Pictured: Author and Stella Prize winner Clare Wright, Journalist and Author of Breaking the Mould Angela Pippos and Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.
I could have been a contender when it came to sport. Yes, I could have played for my country, been on telly, been idolised by fans and paid in the zillions. Endorsed underwear brands and sculled cans of Pepsi for obscene amounts of cash. I could have lived out my dreams and lived off the memories. All this I could have achieved if I’d only been blessed with exceptional athletic ability and an unyielding desire to win.
But if I’d been christened ‘Martina’ (and was, in fact, a woman rather than born to whacky parents), none of these same opportunities would have been open to me. Growing up, I never appreciated my privilege or paid it any mind to be honest. I was too busy enjoying the fruits of a patriarchal society to really give a stuff about who might be missing out. It wasn’t until my wife and I had twin girls that I really started taking sexism personally. (I did support equality before, but in a more theoretical and influencing-my-sphere kind of way, and I’m not particularly proud of my past self’s relative inactivity.)
Journalist Angela Pippos takes sexism VERY seriously. Angela feels a bit like my alter ego (the very idea of which will probably frighten the life out of her should she read this). We are around the same age (possibly) and we both love sport. I have played and watched sport all my life, but for Angela participating in sport was largely cut off when she hit her teens. The path to sporting glory abruptly ended. I continued playing loads of sports and even getting selected for representative honours in a few of them. It was all laid out for me – a path to the summit – if I could play well enough and wanted it badly enough. I couldn’t and didn’t but still…
Angela, on the other hand, and ALL women up until very recently have had a totally different relationship to sport. She deserves sport more than me because she has had to fight for her place in it, while I’ve just taken it for granted. Her book BREAKING THE MOULD was launched today at the Melbourne Cricket Club (in the MCG). It was an incredible event brought to life by the words of four feisty, funny, sports-loving women – Ruby Ashby-Orr, Kate Jenkins, Clare Wright and Angela herself.
On the way to the loo after the speeches, I walked through the hallowed rooms of the MCC admiring the many pictures on the walls celebrating more than 100 years of sport. It had never struck me so obviously before; there wasn’t a single woman featured in this visual history of sport. Isn’t it ridiculous that sport was largely shut off to half of humanity for all this time?
Love it or loathe it, sport is important – it’s a massive focus of our society and the subject of enormous investment and interest. That, historically, it should be so one-sided is just insane and makes me feel very uncomfortable. That many women don’t get behind this because they “don’t like sport” drives me a bit mad. That’s not the point, surely!
My girls, now 8, think it’s no big deal that a woman jockey can win the Melbourne Cup, or that their dad yells at the telly just as much when he’s watching the Western Bulldogs women’s footy team as the men’s. My girls might show no interest in playing sport themselves, or they might love it but be completely useless at it, or they might be the next Aussie sporting legends – who knows. What’s important to me is that they have an opportunity to play as much as they want. That there are pathways open to them and they are able to reach their full potential (if that’s what they’d like to do).
There’s an awakening occurring all over Australia, particularly in sport, and while we should absolutely get behind and celebrate it we should not for a minute take it for granted or assume that it will keep growing on its own steam. It is women like Angela, unstoppable forces of nature, who brought us to this tipping point for women in sport. And it’s men like my former self who, by being only passive in our support for equality, have effectively been complicit in preserving the sexism that has existed in sport all this time.
We have come a long way recently for women in sport, but let’s not forget that the last time that the sports media coverage was measured, it showed that horses got more attention than female athletes! We can’t go back there. More men need to get behind equality in sport, and I’d urge all dads of daughters to read Angela’s book. And if you think I’m just spruiking a book hoping you’ll buy it, feel free to pop by our office and I’ll give a copy myself (just don’t tell the retailers).