Friday, 21 February 2014

Getting more women into it really about looking "unfeminine"?

This week, Helen Grant, the minister of sports, equalities and tourism, gave an interview to The Telegraph newspaper on the gap between men and women participating in sport in the UK - 1.8 million fewer women than men according to the article. Grant states in the interview that adult women should be asked what they actually want to do in terms of sport, suggesting that this might be something like Zumba rather than traditional team sports. The article also quotes her as saying that women could choose sports where they "don't have to feel unfeminine", such as "ballet, gymnastics, cheer-leading and...roller-skating" and this aspect of the interview has triggered discussion elsewhere in the media. I first read about this interview in opinion piece in The Guardian's Comment is Free section today which argues that "suggesting women take up cheerleading or roller-skating is in keeping with a Conservative agenda of preserving outdated gender values"  and a BBC article quotes a Labour MP as accusing Grant of promoting "lazy stereotypes".   Grant has claimed that her comments had been "taken out of context" in the interview, so it's difficult for us to know exactly what was said or meant (you wouldn't use any of these articles as scholarly material in an assignment!), but this got me thinking about my own experience as a woman who participated in sport as a child and then returned to it as an adult.

I don't think that "looking unfeminine" has ever been a concern for me. What I have experienced as an adult is unwanted comments for being a woman out doing sport - I tend to run on a treadmill in the gym rather than outside now because I just can't be bothered with having things shouted at me from passing cars - but I think that this is part of a much wider issue which goes beyond sport. I think it's the same issue which means that female athletes suffer comments on their appearance, and that the newspapers got excited about the 2003 redesign of the England netball team's kit making the outfits more "raunchy" and "sexy" (do a search in NewsBank for "netball kit" in 2003 newspapers if you're interested)...but that's a whole other, non-sport related blog post in itself.

I think that some of the other things which are going to be putting women off sport are factors which may well put men off too, like expense, time and feeling that they will not be good enough at it, and that's where some of the attention needs to be focused; identifying what the issues really are for women, and making sport more accessible for them.

Another issue mentioned in the article is the disparity between the media coverage of men and women's sport, which I think is really important too, especially in getting young people interested. When I was a child, the boys in my class had their football idols who they could look to emulate, men who were on the television and in the newspapers every week, who were considered heroes; we girls didn't have the equivalent. I think women's sport is gradually getting more coverage - in recent years there's been a lot more women's football on television, certainly -  but there's still a long way to go. I'd like to switch on the BBC or ITV and see highlights of our national netball team's games at a time of night that isn't the early hours. I'd like our female footballers and netballers and other sportswomen to be idols for young girls too.

I could go on forever about this topic so I'll leave it here...but I'd love to know what you think. Do you agree with Helen Grant's supposed comments, or any of the responding articles? What do you think gets in the way of women participating in sport...and what can we do to remove barriers?

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