This Girl Can returns, and rugby revolution

In a previous post, I introduced the incredibly successful and well-renowned This Girl Can campaign, which claims to have hugely increased the numbers of women involved with sport.

Some of my friends were scathing of the scheme, claiming it was at times patronising and failed to encourage genuinely equal footing in sport by focusing on rebuffing existing stereotypes. The argued that it ought to focus on creating a sense of genuine acceptance and intrinsic belonging. However, it clearly struck a chord with a number of people.

Its relaunch earlier this year had led to ongoing support and encouragement for many women of different backgrounds and parts of the country, as can be seen on their website. On there, you can read and view all manner of examples, stories, and events in which women are redefining sports in their community.TGC.png

With this relaunch, I was reminded of some adverts I saw on an underground train station platform a few years ago. These were encouraging women to participate in touch rugby, a sport in which the rules of rugby are roughly followed, but in smaller teams and with the majority of the physical contact removed. The main focus of the adverts was on the fun and social aspects of the game.

While I completely understand that physically demanding sports are not favoured by everyone, and there are people who simply couldn’t and wouldn’t want to play them, it seemed disappointingly focused on the softer values of the game, assuming women would primarily focus on these for their involvement rather than the fitness and challenge aspects.

Because of this, I decided to have a look at recent adverts for women’s rugby – not the touch variety, the full-contact, demanding variety in which women have been competing this month for the World Cup. My findings were very reassuring – some genuinely encouraging and at times very bold images, which treat women as the potential warriors and athletes that they are, in their own right:


One step forwards, one step back

Keeping an eye on international news, it was heartening to see recently the IOC’s announcement that from Tokyo 2020, there will be mixed gender events in a number of events at the Olympic Games. This follows on from events in a handful of other sports, most prominently tennis, where mixed doubles are a regular part of major tournaments.

As is often the case with these mixed events, there are some issues still. The binary nature of gender continues to lie at the centre of their categorisation of the teams, excluding or complicating life for people with non-standard genders or born intersex. Some sports fans will query the importance of these events by comparison with existing, single-sex competitions.

Mixed runners
It would be good to encourage participation regardless of gender, and helps to normalise pursuing this career for women and girls. 

However, it is at least an acknowledgement by the Games’ governing body that opening up the sports to a more diverse and equal playing field is a positive move. Hopefully in promoting and encouraging these events we will see greater long-term normalisation of people competing in the same events on the basis of ability rather than being boxed into categories and segregated events.

Sadly, it seems the world of academia is lagging somewhat behind in normalising a more even society, after news that a university in Belgium sent out an unbelievably sexist statement to students set for graduation. These women were actively encouraged to wear dresses with ‘a nice revealing neckline’ as these were considered more aesthetically pleasing.

Much as I am quick to condemn and criticise the world of sports for being behind the times and outdated in its values, sometimes it surprises me in a positive way. The world of academia has many problems of its own in terms of gender balance and representation, but it doesn’t often produce shock stories such as this one, at least in the public sphere. It just goes to show how widely we must cast our efforts to combat everyday sexism.



Pause. Return.

Every now and again, life gets busy. Either I have a lot of tutees, am away volunteering at festivals, or my mental health takes a dip. Sometimes in those gaps, the blog drops away for a few weeks; it’s not always the top priority, even though I passionately believe in the cause. Then something comes along and reminds me of how unbalanced and uneven our world can be.

Whether that’s news articles about sexist and anti-semitic writers for prominent newspapers, everyday sexist attitudes in sports governing bodies, or even social media accounts of women being harassed on a daily basis, there’s constant reminders that even in this relatively safe, privileged part of the planet, there’s issues to fight.

So B4BT will aim to be back on track from next week. In the meantime, here’s a reminder of why we need to question some of these attitudes and how they can be challenged.


Stone-faced at Stonewall

I was recently invited to join Stonewall for a special garden party, sponsored by a well known vodka manufacturer. The event claimed to be an invitation to all members of the community to join in, socialise and discuss relevant topics of the age. Here is an extract from that email:

At Stonewall we think it’s crucial that during times of uncertainty, we continue to work together

We stand by the side of every lesbian, gay, bi and trans person, wherever they live, work, socialise or pray.

The equality of all LGBT people is only possible with your continued support.

Governments may change but our commitment to achieving acceptance without exception for every single LGBT person will always be the same.

While the idea is great, the implementation left me a little shocked:

Tickets: £85

Of course this event is a fundraiser for a good cause, but that sort of price tag will exclude a large proportion of the Queers I know and love, who would help make the event diverse and inclusive. I wrote to them, expressing my thoughts:

“Dear Stonewall,

A party is a great idea and it’s good to see events like that running, but I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s blanched at that price tag! I appreciate your title means you need to ensure funds are raised for the charity (and rightly so) but maybe the next party could have a more accessible price tag? Or even the option to donate to/use a hardship fund to ensure a wider range of attendees? In the interests of inclusiveness of course…”

Waiting for a response now…!

