A Sports Writer’s Pre-season: trying to be a better advocate for women in sport

Today is the day.

 

Football is finally back after long off-season (considerably longer if you don’t follow VFLW) and the excitement in the air is palpable.

 

Last night on my evening stroll around Royal Park, I could smell it. The freshly cut grass, the sweat of the AFL umpires training around the park, running their sprints with cheetah-like speed and executing their manoeuvres like graceful gazelles.

 

Junior football teams were training and it wasn’t until I got close to their groups that I realised they were youth girls football teams and I smiled thinking of the future of women’s football. Yet I needed to chastise myself for still assuming that when I see a pack of people playing with the Sherrin that they’re male.

 

It’s these assumptions that are making me consider my approach to the second season of AFLW. As the teams have been sweating it out through the summer, I have been thinking about how I can be a better participant in the outer.

 

While I thoroughly enjoyed the inaugural season and riding the raw emotions that came along with seeing women realise their once impossible dreams by playing football in an AFL-run competition, I also felt like I was a little on the outside. I’d never played football or had wanted to and my team didn’t have a women’s side for me to barrack for.

 

Writing about the game brought me into it in the end which was wonderful and gave me a sense of purpose but I still felt like I didn’t do the game justice, I was still an outsider writing on something I didn’t really understand do this season I want to do better.

 

There are two small things that I’ve promised myself to do this season to be a better supporter, contributor and advocate for women’s sport:

 

 

‘Girls’ Interrupted

 

I’m going to consciously not to use the term ‘girls’.

 

In an article titled, ‘Who run the world? What not to call women in sport’, women’s sports advocate, Danielle Warby rules the term out of the discourse unless you were/are part of the team and I have taken the position to agree with her.

 

You might argue that we all say ‘boys’ in regards to men’s sports and I used to think it was ok to say ‘girls’ because of this too, but as Warby posits, the terms are not equally weighted.

 

She says, ‘When you’re talking about the ‘boys’ it’s as one of the boys. You imagine yourself to be one of them, in the boys club. It’s part of the ‘locker room banter’ and you might even go down the pub later and have a beer with the boys. That’s not the sentiment that is conveyed with ‘girls’.

 

When you call elite female athletes ‘girls’, you can almost hear the unspoken ‘little’ in front of it.’

 

This contributes to the infantilising of women in a professional environment. It’s a pat on the back, a ‘good try’. It doesn’t give the respect elite athletes deserve.

 

Some may see this as being too politically correct or over the top but language is powerful and until we have equality of the sexes, the terms we use to address gender now are extremely important.

 

 

Sisters in Arms

 

As I stated, I’m not athlete and I never wanted to be. I wasn’t told to put on a dress and play with dolls rather than kicking the footy around the park. I always wanted to be a sports writer, and the fact that now that’s what I’m doing and I can write about women playing sport is incredibly special to me.

 

While I have never been held back in the sense of being a professional athlete, I have, and have seen others held back in the sports writing, publishing and broadcasting space. Their opinions have been questioned, their sports knowledge deemed irrelevant for not having played the game and voices criticised for being high pitched, whiny and annoying.

 

Women are slowly being given more opportunities to cover sports but it is still not enough and if I want my writing to be read and respected in this space, I need to read and support other women who are also working in a still very male dominated sports media. So every time I hear myself say, ‘I’ll read that later’ or ‘I’m sure that says the same thing as the article I just read’ I will push myself to read on if it’s written by a woman.

 

 

I’ll keep trying to be a good supporter and I’m sure there’s more that I will learn along the way but for now, If I can stick to these little self-promises, I’ll hopefully keep learning and becoming the women in sport advocate I want to be.

 

 

Bring on the season.

 

 

Revisit last season in The Women’s Footy Almanac 2017.

 

Sign up for our 2018 Women’s Footy Tipping contest and be in the running for some great prizes.

 

Want to get involved and write for us during the season – contact us HERE.

