Having played competitive netball for most of my adolescent life, I’ve never doubted my freedom to enjoy team sports, regardless of whether they’re perceived to be ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’. But as Emma Watson reminded us in her opening #heforshe speech to the UN, some women often feel as though they shouldn’t play particular sports as they fear it will make them too muscly.
It’s disheartening yet unsurprising that such archaic views exist when people in positions of responsibility continue to perpetuate them in the media. Sports Minister Helen Grant suggested that the way to get more women into sports is through feminine activities like cheerleading and ballet, which make women look “absolutely radiant”.
John Inverdale wrenched the spotlight away from Marion Bartoli in July 2013 when she won the Wimbledon Women’s Singles Final, commenting on BBC Radio that the inspirational tennis player, who had just reached the pinnacle of her career, was ‘never going to be a looker’.
British artistic gymnast Beth Tweddle became the victim of online abuse in January when she participated in a Twitter Q&A session as part of promoting women’s sports, only to be met with derogatory insults such as ‘Are all sportswomen lesbians?’
Why is it that women are repeatedly reminded that their sporting endeavours are married to their appearance and their femininity?
Despite the fact that there are a multitude of female sporting idols making ground-breaking achievements in women’s sports, like England winning the Women’s Rugby World Cup or the fact that women won three quarters of the medals in the Sochi Olympics, old-fashioned views that competition and physical strength belong in a male arena continue to rear their ugly head.
Playing sports means different things to different people. Some relish the opportunity to make friends and invest in a team goal. Others take the opportunity to set themselves personal targets and see how far they can push their mental grit and physical strength. Most enjoy the powerful endorphin rush that’s released during strenuous exercise, which brings them back to the netball court, football pitch or athletics track- even after the most bitter of defeats.
To the detractors of women’s sports: stop robbing women of these worthwhile enjoyments and replacing them with your bigoted ideas about what it means to be a woman. You never know, when sportswomen are at the peak of their game, sweating buckets, in the zone, determined to win- that’s the moment they’ll be feeling ‘absolutely radiant’.