our mutual interests ran beyond progressive politics, and I’d like to think that Ange invited me to launch her book not because I’m a feminist historian but because I’m a footy wife and mum. I watched my husband of 28 years run out onto the ground in the EDFL and VFA, and both of my sons run out for the Fitzroy Juniors and now Seniors, and it’s a great pleasure for all of our family to watch my daughter prepare for her third season as a Roy Girl.
So it’s true to say that I’ve brought both an academic and an emotional perspective to reading Ange’s truly marvellous book. Some of you may have been lucky enough to read it already; for the rest of you, you’re in for a real treat.
Reading this book is like having a fabulously extended, engaging deep and meaningful conversation with Ange (the sort of conversations working mums never have, by the way). It will come as no surprise to you to learn that Ange leads from the front; no back-of-the-pack showmanship or crafty crumbing here.
We get the full force of Ange’s personality, experience and authority: her passion for Australian sport:
• her profound knowledge of its history, cast of characters and tangled relationship with the media and the market;
• her razor sharp analysis of its structural and cultural inequalities;
• her cracking wit — my god this woman is funny!
• and her genuine, heartfelt commitment to making a change — to breaking the mould that casts female sportspeople as inferior, secondary or just plain wrong.
And unlike many people, who have come late to the party, it’s clear that Ange knows exactly why change is so desperately needed. She has been thinking about it for an achingly long time.
Ange channels her inner nine-year old, a girl with “a rebellious heart”, as she puts it, a gutsy, energetic girl, and then teenager, and then woman, who loved nothing more than to hold a ball in her hand but was made to feel only shame or transgression for her desire.
(I can guarantee you that whatever ball jokes you might want to make now, Ange has already made them in the book, usually at the expense of some under-informed, over-entitled boofhead who wanted to tell her that there was no room for women in sport.)
Ange speaks on behalf of all those girls and women who know that playing sport makes them feel powerful and strong and free. She knows their misery and frustration when barriers — barriers that don’t exist for their brothers or husbands or sons — prevent them from reaching their full potential or following their dreams. And she sees the big picture: she knows that sport is political. She knows that overcoming cultural prejudices against women in sport requires leadership at both the grass roots and elite level. It requires male champions of change, for it is still overwhelmingly men who exert power and influence at the elite level. In Ange’s own words: “For things to change in sport, for it to become a more level playing field, it must start with strong voices speaking out against sexism and inequality”.
I want to finish up by acknowledging one thing; something that is implicit in Ange’s book, but that she is too humble — I won’t say modest, I suspect there’s not a modest bone in her tiny body, thank the lord — too humble to say outright.
Cliché alert folks: as a journalist, Ange does not just report the news, she makes it!
I want to thank Ange for a lifetime of activism. “Change requires acts of courage”, she writes at one point. Ange has had the courage to consistently, persistently, charmingly advocate for the rights of women and girls to showcase their talent at the highest level of sport. Ange documents many other women who have similarly campaigned — generally quietly, behind the scenes — so that my daughter can not only pull on the guernsey and footy boots like her brother before her, but also have visible role models for female sportspeople whose actions (not their looks or their bodies) are valued enough to be photographed, televised, commentated, analysed and applauded. You can’t be it unless you can see it.
Thank you for that Ange.
Thank you for the fact that when I went to the Carlton-Melbourne game at Princes Park last week, I saw a mum say to her young daughter after the match: “You could be a full forward one day, Ella”.
Thank you for the fact that Ella got to sit in a crowd and watch thousands of men and boys, as well as other women and girls, clap and cheer the 32 women slogging it out on the field.
Thank you for the fact that this book will be part of the process of change, so that, as you write, Ella’s “world will be bursting with possibilities” because “stop signs don’t exist there”.
Thank you for your big, brave rebellious heart.