I’ve struck up quite a relationship with my physiotherapist in the last couple of months, as you do when you go there for twice weekly torture, er, treatment, to get back some movement and minimise stiffness in the arm I shattered a few months ago. She is as determined as I to contradict the surgeon who told me optimistically that I’d never get more than 80% function back in my arm and that I’d get arthritis in my elbow before too long. So, she is working her damndest to get my flexion and extension as near a hundred percent as possible. And that’s hard when you’re dealing with an arm and elbow that seems to have more metal in it than a hardware store.
So to counter the excruciating pain the treatment brings, we often chat. To take my mind off the fact that it feels like she is breaking my arm all over again, and also we like to have a yak. About our families, work, the news, and so on. The other day we were talking about what we each did over the Christmas holidays and she’s had a lovely break from work and she’d played cricket with her three year old son. As you do, as so many Australian families do at Christmas; after the meal there’s the big backyard bash. Everyone from Grandad to the youngest gets in on the action. It’s tradition. You use a tennis ball (don’t want to break any windows on Christmas Day) and the stumps are an eskie or the barbecue, or they’re real ones that someone got from Santa that very morning. Hit it on to the roof or over the fence and you’re out. Backyard rules apply.
Her son, remember he’s three, had been at the crease for quite a while and his mum said, “OK darling, it’s Mummy’s turn to bat now”. Three year old gives his mother a withering stare and says “No. Girls don’t play cricket Mummy, they sit down and watch”. She was stumped, pun totally intended.
It starts young. We both felt outraged, but what is this little fella’s reference for cricket playing? He’s never seen women or girls play cricket. His Dad’s an avid fan and junior has watched the cricket on TV along with him. No women to be seen. Except a few in the crowd, who are sitting down, watching. Just like he told his mum. He probably thinks girls don’t play football either (any of the codes), or basketball or baseball. The two sports he might know that girls play could be tennis or netball. Maybe.
Sexism is insidious. This little boy doesn’t even know he’s doing it. For him, it just is. Sport is one aspect where women are virtually invisible (soon to be more invisible with the loss in 2015 of the ABC’s coverage of women’s basketball and soccer). This is what girls and boys grow up with. Boys and men play, girls and women watch.
Women have been playing cricket in an Australian national team since 1934, and our women’s team won the world cup last year. There been a “W-league” (curiously, men’s sporting codes are never called the “M-league”) competition in Australia for professional basketball for 34 years. Lauren Jackson is our greatest player. She’s played in the American League for years and she’s been a WNBA (USA) All-star and Champion many times over. Lauren earns a massive six figure salary. She’s also an Olympian and has represented her country. She’s currently back in Australia playing for the Canberra Capitals. Is that enough to keep women’s basketball on TV? Is it enough for a little boy to grow up seeing women play sport on TV? No and no.
There’s a National women’s football (soccer) team in Australia – the Matildas – who played their first international match in 1979. They’re in the World Cup this year. We have a national W-league for soccer too. Our own Canberra United team has won the Grand final three times in the last six years. They’re semi-professional, several players are Matildas, some of them have played in the professional league in the USA, but they don’t get paid much. They all work or study and fit in a gruelling training regime, and they are tough, strong, fast, fit elite athletes and they play an exciting skilful game. But we won’t be seeing them on TV any more either.
If we don’t want our children growing up thinking girls don’t play sport (and certainly not seriously, professionally) we need to show them that indeed girls do. And they’re good at it, and they train as hard as men. TV is a strong and powerful medium that can teach us so much. It is part of our daily lives. Kids watch heaps of it. Unfortunately there are even less female sporting role models on TV now. And more and more children will grow up believing that girls don’t play cricket (or football, or soccer or basketball); they just sit down and watch it.
*Photo credit: smh.com.au