Let’s Have Another Chat About the Perception of Women in Sport

So today I heard something that properly got my hackles up. I know what you’re thinking – “it doesn’t really take much does it?” I have a bit of a reputation of being loud and opinionated (and probably not always right) about matters that affect women so sometimes I worry I come across a bit “crying wolf-y”. But my officemate Lucy was bothered by it, and she is generally pretty laid back about things like this so that gives you some idea of just how bad it was. When she told me what had happened our conversation went something like this:

Me: silence – mouth open in shock

Lucy: “I know.”

Me: silence – mouth open wider in shock

Lucy: “I know.”

Me: “What. The. Actual.”

Lucy: “I KNOW.”

So let me show you what happened. The Cambridge University Women’s Rugby Football Club (CUWRFC) appeared on Heart Cambridge Radio this morning to talk about the Rugby World Cup. So far so good. Getting these amazing women out there into the public view is a great thing. But then “Kev” happened. Listen to the opening of his brilliantly professional interview:

I know right? In case you couldn’t hear him clearly he starts by saying – STARTS BY SAYING – the following:

“You don’t look like what I thought you’d look like. You’re all like really attractive, sort of fit girls”.

I’m actually finding it hard to organise my thoughts as I type this. In what universe is this an acceptable way to start an interview about sport? Can you imagine him speaking to the men’s team this way? “Oooh you’re all quite thin with lovely straight noses! How unexpected!” Of course he would never do that. And therein lies the problem. No matter what women achieve in sport – they thrashed Oxford 47-0 in their last Varsity Match by the way – how about doing your research and opening with that “Kev”? – they will still be judged by their appearance and patronised by those who should know better.

This is just a smaller scale – but no less important – version of what the England Lionesses experienced on their return from the Football World Cup. Tweet in point:

Patronising Lionesses Tweet

This awful, AWFUL tweet rightfully caused an uproar online. The idea that our incredible female footballers – their performance was the second best by an England team following the 1966 win by the men’s side – should be defined by the roles they perform for others rather than by their own achievements was so patronising as to verge on hysterical. Some even questioned whether the tweet was a joke. I think Jo Liptrott, someone my alter ego has followed on Twitter for a while, put it perfectly when she said “”Maybe they go back to having actual jobs & lives which DON’T revolve around them being subservient to other people???”

But if the official governing body of a sport is coming out with this junk, then surely we can’t be surprised when the local media does the same? The problem goes so much higher than some misguided DJ on a local station.

While a little bit of me was frustrated that CUWRFC didn’t pull “Kev” up on his dreadful comment, it’s easy for me to think of something to say in reply outside of the stresses of live radio. One of the players can be heard shouting “strong, strong” over the nervous laughter of the others, but I would have loved them to say “I don’t see how our appearance is in any way related to our sporting achievements.” I suspect “Kev” would have been more than a little flustered with a response like that.

And these are the responses we need to keep coming back with. We need to continue ridiculing patronising tweets and comments and to keep pulling people up when they behave like this.

I tweeted Heart Cambridge Radio and “Kev” about this earlier but unsurprisingly I didn’t hear back from either of them, but I didn’t really expect to either. I just hope that the next time they get a team of such incredible sportspeople in the studio, they’ll start off by talking about their achievements and their sport, rather than their appearances.

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3 thoughts on “Let’s Have Another Chat About the Perception of Women in Sport

  1. curiosetta says:

    > I’m actually finding it hard to organise my thoughts as I type this. In what universe is this an acceptable way to start an interview about sport?

    I’m not seeing what the problem is to be honest. Can you help me out? Rugby is still an unusual sport for women to play, even though it has gained in popularity recently. It’s also a rather brutal contact sport which often results in injuries including broken bones.

    The interviewer did not say women should not play rugby, or that he didn’t like women playing rugby or that women were in anyway at fault for playing rugby. He seemed genuinely welcoming, and pleased to have them in the studio.

    All he said was they didn’t look how he imagined they would look (shock horror!)

    I imagine he had a preconceived idea of what rugby players look like based on over a century of rugby history – and I think we all have the same basic image of a big burly bloke possibly with a crooked nose and a neck as wide as his head. He probably assumed girl rugby players would look like the female equivalent of their male counterparts – which is a logical assumption to make.

    But these girls looked the opposite of that. So he expressed surprise. He was being honest, sincere and candid. I am guessing he though these female rugby players could ‘handle’ such honesty, sincerity and candidness – even coming from a man such as himself! After all this is 2015 and not the 1800’s. Men are supposed to be allowed to speak candidly in front of women these days …. or perhaps you think not?

