When the opportunity to speak to 4 strangers about their true and honest feelings on women in sport came up, I knew instantly that this had the potential to go wrong in more ways than one.
Never mind the conversations I had in my mind, which went to the tune of: ‘What’s the point? Why do we care what they think anyway?’ I was far more concerned with whether or not I would be able to keep my reactions in check or worse, end up charged with assault by the end of it.
Bearing all of that in mind, I chose to conduct the interviews in a public place, free from sharp objects and judgement. After speaking to a close friend who sourced the 4 volunteers through friends of friends, he encouraged me to go into it with ‘an open mind. You never know, they may shock you.’
Chatting to me without the fear of being publicly shamed, I granted the interviewees the opportunity to remain anonymous, not because I wanted to protect them but because I wanted to protect the truth.
Often times, I’ve seen those actively involved within the women’s sporting community say things that they think we want to hear or because it’s the right thing to do and dare I say because it’s politically correct.
I don’t care much for political correctness because as the Acting Chairman of SBS, Dr Hass Dellal AO told us at an all-staff address this morning, ‘when everyone thinks alike, they’re not really thinking very much.’
I wanted to know where women in sport really stood, not because I could teach them a thing or two but because it would do the exact opposite.
When I mention women in sport, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
Subject 1: I have no interest in watching women’s sport. None, whatsoever.
Subject 2: I think of all the major women’s sporting event matches that I’ve been to with my daughter. I am a single parent and going to all of these women’s tournaments and matches every weekend has brought us even closer together.
Subject 3: Hot chicks in tight clothes sweating it out with other women. It makes me think of sex.
Subject 4: I think of how hard women have had to fight over the years to get any form of recognition and it depresses me. It just reminds me of how inadequate the female gender is made to feel when compared to men in sport.
What are some of the earliest memories you have of either attending or watching a women’s sporting event?
Subject 1: [Laughs] Absolutely none. We had the rugby league on in our house at every available opportunity and my father was a diehard Rabbitohs fan. We grew up in a generation where the men played sport and the women slaved away in the kitchen and took care of the kids. It’s just how it was.
Subject 2: I grew up with two sisters who were obsessed with AFL and they had a closer relationship with my father as a result. I got more enjoyment out of going along to their netball games than I ever did at a Swans game.
Subject 3: My close mate at school had a sister who used to play soccer and we’d go down there on a Sunday to check her out and all of her friends. We got a good laugh out of it.
Subject 4: I grew up on the Gold Coast and played a tonne of beach volleyball so whenever there a tournament or event on, I would badger my mum into taking my friend Jodie and I. I loved it. I’ll also never forget Cathy Freeman and what she did at the Olympics. I remember my whole family being glued to the television when she won that day. I was mesmerised.
What’s your impression of women in sport today and do you get out and watch any live women’s sport?
Subject 1: They’ve come a long way I’ll give them that much but I wouldn’t actively go out of my way to watch a game of any kind on telly or otherwise. I see stories occasionally pop up on the news but beyond that, you don’t really hear anything else about them in the mainstream.I suppose all I really care about are the WAGS, you know the wives and girlfriends of the male athletes and what they’re wearing. They’re all so pretty aren't they? I love my gossip and trashy magazines.
Subject 2: It’s completely changed from when I was a young kid growing up to now. The taboo and stigma has been taken away and I am so pleased to see that they’re getting the coverage they deserve but I just wish there was more. I am a NSW Swifts member and I also go to all of the Sydney FC W-League home games and sometimes my daughter and I make the trip up to Newcastle or Canberra to watch them too, it’s our favourite time of year.
For her birthday I took her to the Women’s World Cup last year and I hope it’s something she’ll remember for the rest of her life because I know I will.
Subject 3: The sooner women realise that they’ll never be able to compete on the same scale as men and offer the same spectacle, the better. This whole equality thing is just stupid. Women get equal pay in tennis yet they don’t play a full five sets. How is that equal? When women check male athletes out with their shirts off and put posters up in their bedroom it’s ‘fun’ and ‘innocent’ but when blokes do it, it’s ‘sexist’ and ‘degrading’. That doesn’t sound equal to me, more like double standards. It just seems like every time women talk about the issue, they’re angry. I get it, you want more but let your work do the talking for you.
Subject 4: They’ve made some serious inroads and I think it’s really cool. I love that rugby league has really put women at the forefront of their coverage now too like that woman hosting the Origin, Yvonne is it? She does a much better job than the blokes. I hate that whole thing that sport is filled with ex-athletes in presenter roles. Just because you played for your country doesn’t mean you should be hosting a show because the fact is, they just don’t have the skill sets. I don’t know anything about cricket but I went along and watched the women’s Big Bash League and really enjoyed that, I love Ellyse Perry; she’s freaking awesome. To be brutally honest, I am sort of tired of hearing all the negative stories about women in sport. Every time I turn on the news, it’s always about some poor woman being harassed or belittled by the boys club in men’s sport. Grow a set of balls I say and give it right back to the men. Teach them a lesson or two about how women can’t be pushed around and watch them change the men change their attitudes.