Courting issues

With the tennis season in full flow, the French Open, which concluded this weekend with Women’s and Men’s finals matches on Saturday and Sunday, threw up a few issues which highlight some of the ongoing issues with gender and sexuality in sport.

Anyone following the action would have been hard pressed to miss the long series of news articles about the controversy surrounding Margaret Court, a legendary tennis player and awful human being. Having risen to hero status in the sport, she has spent much of the rest of her life proclaiming hatred and intolerance under the guise of faith, and the response has been one of shame and outrage.

Many prominent figures, including another hugely important player of the history of the sport, Martina Navratilova, have called for an Arena at the Australian Open to be renamed, as it currently honours Court despite her prominent views. Navratilova herself is a vocal supporter of LGBT+ rights, and has often stood up for other lesbians in tennis, claiming the sport has many such people in its ranks.

Margaret Court (L) has been vocal in her opposition to Martina Navratilova’s (R) right to love and live the life she chooses with the woman she loves

A few individuals have questioned the relevance of this cause, as the player is being honoured for her sporting achievements rather than her current pursuits. The problem is that any such venue reflects the values and legacy of a society, and promoting an individual who preaches hatred and oppression can only shame our liberal society.

The venue is also used for concerts and events, which the Icelandic band Sigur Ros have used as a platform to support equality in marriage. Having such a venue named after someone with such radical views is unpopular with the people of Melbourne, and sets a bad example for generations to come.

In more heartening news, the French Open organisers have responded firmly and swiftly to an incident involving French player Maxime Hamou, who has been banned for an outrageous and completely unprofessional mistreatment of a female reporter. While his actions are reprehensible, the swiftness of the disciplinary action demonstrates that at least the French Open take inappropriate actions seriously and will punish them, in order to set an example of what is appropriate for sports professionals to say and do in their role as public figures.


Beating the boys

One of our dedicated readers recently forwarded me this article from the NY Times, which links in nicely to our post from a few weeks ago about girls and boys playing football together.

The article describes how a team made up entirely of girls participated in a junior football league, a sport which is almost entirely dominated by males in Spain, and won convincingly against the boys. When I was growing up in Spain myself, I remember playground kickabouts never included the girls, and in all honesty I cannot recall a time in twelve years there when I saw a girl take part in football. Your writer set out stock early by purchasing a whistle and some cards, and simulating refereeing… some things never change.

The article itself highlights what a difficult achievement this was, with women’s football in general marginalised and mostly ignored in Spain, which largely retains a strong machista culture. It doesn’t surprise me to see that this team emerged from my own region of Cataluña, an area notorious for its large progressive population and liberal values. It just shows what can be done when the psychological barriers are removed…

Who wears the trousers?

One of the areas of our society in which gendered clothing most prominently features and differentiates between people is school uniform. From a very young age, children are forced to align themselves with a particular set of clothing, chosen from (typically) one of two prescriptive lists. This is binary reinforcement at its strongest, and it is hard to unpick this at a later age.Charlie Whitehead

This highlights how unusual it is for a school such as Highgate School in London to open a dialogue about allowing all children to wear a number of different options, including normally gendered garments, according to their choice. This, along with unisex toilets, are generally being more and more favoured, especially among young, progressive-minded people.

What is most encouraging about this shift in attitudes is that it seems to be driven by responsive teachers listening to outspoken students, including more and more students who are questioning their own gender and feeling able to communicate this. This is
partly brought about by a significantly better access to information and ideas on this subject, including through the internet.

Recognition for these ideas is also gaining momentum on a wider scale – notably, student Charlie Whitehead, of Impington Village College, recently received an award for challenging school uniform rules, while other cases have also hit the headlines.

Perhaps over time these brave youngsters challenging perspectives will allow for a more inclusive and understanding educational system.

Roller Derby poll

I’ve long admired the world of Roller Derby, which not only embraces, but actively creates spaces for queer sportspeople. Despite a few internal issues, about which I hope to publish a guest post from one of my Derby friends, the sport does an awful lot of things right in terms of inclusivity and LGBT+ issues.
One of my contacts in that world has asked me to publicise this, which is an attempt to address some of the internal questions of the sport. If you know anyone who this might apply to, please pass this on!
If you play Rugby or Roller Derby in a women’s team and identify with any gender that is not male then please help a sister out and fill in my questionnaire! It is a research project comparing Roller Derby and Rugby. It will only take a minute or two!