I am a woman who does sport. I am not weak or incapable, I do not need a friend to hold my hand. I do not need bribing with pretty things. I do not need an easy option. I don’t need to hide away from men. I do not need a safe place to face my fears or be empowered. I just want to enjoy sport and be treated fairly.
There seems to be a belief that those of us participating in sport are in the minority, that most women are too self-conscious, lacking body confidence or are trembling, quaking darlings too scared to join in the fun. Women’s disengagement with sport has become big business but whilst the focus is on getting girls into the locker room, those of us out on the playing field are still finding it to be be stubbornly uneven.
I’m an ultra runner, an Ironman triathlete, a marathon lover, I swim lakes, (the whole length of them!) yet more than once at a registration desk people have looked through me and addressed my husband. I’ve been lumped in an early starting women’s wave in a half Ironman to be trampled by subsequent waves of impatient faster men, instead of being sorted by projected time. I’ve been obstructed by men down the pool who are obviously slower than me but refuse to acknowledge my existence.
In cross country races I am only allowed to run half the distance of my male club mates. Seriously? The reasons used to justify this are astounding.
In fact, in an era where women serve alongside men on equal terms in the police, fire service and on the frontline in armed conflict, female athletes routinely compete on diminished terms compared to their male counterparts. The examples are countless; tennis, rowing, track cycling, weightlifting, boxing… These are an out-dated status quo, harking back to a time when women were considered to be weaker, fragile. It’s odd that these gender anomalies still persist.
The thing is, the image of women as the frailer sex is still being perpetuated when it comes to sport and it’s difficult to understand why more women aren’t challenging it.
When I’m running 50 miles a week in training what am I looking for in a shoe? How about one inspired by cherry blossoms courtesy of Asics? Or kit designed to energise me “on the school run” or “down to the shops” by Ron Hill or a tri suit that’s both “comfy and cute” available from sport pursuit.
Yes, everything connected to women’s sport has to be pastels and pink. Ever noticed how often men’s kit ads feature professional sportsmen as opposed to the pouting models used for women? Sports Direct have recently launched a make up range so we can be glamorous whilst we train, SportFX Stamina mascara anyone?
Women are routinely segregated in sport and this is justified by presenting it as a solution to making women more comfortable. A tri club recently invited me on a women’s only training ride, making me feel I wasn’t welcome on the faster, longer general one; (why not just have two different ability sessions for all?) Pools offer ‘ladies only’ sessions, which no doubt are beneficial to women from stricter, more modest cultures, but, I’ve heard of women being encouraged not to attend if they are knocking out a speedy training set. “This isn’t the place for that.”
And when women aren’t feeling uncomfortable they are scared. I am called brave for running solo or cycling to work. According to a recent cycling survey “Most of our cities are failing to design roads and streets for women to cycle.”
No mention of the numbers of men who cycle…or their safety.
Instead of patronising women, why not inspire us? Should we not celebrate the strong, determined, awesome athletes who are championing in their sports? We are not little girls! I want to see more positive role models.
The World Cup will feature women commentators this year. Great! Ask yourself when has women’s sport ever dominated the tv schedules? In fact, how often is a women’s event shown in entirety? Listen to a sports bulletin on the radio and count how many women are mentioned. Women’s sport is virtually invisible, professionals paid considerably less, sponsorship a tiny percentage of their male counterparts. It is no wonder this filters down to grassroots level.
I do not intend to bash men here. Mostly I am treated with respect and equality by my male peers. What I criticise is a system that women are complicit in. Women are not treated fairly in sport and we’ve been led to believe that it is our fault. We need to stop promoting the image of women as feeble and disengaged and celebrating female sports with the same vigour as men’s. I, for one, intend to become proactive in tackling everyday sexism in sport. (Though I might still, sometimes, wear pink.)