    Surely it would have been more insulting if he moderated his honest reaction, out of fear of upsetting the delicate sentiments of his female guests or female audience? ….perhaps out of some patriarchal urge to protect them from having to endure the harrowing spectacle of a man having his preconceptions shattered?

    Quick! – get the smelling salts! 😉

    Suppose we flipped the genders….. a female DJ interviews some male ballet dancers and remarks *in a perfectly friendly and chipper manner* how blokey, rugged and masculine (and heterosexual) they appear, and how this is at odds with her preconceptions that male ballet dancers were all effete, lithe, camp and gay (as many people do think, especially if they are not familiar with the art). Then some men listening are shocked and outraged by this, and after picking their jaws off the floor they write a blog post saying how offended they were and send a message of disapproval to the radio station.

    Would you not think that was a bit of an over reaction? A bit … you know…. ‘precious’?

    > Can you imagine him speaking to the men’s team this way? “Oooh you’re all quite thin with lovely straight noses! How unexpected!” Of course he would never do that.

    I think he would say exactly that IF the men’s rugby team actually were thin with lovely straight noses. That would come as a surprise to most people. This is because male rugby teams are usually full of men built like brick shithouses. It’s not unreasonable to assume women’s teams would be too…..

    > And therein lies the problem.

    There are people starving in Africa right now. And in this country male babies still have no legal right to genital integrity (the right to NOT have half their penis cut off and without anaesthetic). These are genuine problems. A radio DJ expressing genuine surprise at a bunch of women rugby players who don’t have typical rugby player physiques is not a problem. Let’s get some perspective here 🙂

    > No matter what women achieve in sport – they thrashed Oxford 47-0 in their last Varsity Match by the way – how about doing your research and opening with that “Kev”?

    A local radio interviewer’s job is to represent the eyes, ears an preconceptions of the audience so the audience can relate to what’s going on in the studio. His remarks represented what most ordinary ‘man/ woman on the street’ would think if they met the women at a bus stop and got chatting. That is also probably a reason why he said what he said out loud. He was ‘painting a picture’ for the audience, because that’s what you do when you work in RADIO.

    > they will still be judged by their appearance and patronised by those who should know better.

    He did not actually *judge* them on their appearance. He only remarked on their appearance and how it did not fit his idea of what a rugby player would look like. He did not say their appearance was good or bad, just unexpected.

    > This awful, AWFUL tweet rightfully caused an uproar online.

    Again I have to ask why? It’s a tacky soundbite which sounds like Alan Partridge could have said it – but sport has always been full of tacky soundbites (which is why we have Alan Partridge).

    > should be defined by the roles they perform for others

    Yes this is kind of like how Welsh male rugby players have always been called ‘miners’ because they tended to be miners in their daily lives, who mined coal and allowed everyone to enjoy the wonders of electricity. And without electricity, roads, engines, cars, tractors, indoor plumbing, central heating, telephones and other services provided by al the wonderful men in society women would not be half as empowered and financially independent as they are today. Men serve women, just as women serve men. Try living without cars, electricity, wifi, internet, roads, buildings, plumbing, non locally grown food, computers, mobile phones, fire fighters and garbage collectors and you’ll soon see how useful men are.

    Why should being a wife, mother or daughter be an insult or demeaning… unless you think being female is demeaning?

    Don’t get me wrong, the tweet DOES sound ridiculous, but it is no more ridiculous than the kinds of silly soundbites directed at men’s sports. Sporting commentators and spokespeople are *notorious* for saying stupid things, because their job is to ….er….. commentate ….but they are not poets, they are sports fanatics (often ex sportsmen and women).

    When they try to say something poignant and profound at the ed of a match or tournament they often end up saying something silly instead, like that tweet. But no harm is usually meant. Sport used to be *celebrated* for being GLORIOUSLY politically incorrect and un-intellectual, because it’s SPORT and it’s not supposed to be a Woody Allen film.

    Sport = poetry on the pitch … but morons when they open their mouths (think David Beckham).

    We used to not care… but then along came feminism and everyone started being triggered by everything and everyone started complaining that everything was ‘problematic’.

    > I think Jo Liptrott…. put it perfectly when she said “”Maybe they go back to having actual jobs & lives which DON’T revolve around them being subservient to other people???”

    OK so I actually find this genuinely offensive, and I’ll explain why. Rugby and football are basically training for war. Rugby is basically trench warfare. The muddy field is the trenches and your task is to advance into enemy lines and deliver the bomb (touchdown). It was traditionally taught to young boys over the centuries to prepare them for their role as soldiers – as cannon fodder. The teamwork, the strategy (battle plan), the captain (the officer in charge) and so on is all training for the way an army works.

