Eye on the ball: Why making sport accessible to women is so important

by Emilia Passaro

Image source: This Girl Can. The campaign , funded by The National Lottery and developed by Sport England, celebrates being active and aims to help women overcome the fear of judgement stopping women and girls from joining in.

In the past few weeks The Guardian has put out two articles about netball. Two! This is exciting news right?

A predominantly female sport is finally getting some recognition in the infinite ocean of male-dominated sports. Unfortunately, they’re not the greatest write ups we could have hoped for.

The first, by Morwenna Ferrier, states that netball is “uncool” even though  £16.9m is being invested in to the sport, with a solid £10.5m of that going towards encouraging adult women back into the sport.

Image source: This Girl Can

She claims the reasons for the game’s uncool rating are “it’s reputation at school, it’s complex rules and it’s tremendous restrictions on movement, not to mention the fact that marking an opponent requires a player to do a modified Nazi salute”.

Disregarding the Nazi salute comment because that’s obviously an unsavoury (and frankly lazy) joke, let’s look at the breakdown…

School reputation

I understand this statement. PE was the bane of my life and is the reason I still hate field hockey (although my perceptions of the sport notably improved during the 2016 Olympics. That was class).

I can see how the flashbacks of standing outside in a tiny skirt, probably wearing a t-shirt foraged from lost property while the wind howls and rain falls in horizontal sheets stinging your bare legs could be traumatic, but surely women’s relationship with sport has moved on since these dark times?

Complex Rules

Netball is a competitive sport and as such it has rules. Complexity is a subjective concept so I won’t comment on that but I know many people who are able to understand and execute the rules of netball. Plus, with two umpires barking out any offenses you make during the match it shouldn’t be too difficult to pick out where you’re going wrong.

Taking part

The rest of the article goes on to quote the head of Media at Sport England, Andrew St Ledger, who awarded the grant. He says “It’s all about getting people who are typically not represented in sports and physical activity to take part.” I think this is the most important aspect of netball and Mr St Ledger sums it up beautifully. He goes on to say “Netball is a great one for targeting women because about 98% of people who play netball are women, as you might expect.” He’s right. The vast majority of netball players are women and it is good to see an investment into women’s sports.

Image source: This Girl Can

The problem comes when we look into why women’s sports are so underfunded and frankly under appreciated. Billions of pounds have been pumped into men’s sports, premier league footballers are some of the highest paid individuals on the planet, it’s almost impossible to get away from the men’s rugby Six Nations and there’s nothing wrong with that (except maybe those wages – that’s ridiculous) but wouldn’t it be nice for the other half of the population to be represented in sport?

At this important juncture in their life, teenage girls become more self-conscious. Not only physically, but also how they are perceived by their peers, effectively how “cool” they are… and this is exactly why articles such as Miss Ferrier’s are so damaging.

Why are women abandoning sports after school?

The other article, in response to the first; shed a slightly more helpful light on the situation. Emma John delivers a response to Ferrier’s article from the netball community and even though the piece was undoubtedly meant as light-hearted commentary it seems to have missed the point. She states how the popularity of netball is on the rise and with recent international and league matches being broadcast live on television (BBC2 and Sky Sports 2 respectively) more and more eyes are turning towards the sport and hopefully women’s sport in general. I for one am very excited to see where the increase in funding and attention will take the game and, I’m sure the rest of my team, the Wendover Sparrowhawks Netball Club are too. However, the fact remains that a significant proportion of young women are abandoning group sports after leaving school.

Academic achievement vs sporting achievement

Is it a coincidence that this departure from group sports tends to correlate with hitting puberty? The reasons for this are not entirely clear but there are a few theories. Is it possible that young women are discouraged from pursuing sporting achievement in favour of academic achievement? Girls often out perform boys in academia at this age while boys surge ahead on the sporting field. Could it be that this supposed competition between sexes is turning our young women away from finding accomplishment in sporting endeavours?

Self-conscious

Another theory is that at this important juncture in their life, teenage girls become more self-conscious. Not only physically but also how they are perceived by their peers, effectively how “cool” they are. I see more truth in this latter theory and this is exactly why articles such as Miss Ferrier’s are so damaging. Young people are highly impressionable and therefore there is just no room for any kind of negative press in regards to women’s sports. We need to be promoting it as much as possible. The health benefits of sport, not only physical but also mental are well documented – this is something we should be ushering our young people towards.

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Motherhood feels like lying on your CV

by Jennifer Robinson

Image source: Mia Nolting at berlinartparasites

Jennifer is 29 and splits her time between the UK and Uganda where she lives with her partner and their two children.

When you start telling people you’re pregnant the questions just keep coming. I thought it was bad with my first (unplanned) pregnancy:

“Oh. What are you going to do?” I am going to have a baby.
“Oh. Are you with the father?”  Right now I’m here inwardly rolling my eyes at you. He’s at home.
“Oh. Do you need some leaflets about terminating unwanted pregnancies?” No thank you. Just a referral to a midwife please, Doctor.
“Well, don’t worry, it will all turn out all right” Ah man, I was so worried. Phew. You’ve alleviated all my fears about my own inadequacies.

