This article was first written for and published by The Roar.
On Sunday afternoon, Daily Life published an article by Kasey Edwards entitled ‘Why I don’t want my daughter to be a footy fan‘, which painted a bleak future for women in sport.
The story points out the barriers and problems facing female participation in sport, but puts forward no suggestions for change, and completely dismisses the progress that has been made.
I have been a passionate rugby league supporter since age eight. Growing up in a home with a dad and two brothers who loved rugby league – and more specifically, the Parramatta Eels – I started to learn the names of the players and the rules. Once I adopted the Eels as my team, it was all over.
Almost 20 years later and my passion for rugby league and sport continues, although now I am also passionate about encouraging women to be involved in all aspects of the rugby league family.
Whether that be following in the footsteps of my friend Michelle Kelly, who has been heavily involved in junior rugby league for decades, Belinda Sleeman, who made her debut as a touch judge in 2015, Yvonne Sampson, who provides eloquent and insightful match-day commentary, or Raelene Castle, leading the Canterbury Bulldogs as CEO, I want women and girls to know that they are welcome in rugby league.
Edwards’ article was written after her six-year-old daughter announced that she wanted to watch AFL. Edwards said her response was “horror” at her daughter wanting to be involved in “the pinnacle of Australia’s glorification of all things male”.
She then set out a number of problems facing the AFL (which also face every other sporting code), such as elite sportswomen still not being recognised at the same level as men, issues surrounding sexual assault and domestic violence, and sexist reactions (I note from men and women) when women like Rebecca Maddern participate in conversations about sport.
I cannot pretend that these problems don’t exist. But sport does not exist in a vacuum, and the problems Edwards outlines are prevalent in broader society as well.
Protection is fundamental to the care that parents provide their children, and perhaps Edwards’ suggested course of action, withdrawal, is her attempt to shield her daughter. But shouldn’t Edwards therefore suggest that her daughter also withdraw from society, a much larger arena where sexism, violence and inequality still exist?
Instead of encouraging her daughter to withdraw, she ought to let her daughter get involved. It is only though increased interest and participation by women and girls that we can continue to work towards greater equality in sport. And it’s already happening.
Just last week, Cricket Australia announced a pay increase for its female cricketers, doubling its commitment from $2.36 million to $4.23 million, meaning that Australia’s top cricketers will be the best paid out of any women’s sport in Australia. This is off the back of a very successful performance by the Southern Stars at the World T20.
Then there are the Matildas, who the Australian public cannot stop talking about following their sensational qualification for Rio. The Aussie women’s team has just won their third leg in a row at the rugby sevens. The AFL has announced that a women’s league will kick-off in 2017.
Despite shorter seasons, debate about player pay, and a lot of the detail to be finalised, we are moving forward.
Young girls are now able to look up and see that pathways do exist for them to be involved in sport, in a variety of different ways.
According to Edwards, the role of women in sport is often downplayed. So instead of contributing to this narrative that paints women as outsiders, join us and weave a new narrative.
Help us to highlight the contribution that women make at all levels of the game. Shine a spotlight on female leaders like Marina Go, Peggy O’Neal, Holly Ransom and Moya Dodd.
By withdrawing we give up – declaring sport to be an arena for men – and we have made far too much progress for this to be the case.
Sport gives me too much joy to step back and say that the only place for women is on the sidelines: as supports to men and boys, to stroke their egos, and to be objectified as WAGs – this has certainly not been my experience.
I urge all of you to encourage your daughters to take part in our sports. We need them, because our sports can’t continue to grow without them.
Ladies who League xxx