Final question, if your daughter, sister, friend or the like ever wanted to play a sport, would you encourage them?
Subject 1: No. I have a daughter who is passionate about netball but this year I’ve told her that she can only choose netball or jazz and I am pleased to say that she chose jazz which had a lot to do with my encouragement. There’s no money in netball or a real future, she should focus on something that can give her longevity and an actual career.
Subject 2: My daughter plays basketball, soccer and netball. She loves all three and just last week she said she’d love to try out AFL. I was pretty shocked by that but I think seeing that the AFL have introduced women’s team has inspired her a little. I want her to do whatever makes her happy and sport makes her happy. I would rather a happy and fulfilled child, no matter the cost.
Subject 3: I went on a date with a girl last week who plays professional hockey and lives in Canberra. I was mentally prepared to do the long distance thing but listening to her bang on about her schedule, the travel and everything that’s involved with her ‘career’ was full-on. There was no time for a relationship and I felt like saying ‘why are you on this date?’ I am fine with women being ambitious and wanting to achieve things in life but then don’t expect the bloke to just sit back and be the stay at home dad and chase after you because that’s not fair either. It’s ok for the women to be high-flying career women but if the men are, then they’re selfish and shit dads. The double standards are real whether women like to hear it or not. If I had a daughter I probably wouldn’t push her in the direction of sport. Too much negativity and struggles involved.
Subject 4: My niece has just started playing soccer and she loves it. She was a really shy, isolated little girl before she started playing and now she has all these friends coming around for sleepovers and she’s become so confident, even a bit cheeky! I am all for anything that has the power to do that. It’s brought out the best in her and I couldn’t be happier to see her develop into this whole new person. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone. Sport is empowering, especially for women. I don’t think it matters about what’s at the end of the finish line, in terms of pay and career - why put all that pressure on them at such a young age? Just let them enjoy themselves and if what’s they want to do for a career then isn’t that up to them? The stage parents need to step aside.
By the time our discussion wraps up I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t taken aback, that I didn’t want to spit in number 3’s coffee while they were in the toilet or that I wanted to vote for subject number 2 in the recent election.
It may shock you to learn that subject 1, is a woman. Monica’s* mother left her father at a very young age, forcing her father to shoulder the burden of raising her and her two brothers all the while holding down a full-time job with little to no help from anyone. She concedes to me as we’re saying our awkward goodbyes that perhaps her outlook on women in sport would have been different if she’d had a strong woman in her life but she’s never known otherwise. She hasn’t spoken to her mother in over 32 years.
Subject 2 was a male, Robert* whose wife Janelle* died of terminal brain cancer two years earlier leaving him and their 9 year-old daughter behind. Janelle had loved all sports and played soccer in an over 35s mother’s group almost every weekend which is how their daughter Veronica* developed such a strong love for the game. Robert tells me that it’s his way ‘of keeping Janelle’s memory alive. After every game, Veronica gets in the car and says ‘I can’t wait to tell mummy about my game tonight. She talks to her when she goes to bed.’
Subject 3 was a 32 year-old male, Joe* who grew up as an only child and went to an all-boys boarding school. As we’re walking back to our cars, he looks at me and says ‘you think I am a real asshole don’t you?’ I glare at him and say, ‘I don’t think you’re an asshole, I just think you’ve had your heart broken by women one too many times and you haven’t recovered since.’ He looks at me sheepishly and replies ‘not women, just one. Her name was Rebecca. She broke my heart and I hate her for it.’
Finally, subject 4 was a woman. Angela* grew up in the Gold Coast and had dreams of becoming a professional volleyballer ‘until this happened’ she says pointing down to where her right forearm used to be. ‘Farming accident at my grandparents place when I was a kid. I asked my parents if I could play in the volleyball tournament that was on that weekend and my father’s response was ‘you’re better off going to nan and pop’s farm to learn about real life skills then playing in that rubbish.’ Dad hasn’t forgiven himself ever since but I have. I’ve learned more about life now than I ever could have.’
Once I had gotten over the initial shock of hearing each and every one of their stories, I discovered that all of their circumstances in life had played a pivotal role in affecting their outlooks on women in sport.
Whether you agree with one, some or none of what my interview subjects had to say, this exercise has well and truly taught me the true value of an opinion and how at the end of the day, that’s all that it will ever be - an opinion.
Further still, Monica’s ignorance, Robert’s devotion, Joe’s dismissal and Angela’s unwavering love represent all corners of society which almost every woman in sport has had to face head-on at some point in their career.
The only difference is, we’ve come too far now for any of them, good or bad, to stop us.