The kids are alright – and making sure everyone has boots

In the interest of avoiding further sleep disturbance, I have decided to stop listening to the more grating critics of women’s footy, because they are generally uninformed (and insist on staying that way) and seem to have a strange and murky underlying agenda which I haven’t quite figured out yet  – and because I prefer to put my time and emotional energy to better use.


I don’t mean those people (including many men) who are genuinely critiquing and describing the women’s game with good intent and a desire to see the game improve and grow – there have been several recent media articles and commentary where I may have disagreed with a premise or a case, but where the discussion was genuine, informed, and accompanied by buckets of goodwill – which is fantastic and very welcome.


What the not-so-constructive detractors of women’s footy are missing (and are struggling to hear over the sound of their own diatribe) are the whys and wherefores of the emergence of AFLW, and why it has had such an extraordinary impact in so many ways.  Its about these young people ‘doing and daring’ on game day – but it’s also important and valuable to know the context, the history, the striving and commitment that has made it happen, and the barriers that were knowingly erected to make it not happen for a painfully long time.


As a famed writer on play and sport said – “doing and daring are power, but knowing is magical power” (J Huizinga).  We should ‘know’, so as to do justice to those who together, and for decades, managed to continue to fashion their own holy grail out of whatever meagre resources they could muster – women are generally good at that. (My favourite story in Hess and Lenkic’s “Play On” is how a bunch of women in a country town years ago salvaged some PVC piping from the local plumber and turned it into a couple of wobbly goalposts that they could use at the local oval to practice shots at goal. Brilliant)


It’s a fascinating and enlightening story that has lessons and implications beyond football, and if we don’t have a little look at what happened, there is a risk that we will see it happening in other parts of our society, and for others with inspiring hopes and ambitions in their chosen field.


Having a constructive look at this may even benefit the children of the critics – they probably haven’t thought of that – if they have young daughters they should be delighted and relieved that there are such extraordinary characters visibly doing positive and courageous things with their lives, rather than sitting alone at home beholden to debilitating images on media screens of what the marketplace and culture designates as ‘femaleness’ or worthiness.  There are some wonderful generational lessons to be learnt, and I’m always grateful for any opportunity to be made aware of, better understand, and actively tackle, blind spots and barriers to the participation of any group in any activity or experience that is an assumed right for the rest of society.


As a person who lived through and participated actively in the ‘second feminist wave’ of the sixties and seventies, I’m now asking myself how it happened that I sat by naively and allowed the situation to perpetuate whereby half the population of this country weren’t allowed to play a particular sport.


My (not very good) excuse is that women’s footy was so totally invisible that I didn’t know it existed, and I also wasn’t aware of the issues of exclusion that women in that field were battling, with incredible persistence and determination for many years. It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that a friend took me to a local suburban women’s footy game, and I cried all the way home in the car because I realised that I had missed something in my life that would have been an enjoyable, positive, and wonderful experience – to both play the game (which I would have loved to do at any level in my younger days but didn’t know that you could), and then being part of a club and its supportive community later in life.


I’m making up for it in a small way now by contributing in all ways available to my limited skill set – including writing for this esteemed people’s organ; joining as a foundation member of the Crows and South Adelaide womens’ teams; telling anyone who wants to listen about the joy of seeing an emerging generation that are making us oldies look lazy, disengaged, and not-brave (bless you Florida kids); and yelling myself silly at every AFLW and SANFLW game that I can get to.


How was it that a particular demographic in our society (which in this case was half the population) were not allowed to play a particular sport? If it was decreed that Hindus, or indigenous people, or boys with red hair, or people who drive Fords, or live in an particular postcode, were not allowed to play hockey or badminton, or be doctors or nurses, for no reason other than their demographic profile – we would never let it happen, and there would be justifiable protests to human rights or equal opportunity agencies. So how was it that after the age of 12 (initially) young women were not allowed to play footy – and if somehow they did covertly establish teams, they would be battling for recognition, be excluded from access to playing grounds, facilities, and basic club resources, be perceived with hostility and derision, and be totally invisible in the media (as if they were some dangerous underground cult that should not be spoken of publicly for fear that young girls’ ears might fall off).


