“I am woman, hear me score!”
This article first appeared in Farrago (Issue 2, 2012). Every issue, my column “Life S’port” will tackle a different sporting concept.
“Women shouldn’t have their own sports!” my friend scoffed.
He seemed genuinely disgusted, like a white supremacist discovering the race of the American President.
“They should just play with men!” he continued.
His flagrant debauchery shocked me.
Surely, I thought, Western society had progressed past this kind of sexist retort. Who did he think he was, to suggest that females were nothing more than sexual toys for the male species to feast upon?
I vented my disdain, unleashing on him my inner feminist.
“I’m not being sexist,” he defensively stated. “I’m just saying that one’s sex shouldn’t determine whether they’re good enough to compete at the highest level for a particular sport. Women should be allowed to play sport on the same stage as men.”
I paused for a moment and re-played his dialogue inside my head. Upon realising that I had misinterpreted his original comments I pulled at my neck collar and offered a humble apology.
Our conversation came to an abrupt close, but his contention remained with me. Should women be permitted to compete in male sports?
On face value, the question in itself presents us with an inequality. One might ask why men’s sports automatically deserve to be considered superior to that of women. Surely the question of whether females can compete with men is only valid if we likewise ask whether men be allowed to take part in women’s sport?
Such politically correct, neo-feminist garble, however, is a tad ridiculous.
As we are aware, biological limitations prevent the average woman from competing at the same physical level as the average man.
Understandably, these physiological differences have implications on both the quality and popularity of men’s sport.
You don’t have to be a wife-beating misogynist to map out the flow chart. Men are stronger athletes than women. Strong athletes make great TV. Great TV generates large audiences. Large audiences spend copious amounts of money. Copious amounts of money pay for greater levels of professionalism. Greater levels of professionalism means the strongest athletes are also the richest. The richest sportsmen are men.
While there are anomalies in this equation – women’s netball, for instance, remains far more popular than the male alternative – examples of this brutal game of natural selection are evident everywhere. From the back pages of the sports section to the claptrap of drive-home talkback, the media’s attention is almost always focused on Adam before Eve. Even in tennis – a sport where men’s and women’s sport ostensibly shares equal billing – the former still boasts larger attendances and television audiences.
As such, there’s no shortage of practical reasons why females might envy the sphere of male sport. Yet not everyone thinks in such pragmatic terms. Indeed, one might raise the question of whether females even want to compete alongside men.
I’m reminded of the often-quoted claim that girls are stronger learners in single-sex environments (hilariously boys learn better in co-ed environments). Could it be the same with sport; are females more likely to prosper in their respective sport if they are surrounded by other female peers?
I also turn my mind to the possibility of sexual harassment. If administrators permitted females to “play with men”, when would a tackle cease to be classified as a tackle? At what point would a celebratory embrace constitute as affection? Then there’s sledging; where does one draw the line between cheeky name-calling, innocent flirting and sexist abuse?
Yet for women who desire to compete with men, it’s proving to be a worthwhile pursuit with the capacity to break social boundaries. IndyCar star Danica Patrick, for instance, has done much to disprove stereotypes about female drivers. Australian golden girl Ellyse Perry, meanwhile, is the only woman to ever play Sydney grade cricket.
Five years ago Melissa Barbieri became the first Australian woman to ever join a professional men’s football team when she was selected as a goalkeeper for Richmond in the Victorian Premier League.
Having competed with men throughout her youth, Barbeiri made the transition with ease. While her tenure with the male team was brief, she went on to become a poster girl for women’s sport in Australia. Ironically that was exactly the kind of exposure she has been determined to stamp out.
“We need to do something about [Australia’s] sporting culture, where a female is quizzed when they say that they play a sport,” the former Australian soccer captain told the media last year.
“We use ‘female’ too much – ‘female footballer’, ‘female soccer’ … why can’t it just be football, why can’t it just be soccer?” she added.
Despite today’s androcentric sporting landscape – in which the Lingerie Football League is a fully-fledged American sport – the professionalism of women in sport is gradually improving. Yes, there’s still a long way to go before female athletes are treated with the same respect as men. But at least we’re moving forward from the days when women and men could only play together inside the bedroom.