Distinctions between first pregnancy and second pregnancy are vast – I felt much more relaxed. My doctor also initially thought the second pregnancy was ovarian cancer, so in a choice between that and a baby, obviously I’ll take the baby.

Nothing prepares you for the sickness, but like the waves of nausea whenever you open the fridge, the questions just keep coming.

This time, by the nature of having already had a baby and managed quite well actually, there were less “your life is ruined” undertones and more “hope you love being tired” undertones.

My first kid barely slept for three years. I am the Queen, no, the KHALEESI of tired. I laugh in the face of tired. Slightly hysterically and at 2am, but I do laugh. Right before leaning into the cot to ask my baby what her damn problem is and right before I accidentally-on-purpose elbow her sleeping father in the face. AT WHICH HE DOES NOT WAKE.

Image source: Keely Montoya at berlinartparasites

The biggest mistake made by non-parents is to suppose that tiredness and dirty nappies are the worst of it. Those are easy, they have solutions; sleep works itself out. The hard part is having your child ask why the other kids were calling him a brown boy, why they were throwing things at him, or why they didn’t want to play. I have noticed an undertone of casual racism to many of my sons’ encounters with children in the UK and let me tell you – they get it from the parents. The hard part is having to watch as the world begins teaching them that nobody but your parents is going to do shit for you. With a boy, that means he has to work hard, but with a girl; life will find ways to stack itself against her just as it always has.

Let me go back to the inference that pregnancy ruins your life (if you’re not married, and especially for single mothers). This goes back to when women were to be preserved for marriage, from the same place as such enlightened schools of thought as ‘if a woman has an abortion she no longer deserves love and compassion’, or as is still an important part of some cultures, particularly in Northern Africa and the Middle East, ‘if she’s ever going to get married then any visible traces of genitalia must be removed lest she be rendered unclean.’

FGM is the extreme end of a sliding scale of inequality, a scale which has us applying layers of makeup, dieting for literal decades, using language differently; ‘treating’ ourselves to things men just buy themselves because they want them; or to food we want but don’t feel we should have; shrinking out of the way when a man is taking up our personal space. All of these things are interlinked within an idea about the value of women and our own self-worth. I saw a thought-provoking graphic the other day which said: If I asked you to name something you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?

How are women supposed to learn to love themselves when society applies conditions to the love it offers them?

It is not far from living memory in the UK that women were little more than property and still ongoing in many other places. But these attitudes have no place in modern life. People no longer meet at village dances and take years to get to know each other before marrying in church, they swipe right. If you don’t get a match, no problem, there’s someone else.

What HAS happened, in the face of all the terrible things that the internet has brought us (I’m looking at you, Tinder), is an upsurge in acceptance for even the most unorthodox lifestyle. But why has this trend of acceptance not yet made its way to single mothers?

It’s not AS taboo – children no longer grow up to discover their sister is fact their mother and their mother is their grandmother as a way to avoid the stigma, judgment and persecution young mum’s faced if they had children out of wedlock.

But if one of the first questions I’m asked is ‘are you with the father?’ then is that a sign that society is ready for a woman who says “Actually, no I’m not”? In fact, with my second baby, the FIRST QUESTION I was asked by people I know relatively well was “Do they have the same father?” so – under the assumption that – as I might not have been able to hang onto the first guy (should have dieted harder post-baby?), at least I may have a chance of the second guy sticking around! Life jackpot!

Sorry to disappoint, but it’s the same father. Yes, we’re together. So damn traditional.

And while it may not disappoint overtly, it’s a much juicier piece of information to pass on when the father is not around, because people love to see women fail. This is why Ulrika Jonsson was named the shockingly derogatory 4×4 (four kids by four fathers) by the British media when men have been having kids left, right and centre for millennia and nobody says a bloody word other than ‘you go, Rod Stewart’, or ‘great work, Donald Trump’.

The guilt that comes with being a Mum

Image source: Personal-Art Pop Art Yourself Pinterest

By whatever circumstances brought her there, she is not considered to have simply ended relationships that were not working but has instead failed to hang onto a man. I have friends who have chosen to go it ‘alone’, a misleading phrase because when you have friends who are parents too, you’re never alone. ‘Going it alone’ just means there’s no man around. I have nothing but respect for them, and I will do anything that they need me to do to help, because this is hard. It’s hard when you have a traditional support network – the mythical village it takes to raise a child. I have resolved to be part of my friends’ villages, even if it’s on the outskirts.

I maintain that parenting, for all women – with or without a partner – is like lying on your CV that you have certain skills so that you get hired, then realising that not only do you not have those skills, you don’t have any skills at all and then you end up crying in the bathroom because you can’t remember how to make a table on Excel and your boss is waiting for the report. Just as they can’t imagine you feeling out of your depth, your child won’t know you’re crying in the bathroom, all they’ll see is you opening the door and smiling at them.