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Being an AFL fan can be tough if you're a woman. But is that reason enough to deny your daughters the game they love?
Erin Riley

12 Apr 2016 - 8:58 AM  UPDATED 12 Apr 2016 - 9:02 AM

Yesterday, Kasey Edwards posted an article on Daily Life about why she doesn’t want her daughter to be a football fan.

She describes some of the many ways women are discriminated against in football, on and off the field, and concludes it is beyond her daughter to make positive change in football and that the best way for women to enact change in the AFL is to withdraw their support.

I can understand her point of view.

Being a female Australian Rules enthusiast can be a tough road. If female footy players are paid at all, it’s vastly less than men. There are limited opportunities for women to ascend the ranks of sports administrators. Women are often made to feel as outsiders in the game. I can see why you’d want to spare your child that pain. The flight impulse is real.

But leaving football to the men, acquiescing and saying “we might love it, but we won’t fight for it” is ultimately defeatist. It does nothing to challenge the world in which we live. It denies women the very real benefits of enjoying football, and serves to perpetuate the myth that footy can only ever be a man’s game.

There is another option: to choose to fight. This is the choice I’ve made and it’s the one I’d encourage my daughter to make, if I had one who wanted to watch football. I fight, we fight, because it is worth fighting for.

For starters, letting men alone reap the rewards of involvement in football only serves to hurt women.

Whether you like it or not, sport has power and social currency. There’s a reason strangers at the pub open a conversation with “who do you barrack for?”: football is understood to be a common of interest. Being able to participate in those conversations has social benefit. Whether it’s commiserating with a colleague after their team lost, joining the tipping competition at work, or attending a match with friends, sport helps to shape our social interactions. By avoiding football, you inadvertently lose many of these benefits. If women boycotted football, those social benefits would accrue entirely to men.

There are also less utilitarian reasons to choose to fight. One is the remarkable camaraderie between you and your fellow fighters. Yes, facilities of the women’s team you play for might be rubbish and yes, if you write about sport, you’ll probably get abuse on the internet. But you’re in those facilities with teammates who are too. You laugh about the cold showers and muddy ground over a hot cup of tea or a cold beer after the game.  Together you can petition your local politicians for better facilities.

And for every nasty person who calls you names on the internet, there’s five who stand beside you and say “I hear you.”

Just this week, I woke to a beautiful message from a woman who wanted to thank me for my work talking about sport and gender. It made me cry the best kind of tears. There is community and friendship and support as we battle. The fight can be hard but it is rarely lonely.

There is also the amazing sense of community you can have with fellow football fans. I have made so many wonderful friends through football. I have shared so many magical evenings with men and women both, watching a game or discussing who we think will make finals, or laughing over some ridiculous moment. These friendships may have been formed around the Oval or the TV, but they have gone well beyond that. These are people I consider some of my closest friends. If it weren’t for football, I would not know them.

Then there is the beauty of the game itself: the free-flowing ball, the high marks, the fierce bumps. It is at times aerobatic and graceful, at others a rough, hard slog. It doesn’t speak to everyone, but it spoke to me. I could not ignore that voice because others told me I wasn’t welcome.

The draw of the game is too strong.

Despite it all, despite every one of the very real negatives that Edwards mentions in her piece, most of which I have experienced personally, I believe Australian Rules football has been a net positive in my life. My life is better with football than it would be without it. So I will keep fighting to make it better.  I will keep fighting for my place there. I will fight because it matters. It matters because women should not be denied something they love simply because of their gender. I will fight because I will not accept men telling me “no, this isn’t for you”.

And I hope, by the time Ms Edwards’ daughter reaches my age, she won’t have any need to fight, and can just sit back and enjoy the game.