    In the ‘patriarchy’ women were excused the ‘inconvenience’ of having to march off and be slaughtered in a hail of machine gun fire at the tender age of 18…. and shot if they refused to go ‘over the top’ to meet this fate.

    Like most traditional ‘patriarchal’ male activities (like working for a wage, joining the army, joining the fire service and playing male contact sports), women waited until the technology improved and the conditions became appealing enough, before deciding to roll up their sleeves and give it a go.

    It is offensive to imply that women’s traditional role of mother/ homemaker was in any way subservient, when it was always men who were obligated to work down mines, work out at sea, work out in the fields, work on construction sites, work in the shipyards and march off to wars …… all of which were dangerous, unpleasant, dirty, back breaking and often life threatening jobs. And men’s sacrifices in these traditionally male roles created the modern technologically advanced society we have today where a woman can earn a living and be financially independent without even getting her hands dirty.

    The traditional phrase “a woman’s place is in the kitchen” is (by definition) sexist, but the male equivalent is “a man’s place is down the coal mine, or on the battlefield” and I know where I’d rather be! Feminists suggest the restrictions placed on women (traditional gender roles) were a form of oppression, but the reality is they were a form of protection from the harsh realities of work outside the home at the time – most of which demanded manual labour of some kind. A kitchen might seem like a prison TODAY, but 50 or 100 or 400 years ago it was often the only safe, comfortable, warm and dry place in the local community.

    Even today 95% of workplace deaths are men because we still demand men perform the remaining manual labour jobs in society, while most women get to work in comfortable offices (or similar) where their job is usually to delegate *actual* work to people of a lower social status, typically men.

    We live in a society where ‘He for She’ is considered to be gender equality despite the fact that men have less legal rights than women. So who is really subservient to who?

    > The problem goes so much higher than some idiotic DJ on a local station.

    Calling him an idiot qualifies as ‘cyber violence’ according to feminists like Anita Sarkeesian (who a couple of days ago pushed for internet censorship – all in the name of protecting poor, weak women’s ‘feelings’ online) … except of course it doesn’t qualify as ‘cyber violence’ because you are insulting a man and that’s considered acceptable.

    The danger of promoting women as weak, delicate flowers who must be protected from the ‘rough talk’ of male DJ’s expressing honest opinions right in front of innocent ‘young gels’ is that it you are (probably without realising it) actually promoting a fundamentalist and traditionalist attitude towards women, which is really no different to the attitudes that resulted in the burka and driving ban for women in the middle east.

    This is the direction we are heading now in the west, thanks to feminism Safe spaces, manspreading, ban bossy, he for she……. these all define women as delicate flowers and child like angels who need to be protected from the harsh adult world of ‘opinions’, ‘stare rape’, and ‘graphic rape scenes in Shakespeare plays’ and even the sight of men sitting with their legs apart (swoon!).

    We are hurtling towards a society which (like the middle east) defines women as somewhere halfway between children and adults.

    What happened to defining women as ADULTS and as EQUAL to men, and therefore able to handle such things as ‘differing opinions’ or ‘online trolls’ or ‘adult subject matter’ without bursting into tears and running off to a safe space to play with play-do and watch videos of puppies? (no I am not making that up – these places now exist for adult students).

    When you define women as weak, fragile, innocent, precious and with delicate sensibilities who must be protected at all costs, just remember the saying…… “be careful what you wish for” (and study history!)

    > While a little bit of me was frustrated that CUWRFC didn’t pull “Kev” up on his dreadful comment, it’s easy for me to think of something to say in reply outside of the stresses of live radio.

    You still have not explained what he actually did wrong.

    > I would have loved them to say “I don’t see how our appearance is in any way related to our sporting achievements.”

    But he never said their appearance was related to their sporting achievements. He just said (words to the effect) that he was expecting a bunch of butch women, because they are RUGBY players, after all! Is it really that offensive or bizarre to associate the sport of rugby with people who have a stocky build?

    Are you really that offended by the concept that someone might have that logical association floating round in their mind when it comes to female rugby players, just as we all make that association when it comes to male rugby players? It is – after all – the same sport, is it not?

    > We need to continue ridiculing patronising tweets and comments ….

    While I think your freedom to do so should absolutely be respected (but won’t be for much longer if feminists get their way), I wonder if you have ever bothered to ridicule and complain about the same tacky and cringeworthy soundbites when they are directed at sportsmen, rather than sportswomen….. somehow I’m guessing not. If so, isn’t that in itself sexist?

