There’s more to Women’s AFL than Footy
Written By Maddy Crehan
So ICYMI the first round of AFL Women’s was last weekend. Chances are you didn’t though as there were more than 50,000 people who attended the four games and more than 1.7 million viewers who watched it on TV. The games made headlines in newspapers and sports reports all over the country. This is a significant achievement for women in sport, if you consider that prior to this newly formed league, Australian sports coverage consisted of 81.1% male sports and only 7.4% of female sports.
Women playing sport is not a foreign concept. Even women playing football is nothing new. The first official game of women’s football in Australia was in 1915 in WA when women were keen to uphold the game after the men went away to war. It was started by the department store Foy and Gibson, with one team made up of factory workers and another team made up of shop girls. They played in silk skirts and dresses. By 1955 there were more than 100 women’s football teams around Australia.
Women compete at a professional level in countless other sports; tennis, basketball, netball, soccer, etc. So why is introducing a women’s AFL team such a big deal? Because the AFL is an intrinsic part of Australian culture and identity. It is the most popular sport in our country, by far, and fourth-best attended sporting competition in the world. It is a billion dollar franchise and televised all over the nation. So basically it was the biggest and most expensive (and exclusive) boys club in the country. Until now.
The AFLW isn’t about proving that women are strong and tough and can play sport. It’s about smashing glass ceilings and showing young women and girls that they can have an equal opportunity to do what they love, (professionally, not just as a hobby) and actually be taken seriously for it.
It’s also about recognition. We already know that female athletes work just as hard and are as passionate in their chosen sport. Now it’s time for that to be recognised on the same scale as men. And to be celebrated by a nation on the same scale as men.
In order to open up the boys club even further and really instill a culture of equality and respect, we need to encourage not just female players, but also more female umpires, coaches, sports journalists, commentators, etc. This way women who are passionate about being involved, but don’t want to or can’t physically play the game can still able to fulfill their dreams. If the sport is to become truly equal it needs to employ women in all professions specific to football. Only then will there be a shift in the hyper-masculine culture that surrounds footy, leaving many women and female-identifying people excluded.
These women will be role models to girls all over the country. And we need role models to remind us what we are capable of achieving. The first ever female Prime Minister showed us that it is possible to be a woman and obtain the highest position in politics. The first female High Court chief justice showed us that we are capable of enforcing justice. The first female astronaut showed us that we could reach new heights and places that women before us had never been before.
The incredible thing about these women is that they did not simply adopt the male culture of each role. They created new traditions, new ways of working and allowed each of those professions to be more accessible to the women who follow them. As with the women in the AFLW league. They are not copying a ‘male’ sport. They are taking a sport they live and making it their own.
More and more women are starting to have publicly visible roles in society. There are more women on screen, in parliament, on boards, in sport. This is so important, not just for those women, but for all of the women and girls who follow their footsteps. When one woman grows she brings others with her. These are the role models we want for the next generation. Strong, powerful, resilient women who support one another.
More than 50, 000 people attended the first round of matches of the AFLW. Thousands more were turned away due to capacity. That’s tens of thousands of people who believe in women’s sport and want to support it. I hope that of those thousands at the game and even more watching at home, there are young girls everywhere starting to say; ‘that’s going to be me one day’.
Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.
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