In a classic ‘pot calling the kettle black’ situation, radio host Stephen Rowe says Kelli Underwood’s voice is annoying. Try to make it through this post without sighing…
Erin Riley

6 May 2016 - 3:48 PM  UPDATED 6 May 2016 - 3:49 PM

Another male football commentator has made disparaging comments about women’s contribution to footy. Must be a day ending in y.

This time it was Adelaide radio 'personality' Stephen Rowe, who declared that: “There is one job a lady will never be able to do, and that’s call the game.”

The comments came about ten minuted into an interview with Caroline Wilson, after she mentioned she’d be speaking on a panel about women in football and would be addressing issues of gender inequality in sports media.

“I’m still disappointed certain media organisations won’t show any leadership when it comes to promoting women,” Wilson said.

“I was really disappointed when Kelli Underwood was removed from Channel 10 as a commentator. I still enjoy her calling and she can only get better.”

It was this remark that caused Rowe’s astonishing declaration:

“Seriously, you’d push for a woman to call for AFL? I love Kelli Underwood, she’s a south Australian, but oh boy, I don’t think so.”

After having his position challenged by Wilson as archaic, Rowe doubled down, explaining that women’s voices aren’t suited to calling football.

“Her knowledge, her nous, her skills, her technique of calling and commentating is as good as any man, but I don’t want to hear her calling footy.

"And I reckon Caro agrees with me and won’t say it, and you [cohost Mark Bickley] agree with me and you won’t say it.”

Bickley then challenged Rowe’s views:

“You said I don’t like her voice, it’s irritating. And then you said no woman could ever do it. So does every woman have an irritating voice?”

But Rowe was undeterred: “For calling footy they have. Yes they have… I reckon a lady, a woman, is more likely to coach an AFL team before they call a game on a commercial station, radio or television.” 

Now obviously, Rowe wants ratings, and a bit of a controversy is a way to ensure you get a lot of listeners. But letting these comments slide is also letting this attitude that is a festering boil in the football community continue to exist unabated.

We need to continue to call them out as the despicable, sexist tripe they are.

There’s the inevitable defence that Rowe himself made: it’s not sexist, it’s just being honest. As though a statement cannot be both sexist and honest.

But what Rowe said is the very definition of sexist. He is saying that a woman can’t do something because he doesn’t like an aspect of her femaleness. He is saying something women have limited control over, something that is utterly immaterial to the quality of the work they do, should disqualify them from involvement and participation in certain parts of football.

This is as blatant an example of sexism as there can be.

Even if we ignore the sheer hypocrisy of someone whose voice is roughly equivalent to fingernails on a blackboard complaining about someone else’s voice, the underlying issues are worth considering. It’s one of the insidious ways sexism plays out in sport: through defining “merit” in a way women cannot possibly meet.

When we expect commentators to be former professional players, a common argument made against female commentators (which conveniently ignores the Bruce McAvaneys and Anthony Hudsons of the world), we apply a standard to employment that women cannot possibly meet. Playing the game is not necessary to be a good commentator, but applying this expectation is a convenient way to exclude women.

So too is the voice issue. It simultaneously denies women a place while making the issue something women fundamentally cannot overcome.

When experience women struggle to be able to get, access to networks that are almost exclusively male, and fitting into a male-dominated culture are prerequisites for employment and opportunities, the very act of defining merit becomes discriminatory. It’s then possible to say we appointed the best possible person for the position while excluding people based on gender. It’s an indirect but effective way to maintain the “boy’s club” that dominates our sporting culture.

But there are effective ways of addressing this. Mandating every employment shortlist has at least one woman on it can shed light on why women aren’t applying or meeting criteria, and force organisations to rethink the way they define merit. It brings subtle and subsurface forms of discrimination to the surface.

One of the most infuriating parts of the segment was when Rowe was insisting both Wilson and his colleague Bickley felt the same way. He seemed to genuinely believe his sexism was not just normal, but intrinsic and universal. No amount of insistence from his co-host or guest could persuade him otherwise.

This is so very telling. It shows how strongly some in the football community hold to their sexist views. And it shows how we need to continue to fight- hard- against both the blatant and subtle forms of discrimination that limit women’s participation in the game.