 

 

About Kasey Symons

Kasey Symons is the Women's Football Editor here at The Footy Almanac. She is also a PhD Candidate at Victoria University where her research is focused on gendered issues in sports cultures (primarily AFL) at a fan level. Kasey is a born and raised Victorian who barracks for the West Coast Eagles and yes, she knows that is weird.

Comments

  1. E.regnans says:

    G’day Kasey.
    Thanks for your thoughtful writing.
    It has me questioning myself (always a good thing).
    Things are changing, but they *don’t* change by themselves. We imagine a future and agitate to get there.
    Keep going.
    Love your work.

  2. Andrew Fithall says:

    Hi Kasey

    The non-use of “girls” is an interesting topic. I agree entirely with your approach. I was on-line scribe for the Women’s U/19 lacrosse Australian world championships team in Edinburgh 2015 and adopted this same rule for the match reports. “Young women” seemed much more appropriate. The participants can freely refer to themselves and their team mates as girls. That doesn’t mean we observers have the same right.

    AF

  3. Yvette Wroby says:

    Thanks Kasey,
    very thoughtful and I will follow your lead. Important to be and feel grown up as writers too. See you TONIGHT!

    Yvette

  4. Dave Brown says:

    Yep, very interesting Kasey, 100% with you on the girls point. If I was to list my top 10 favourite sports writers (it’s too hard so I’m not going to do it), with the exception of Jeff Pash, I doubt any of them would have experience playing at the highest level. But the frequency with which it is thrown up as a barrier to women is galling (and as far as I can tell the ‘annoying voice’ argument is a somewhat politer way of saying ‘I am unused to and do not like to listen to women speak’).

    Looking forward to reading more of your writing this year.

  5. Jan Courtin says:

    Hi Kasey
    I recall, very clearly, in the 70s in London, having this very same discourse; We in the Women’s Movement at the time constantly fought a never endiing battle over the term “girls”.

    No much has changed!

    Good luck

  6. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Brilliant work Kasey,
    You are becoming a definer. And that will help make a world of difference.
    Not sure about following the Eagles though…

  7. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    This on Sunday night … after R1.
    Kasey, what do we do with the fact that in all their post-match interviews, the players refer to themselves as ‘girls’ in the same way the male players refer to themselves as ‘boys’? Or perhaps they refer to their collectivity as ‘girls’. ‘Was great to see the girls dig in’ etc. Perhaps it’s like many a slow revolution in which semantics plays a vital role … how they refer to themselves is different to how us observer refer to them. There is a difference between being on the inner and outer. The point of difference being the gulf to cross … Very interesting stuff.

  8. Kasey Symons says:

    Hi Mathilde – thanks for the comment. It’s such a tricky thing. I think that the players refer to themselves and each other as ‘girls’ is completely fine. They are part of something, a team and they have their own language that means something completely different to them in that environment. As Danielle wrote in the article I referenced, this is something we, as spectators or commentators aren’t privy , it means something different when we say it.
    I used to use the reasoning that the players call each other ‘girls’ so I should be able to as well but I think what Danielle says makes sense so I’m going to try my best to stop saying it.

  9. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says:

    Absolutely agreed, Kasey.
    Which then invites the thought that perhaps we should think about whether the same approach to the boys/men might be worth considering in the conversation. I’m not sure I entirely agree with Danielle on ‘the boys’. Shouldn’t the simple, apparently less complicated permissibility of the crossover between ‘the boys’ as players themselves and as those who relate to or write about players as spectators be part of the discussion?
    I always feel strange referring to the male players as ‘boys’. (Is that because I’m a woman!?) If I do it it’s always in inverted commas. I find it hard even referring to my 13 year old son and his friends as boys now!! They are definitely young men. And I often hear or feel the silent ‘little’ at the front of ‘boys’ as well as ‘girls’. Which I think carries a similar infantilising, but with a different effect. If girls are denied respect by infantilising perhaps boys are gifted all sorts of permissions by infantilising. I do find these conversations about language very invigorating! Thank you.

  10. Kasey Symons says:

    Exactly Mathilde – discussions about the significance and impact of language is so important in this space. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments and keeping the dialogue going – I also find it invigorating!

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