It’s a curious time to be British, even if we can’t agree of anything else surely we can agree on that. But heyho, sport will bring us together. And look England are playing Iceland, and for the amount we pay Wayne Rooney each week we can give almost the entire population of Iceland one pound each. Oh wait….
It’s not just that last night’s football was a disaster that’s getting my goat, it’s that it was all so male. The commentators, the players obviously, the male sentimentality of it all. I can’t help imagining the whole of the news over the last few months replayed with women instead of men as the main protagonists – how soon we would start talking about gender problems, why women just can’t manage the big problems of the world, they’re too emotional, look at them weeping over a game…
But back to sport. That’s the thing that brings us together. Now if I was writing as a journalist, I would be getting quotes, finding research etc etc, but this is a rant. A rant as a sports fan, a mother, and yes, a woman. Because at the moment professional sport doesn’t bring us together, it brings men together and keeps women on the outside unless of course they join in and become ‘good sports’. Whereas everybody knows we are bad sports. We don’t deserve to be paid as much as men – even when we’re competing in the same tournaments – or to be given the same airtime, or the same personal respect.
It happens early. I saw it with my children – my son, a good rugby player was taken on tours to America, Canada, Scotland, given special privileges at school for being in the top team, recognised by teachers etc etc. My daughter, a good cross country runner, was told that she should keep running because it gave her a great figure, was not allowed to join the school’s cross country tour to Spain because it was traditionally for boys and her going would mean the expense of an extra woman teacher even though she was a better runner than many of the boys going. Oh how I wish I’d kicked up more of a stink about that, but she begged me not to.
See, that’s what we do too often as women. We don’t kick up a stink because we know there are ‘consequences’.
So we buy newspapers every day, especially at the weekend, where the ‘Sport’ section is actually ‘Men’s Sport’ – and where very often the only photographs or mentions of women are the reporters. And we don’t say anything. This has consequences – such as a senior BBC sports commentator not realising until too late he was doing anything wrong when he made sexist remarks about the appearance of a top woman professional tennis player, or women not realising they could do boxing or rowing until we saw women do it in the Olympics with their whole hearts and bodies, and oh, it might not have been pretty but it was inspiring.
I was a keen sprinter at school but then overnight I did what was called then ‘developing’. When I ran in races, the boys would stand on the sidelines ‘appreciating my developing’ until I got self-conscious and started worrying about how I was looking. Consequently I began losing and eventually stopped. Although I loved running, loved the feeling of forcing my body to run so fast that my mind went blank and my legs took over. I loved the competition side too, not just the winning, but having other girls beside me also running their hearts out. And us all laughing afterwards because the adrenalin was still taking us over.
Bloody boys, I think when I look back. WHO WERE THEY to bring me down so quickly just because I had breasts. I didn’t stand on the side of rugby matches and shout comments about their penises. Or that they didn’t deserve to be on the pitch because they were ugly. Or tell them in corners afterwards that I was seriously worried that if they continued training, then they might grow muscly and therefore unattractive. That I was only telling them this was for their own good and besides, all that hearty stuff was, well, a bit unattractively unmasculine, wasn’t it?
But hey ho sport brings us together.
So what can we do? Back to the Olympics, and I’m imagining the sheer horror there would have been if they decided not to show any of Jessica Ennis’s races because ‘advertisers weren’t interested’.
Is it because men are better at sport that we see so much of them, or is it because we see so much of them that we become brainwashed to believe that men’s sport is best? Here’s what I think we can do…
* Let’s stop pretending it’s a level playing field, and that women just aren’t as interested in sport as men. Would men feel as entitled to live for sport if all they saw, day after day, year after year, was women playing?
*Let’s demand to see more women’s sport in our newspapers and on television.
*Let’s not praise the BBC every time they mention ‘women’s cricket’ or ‘women’s football’ in passing but write in asking for news EVERY TIME our national teams are playing.
* Let’s make it easy to go and watch women playing by giving full match details in advance, just as the men’s matches get.
* Let’s learn to praise girls and women for their skills not their appearance, and then maybe we won’t need official surveys into why women aren’t playing sport any more.
And then maybe sport really will bring us together.