Why was it that in a generally inclusive, democratic society that prides itself on giving everyone a fair go, three high school girls had to take the footy authorities to the High Court of Australia (!) to be allowed to continue to play footy with the boys.  I’m sure they would have preferred to play in a female junior league, but of course there wasn’t one. How did this happen in 1990’s Australia?  I’m still trying to figure that out – and I want to figure it out cos I want to make sure that I’m not sitting by ignorantly while it happens to other groups in relation to other activities, whether that be access and participation in sport, in the arts, in politics, in business, in education, or any other function or sector in our society.


I’m not at all interested in some nasty retrospective finger-pointing exercise – in fact that would be a waste of precious energy that should now be spent developing, supporting, and promoting the women’s game, but it would be valuable at some stage to have a look at what happened and why, so that we can make sure it doesn’t happen again, elsewhere. Perhaps, as a starting point to the conversation, someone with goodwill will put his hand up and say ‘hey I was one of the guys in authority who kept saying no, here’s why, and here’s how we could prevent that occurring in the future’.


I haven’t heard any accountability at this stage, but maybe that will come down the track.  In the meantime it is very galling to hear the responsibility for that lost time (implicit in the lesser skills development) being slated back to the current AFLW players, rather than to those who were responsible for that lag and its inevitable consequences. Its like banning a smart and enthusiastic kid from attending school for a few years (for no reason) and then blaming the kid because their writing skills are a bit underdone.


Its not the AFLW players’ fault that they haven’t being playing footy all their lives like boys do – but what’s been exhilarating to see is that rather than sitting around grumbling, they and their colleagues and support staff are working their guts out to improve their skills under immense pressure and scrutiny, and as quickly as is possible in a quasi-professional and under-resourced environment where there aren’t enough hours in the day. And they’re doing it with lots of laughter, honesty, wit, and shoulder-to-shoulder camaraderie – very laudable Australian traits that we glorify when its men involved.


They are a great example of an amazing generation which we should be celebrating for their guts and spirit, not groaning at in hooded judgement if they don’t always land a handball cleanly.  Instead, target that ire and criticism (if you must) at those who’s uninformed prejudice halted the development, evolution, and expansion of women’s footy for decades – and if we care about an equal opportunity and just society (which I’m sure we all do) let’s make an effort to get some idea of what went wrong in this instance and make sure those types of barriers, attitudes, or policies aren’t allowed to hold people back in the future – in any field of work or play, and for any sector of our community.


A hero of mine, the singer Jessye Norman, once said …  “Everyone in society should have to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps – but first we have to make sure that everyone has boots”.


In other words, the role of a sound civil society is to provide all our kids with the basic public resources, pathways, and opportunities to get started in life on an equal footing, irrespective of which demographic category they may be a part of – and then they can take it from there as individuals, depending on their particular interests, ambitions, capabilities, or character.


Women’s footy is a microcosm reflecting a thousand issues and challenges happening in the world around us – the kids have something to tell us, and in the case of footy, they are saying it with their actions and their optimism.  If you naysayers stop grumbling and have a listen, you might learn something extraordinary from them.


I have.




  1. Kasey Symons says

    This is such a great article Verity, honest and open as well as clear observations about the women’s footy landscape. That quote from Jessye Norman is so on point. If we think just because AFLW is here, equality has been achieved, we are misguided. We have not given women the same resources or respect and we have a long, long way to go to balance the scales.

    Great writing.

  2. Yvette Wroby says

    Thank you Verity. Perfect reflection of what’s been churning in my soul. Well said. Thank you for being so elequent and comprehensive and strong. Look forward to shouting you a thank you drink!

  3. Great sentiments, Verity.

    Oh, if only our feminist mantras of the 60s and 70s had changed the world of today, we’d have no need to pour forth the inequalities that still exist in so many fields of endeavour!

  4. Brilliant piece; thank you for penning it Verity. Stoked to read how involved you’ve been with both AFLW and the SANFLW in their short lives. Best of luck to your Panthers, slightly less than the best of luck to the Crows (hoping my Lions can go one better this year!)

  5. John Butler says

    Great piece, Verity.

    A splendid question that: why indeed did the exclusion of half the population from a major sport arouse so little questioning? Any conceivable range of answers would take us into an examination of the ways we often fail to live up to our espoused values.

    But it’s much more fun watching the women of AFLW punt all that old stuff into increasing irrelevancy.


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