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    • girlrunninglate says:

      Hi Curiosetta – thanks for spending so much time replying to my post. I’m not into censorship on my blog but neither do I want it to be a platform for people who will never agree to simply rant back and forth. But I will make a few points in reply.

      I’m afraid that whenever anyone tries the “what about the starving children in Africa?” argument I find it a tiny bit difficult to take them seriously. I’m capable of being angered/saddened/frustrated/incensed by many, many things. However, my blog is specifically about running, a bit about health and fitness, and with the odd opinion led piece about women’s sport thrown in. It isn’t a blog for everything that’s wrong with the world, no matter how strongly I may feel about them.

      If the tables were turned (your ballet dancer comment for example), I would definitely call up the female presenter on her lazy stereotyping. It does work both ways for me.

      Also, you say this is 2015, not the 1800s, but you do rely very heavily on the past to support your opinions.

      I do agree with you that using the phrase “idiot DJ” in a sentence was unfair, so I have changed my wording. You may want to do the same after calling David Beckham a moron.

      Ultimately I would just have liked to have seen the interview begin with “may I start by saying, congratulations on thrashing Oxford in your last Varsity Match”. That would have been brilliant.

      Liked by 1 person

      • curiosetta says:

        > I’m afraid that whenever anyone tries the “what about the starving children in Africa?” argument I find it a tiny bit difficult to take them seriously.

        It’s a valid argument. There are a million things more ‘problematic’ than the things feminists or social justice warriors and the like constantly fill the blogosphere and media with. Like I said, a couple of crazy feminists recently pushed for internet censorship at the UN and were actually taken seriously. This is because the internet is full of blog posts and comments like yours which constantly define women as weak, fragile, helpless ‘acted upon’ victims who cannot cope with normal everyday adult social interactions and feel constantly violated and therefore need to be treated like children. Soon society will be segregated again (this is already starting to happen), and the internet will be censored for adults, just as parents put blocks on internet for their young children. And eventually the west will be like the middle east / the 1800’s. There will be no women rugby teams because women will be deemed too fragile. Or maybe there will be but men won’t be allowed to attend. And they rules will be changed to make it non competitive. And so on …

        Also the reason WHY men still do not have the same legal rights as women (including my other example of male babies being denied the right to genital integrity) is because of this relentless and unfounded narrative about men being privileged and oppressive towards women. The ‘feelings’ of this small minority of women completely dominates the media and politics all the way up to the UN and prevents genuine issues from being addressed.

        This complete non-issue (the DJ said nothing offensive) is just another example of this cult of passive aggressive self victimisation which dragging western society back to the kind of patriarchal attitudes we just spent a century freeing ourselves from.

        > Also, you say this is 2015, not the 1800s, but you do rely very heavily on the past to support your opinions.

        Such as?

        > You may want to do the same after calling David Beckham a moron.

        That was fair in the context I gave. He is a moron academically, but a ‘poet’ on the pitch – which is what I said. Just as most professional poets are terrible at sports.

        I was not complaining about having hurt feelings because Beckham can’t say profound intellectual things in interviews. Nor was I accusing him of somehow disrespecting all women with the things he says in interviews.

        You accused the DJ of being some sort of male chauvinist, sexist, misogynist, patriarch or whatever. But there was nothing about his remarks which actually justify that kind of a label, as I explained already. He did not insult, belittle or objectify those women with his remarks. He made a remark that probably 90% of the public (men and women) would also make if they got chatting to those women at a bus stop.

        > Ultimately I would just have liked to have seen the interview begin with “may I start by saying, congratulations on thrashing Oxford in your last Varsity Match”. That would have been brilliant.

        And my point is that ‘gender equality’ means that when this doesn’t happen you shrug it off, instead of playing the role of wounded victim, expressing your upset for all to see, making false accusations against the man and then appealing for ‘something to be done’. to appease you.

        Like I said, “be careful what you wish for”. The reason why there are no women’s rugby teams in the middle east is because of this same narrative of women being fragile, sensitive, weak ‘acted upon’ victims who need to be protected from the harsh adult world around them. This results in limits being placed on those women for their own protection. THAT is the justification for all patriarchal gender roles for women. Protection, not oppression. When women collectively demand protection and to be treated more like children (weak, vulnerable, lacking agency) we end up with patriarchal gender roles….. and when women collectively agree to take responsibility for their own emotions, feelings, safety and place in society we end up with a more progressive society where women are treaded more like adults.

        Apart from defending this poor guy’s non-crime, my main point (and the reason why I bothered to reply at such length) is that I believe you are actually making a case for women’s freedoms to be limited, without realising it and without intending it either.

        Like

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