Recently a wave of excitement rippled through many of the 9 to 12-year-old girls at the Primary School where I work. The girls were presented with the opportunity of participating in an exclusively all girl AFL* training programme during their lunch breaks – the latest example of the way in which girls are mixing it with the boys and claiming their apparent gender ‘equality.’
I could share neither in their excitement, nor in the vaunted claims of this being another positive step towards gender equity in sport. Rather, this for me marked a backward step.
Girls are now raised and educated to compete with the boys, and in this are laying down a foundation for a possible lifetime of competing with men on the terms dictated by a society that drives girls to toughen up and harden their bodies in exactly the same way as boys are exhorted to do – to the absolute detriment of their own emerging femininity.
In 2016 more than 76,000 Queensland women and girls participated in AFL, an increase of 30% and a 140% increase over the last three years (1). Skills training begins at age 5 and modified mixed gender games at age 8. With the establishing of the first eight elite women’s national teams this year, very young girls now have something to aspire to.
“The establishment of a national women’s league will provide a platform to inspire young girls to reach for the stars and provide another avenue for Australian Rules fans to enjoy. Our game will never be the same.” (Mike Fitzpatrick, AFL commission chairman (2))
The ABC News recently ran a news item reporting how the Women’s National Rugby League (WNRL) is to offer female career pathways through to elite player status starting from the age of 6. In 2016 in Australia, 482,000 women and girls participated in Rugby League, an increase of 27% in one year alone. With a national competition planned, the WNRL is the largest growing area in NRL.
For devotees of sport, these figures are to be feted and celebrated, the signs of things to come where men and women have equal status in the sporting arenas and in sporting status and adulation.
For those who prefer to express the precious and delicate nature of a woman and hence, that of girls, this is a sorry indictment of the lack of value we as a society place on femaleness, if not on the complete undermining of all qualities associated with the expression of true womanliness.
Inherent within the girl is the woman that is to be with all of her tenderness, stillness, sacredness and joy. Rather than allowing these qualities to unfold from within as each female child is nurtured and confirmed by the adults in her life to be who she naturally is, we seem to be currently intent upon bludgeoning such qualities out of existence.
Contact sports like AFL and WNRL are the latest, and I feel, most intense, in a long line of extremely harsh and gruelling exercise regimens which serve to harden, masculinise and toughen up girls so that they can claim to have won some type of illusory, physical gender equity with boys and ultimately, with men. The added feature of the physical contact, which is a part of such sports, where hurling one’s body around and banging into the opposition is all part of the game of securing the goal or try for one’s own team whilst inhibiting the same efforts on the part of the competing team, is particularly aggressive and suppressive of the true and delicate nature of a girl.
This applies also to boys and to men so is it the case that, having successfully imposed such false and erroneous rigours upon one gender, we are now further compounding this gargantuan error by imposing the same on girls and then covering this collective madness under the insidiously deceptive ideal of ‘gender equity’?
So… we are effectively free to abuse our bodies in the same way as the men do? Is that what we are saying?
Would the women of ancient Rome have seen it as a step towards their equality had they been invited to enter the gladiator’s forum as ‘equal’ combatants with the male gladiators, or perhaps to be equally thrown to the lions, I wonder?
For every girl the time of puberty is a time to connect with the cycles and joyful responsibility of what it is to live the grace and beauty of a woman (4). How is this possible if our girls have already become desensitised, bludgeoned and numbed within their own bodies due to engaging in certain types of physical activity? How can a young woman connect with her tender sensitivity when she has already spent several years disconnecting from her physicality in order to compete with and mix it with the boys?
Do we really want to raise our girls to become urban ‘GI Janes,’ ever ready for any type of combative action, bullet belt draped around their hips replete not with bullets, but with ‘I can do anything’ tampons?
Or do we want to raise our girls to be the sensitive, self-nurturing, gorgeous women they all are on the inside?
If we choose the latter, do we not then need to seriously evaluate what does and does not support such an unfolding, including the type and quality of physical activity and exercise in which they engage throughout their childhood and especially as they enter puberty? Does what we currently offer support our girls to claim their femininity or does it militate against it? Is this not one of those topics that needs a truly open forum discussion so that we can, as a collective, discuss what we truly want for our children as a foundation for the question, where to next?
* Australian Football League – a contact team sport played in Australia, which has aspects of both Rugby and Gaelic Football
By Coleen Hensey
- AFL Queensland. (2017). Female – AFL Queensland. [online] Available at: http://www.aflq.com.au/female/ [Accessed 23 Aug. 2017].
- AFL.com.au. (2017). Eight teams named for inaugural women’s league – AFL.com.au. [online] Available at: http://www.afl.com.au/news/2016-06-15/eight-teams-named-for-inaugural-womens-league [Accessed 23 Aug. 2017].
- ABC News, Queensland, 12.04.2017 – 7pm bulletin
- [online] Available at: http://www.esotericwomenshealth.com/girl-to-woman–festival.html [Accessed 23 Aug. 2017].