on feminism and footy: what role do women have to play in AFL?
At the beginning of this month, I attended Cherchez La Femme’s monthly event in Melbourne, due to the fact that the combination of topics which were going to be discussed piqued my interest immediately: feminism and footy.
On paper, the two seem like an unlikely match, and I think that that would be a fair assumption to make, given some of the media attention which professional sport gets outside of the sporting fields. Yet, somehow, love for football and feminist beliefs are often qualities to be found in one person, and the three panellists were all definitely examples of this. Angela Pippos, longtime sports journalist and outspoken feminist; Chyloe Kurdas, AFL Victoria’s Female Football Development Manager, a firm believer in gender equality; and Ruby Koomen, musician, broadcaster, and football player.
I also speak for myself when I say that I am both a feminist and a football lover. I have had a passion for both for a very long time, and they both play a huge role in my life. I believe that the two can easily coincide. On a surface level, it’s tricky to see how.
But, with the beginning of the AFL season proper looming large at the end of this week, it’s a crucial question to ask: exactly what role do women have to play in football?
The answer to that is straightforward, and runs through many different levels of football. This is an equally important role – football is so much more than the eighteen AFL teams of men who get so much publicity and money and attention. Football is also at extremely junior levels, through Auskick and inter-school sport, through junior leagues, through regional football, through pub football. Football is also boards, chairs, administrators, umpires, merchandisers, assistants. Football is the runner, the masseur, the physical therapist, the doctor, the trainer. And, increasingly, football is also the reporters on television, the sports journalists in the newspapers and the on-site news-breakers. And let this be clear: there is not one role listed there which a woman cannot do.
As discussed at this event, if women of any age or of any ability want to play Australian Rules Football, there are multiple avenues through which to do this, both in mixed divisions and in all-female divisions. There are many teams, as well as other codes, which are accepting of all abilities and of all people. There is a thriving network of women’s football, with athletes just as talented and with just as much physical prowess as that of the men in their football league. The problem? We don’t get exposed to that through media coverage.
If nothing else was made clear from going to this event, it was that football doesn’t have a problem with women – the media does.
As Angela Pippos stated – ‘the problem is with TV executives, not with people who love the game.’
Working in a football merchandising shop, I am constantly exposed to Fox Sports, and particularly Fox Footy. This channel is devoted to playing AFL football, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Along with replays, classic matches and live broadcasts, the channel also has many, many panel shows which discuss the game. This is not exclusive to Fox Footy; there are also many panel shows across free-to-air television. I can think of at least six shows dedicated to the discussion of football. And I can think of only one woman who is on any of these shows. Across the live broadcasts of the football, there is not a female commentator to be found. As Pippos also dryly stated, ‘Fox Sports is allergic to women.’
Through attending the event by Cherchez La Femme, I discovered that many of the clubs are establishing women’s teams; in fact, that they are becoming very highly in demand. The women’s league is thriving, and so is support for the league from the top levels. However, we are not exposed to any of this when we read the papers or watch Fox Sports News. I believe that the problem lies fair and square with media executives – not with the AFL.
Of course, the men’s league AFL is not saintly; and there have been well documented issues in the past of sexual assault resulting from supposed male entitlement. As Pippos also explained, the young men of the AFL live in a different world to the rest of us, a world where they do not often hear the words ‘no, you can’t do that’ (except from their club doctors). The toxic boys’ club culture surrounding group sex and the degradation of females is one which needs to be changed, and slowly is being changed from within. Chyloe Kurdas, who works closely within the AFL, believes that we are only one or two generations away from a massive cultural change in the AFL.
Until this massive cultural change occurs, however, we are unfortunately still living in a patriarchy. And as long as we are still living in a patriarchy, male athletes will continue to be worshipped and glorified, and female athletes will slip under the radar and be paid less than half of what their male professional counterparts earn.
Despite this thoroughly depressing news, there is something we can all do! Support women’s football, most importantly with your wallet – instead of going to see a game of AFL on the weekend, go and see the women’s league instead. Write to local football teams and encourage them to do the same thing in supporting the women’s league. Write letters of support to your AFL team if they are doing great things in supporting women’s football (as many of them truly are). Encourage young girls that you know who love playing the game to continue, even if they’re only at Auskick age.
There is so much room for women in the footballing world, at all levels. It’s about time this got acknowledged.