There was an excellent article in The Age recently by Olympic Rower Kimberley Crow, about women in sport, and societal attitudes towards women in general. It suggests that society needs to give women a voice, and listen to what they have to say. Which is clearly true – everyone should have a voice, and sufficient respect to have their voices heard (with the obvious exception of John Wincing Howard – if we never hear from him again, it would be much too soon). But it begs the question – how is that going to happen?
I contend that the media does not present female sports stars with the same enthusiasm or frequency as male sports stars because women’s sport does not sell papers, or advertising time. With, as Crow notes, the exception of pretty tennis stars in very short skirts. The deeper question, then, is why doesn’t it sell papers, and how can we change that?
At the risk of leaping to delusions, I suspect that the problem lies deep within segregation. Men on one sporting field, women on another. Where women play a “man’s sport”, they play it separately. What reason is there for separating, for example, women from men in cricket? Where strength is less of an issue than style and skill? Ok, the average woman may not be able to bowl a ball with the same strength or speed as the average man, and elite female athletes, performing at the limit of their endurance, may hit some limits sooner than elite males. But in games of skill and style, where strength is not the determining factor, why not mix the teams?
And even if the elite teams wind up de facto segregated, where strength truly is a factor, there is still no reason why suburban teams must be segregated. Oooh, but women might get hurt! Do women break more easily than men? Not as far as I know. And sport is not usually about deliberately injuring people. (Notwithstanding the old canard “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. Then it’s a sport.”)
Sure, people get hurt in the rough and tumble, the hurley burley of a fast paced and physical game. But do we not owe it to our male athletes to protect them from injury where possible? If women choose to play a very physical game, knowing the risks, why say no?
I am not a fragile flower needing protection. And any women who sets out to play rugby is unlikely to do so in a short skirt and high heels. Let’s desegregate. Get men and women interacting as contemporaries, equals, and partners. It is the very culture of segregation that leads to incidents such as the one that recently got Matthew Johns in such hot water. You can’t think “but what if this was a friend of mine?” when you are not used to thinking of women as friends. We are not two distinct species. There are few, if any, attributes other than bodily organs which are exclusive to one gender or the other.
Mix it up! No more segregation. It’s time for society to grow up.