Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Sport needs to change" - for women, that is.

Today's Guardian has this article which explores the radical idea that maybe, just maybe, fewer women are taking sport because it's not seen as a very girly thing to do.

"Social pressures which portray sport as unfeminine and encourage girls to be thin rather than fit are an important barrier preventing girls and women from taking part in exercise, according to the study by the Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation.

Negative experiences of sport in school and low body confidence also put women off exercise, the research found.

The prime minister, in a recorded address at the report's launch today, will warn of a "critical under-representation of women and girls in sport" at all levels, and will urge "a cultural change that allows girls to see sport and physical activity as aspirational".

"Sport needs to change so that it becomes as much a place for women and girls as it is for men and boys," he will say, telling sports bodies to "work harder to understand women's lives".

A failure to reverse the decline in women's fitness will have serious health implications, ranging from obesity and heart disease to depression and low self-esteem, Brown, a former rugby player and keen sports fan, will tell a conference on women's sport, Raising the Game, at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium.

The prime minister will also attack the "critical lack of investment and profile" at the elite end of women's sport, with no professionally paid women in team sport in the UK."

Finally, after all kinds of hand-wringing about how girls and women are getting too fat/thin, they're actually doing something positive and trying to get us to be... healthy. It's about time. Women's football has it's own league and competitions, but it's not taken as seriously, and female professional footballers cannot have a career focused upon their sport. (Update: The F-Word now has this post on the subject. The players for England's World-Cup-standard Women's Team got a minuscule £40 a day for their efforts, and had to fit their training around university life or work. Many are now unable to train because they must work to make up for lost earnings during the tournament. They feel unappreciated and aren't being given a reasonable chance to maintain their sporting abilities to a high standard. Not quite the same for the male players at the same level, is it?) The mere fact that it is called 'women's' football - as opposed to just 'football' - marks it off as 'other', and reflects a pervasive attitude towards it and other sports; the women's league is not seen as the 'real thing' and is not given as much respect. Tennis has caught up in this area, with women now finally being awarded the same cash prize as men, but not after a lot of pathetic arguments including the notion that, because women (with their slightly different physical abilities in comparison to men) play fewer sets, they don't deserve as much - never mind that they are dedicating themselves to the sport, working just as hard and are just as impressive out on the court. When the women of sport aren't given as much airtime or respect, how can the laywomen be persuaded that it's so great?

Away from the professional side, I can also agree with the talk about girls in general not seeing sport as attractive.

"The foundation's chief executive, Sue Tibballs, said: "To put the challenge into perspective, there has been almost no change in the level of women's physical activity in the UK for the past 20 years. The forecasts show that the situation is getting worse, which points to a real crisis in women's sport and fitness."


Girls and women feel "at best, pretty ambivalent about sport," Tibballs said.

"When you think that the highest profile women in sport are the Wags, is it so surprising that girls have these attitudes? Being active and sporty is not an aspirational place for young women to be."

Sport gets you all sweaty, the clothes aren't stylish, and it's hard to look decorative when you're throwing yourself around the gym. I've noticed girls in gym classes stop applying themselves as much or mysteriously get ill every time a large sports hall was shared with a male class.In mixed classes, some were constantly worried about what they looked like. Somehow, the way you appear under the male gaze became more important than just getting out there and having a bit of fun. And don't get me started on the changing rooms; I'll be here all day. I know that appearance is not - CANNOT - be the sole repelling factor for the majority, but it's worrying that even a few people are put off sport by it.

Personally, I'm glad that the government is finally taking some steps in this direction - in the long term, if successful, it could lead to more positive female role models - and young girls may stop seeing 'footballer's wife' as a more worthy life goal than 'footballer'.


  1. you know I am a women who participates in sports and I have noticed the same effect. It's also becoming difficult to find players - Luckily I have found a site ( where women are interested in sports and found 2 members who eventually joined our team. So there are places to find sporty women and there are so many of them.


  2. As a woman who used to do sports I got sick of all the sexist comments. I have big breasts, they are an incredible burden most of the time in more ways than one, and I do not appreciate being oogled while wearing a swim suit. Then do not wear a swim suit some might suggest. Well, what else would I be wearing when doing swimming at competition level? Sweat pants and winter coat? Nor do I appreciate being told that my boobs are big, I am in fact aware of that, nor that he could really see them aschwinging. No, shit, I was doing Kung Fu and round-house kicks tend to send certain extremities into jiggles. Guys have asked me to jump, just so they could see my boobs jiggle. Is it such a wonder I prefer not to move at all when somebody - anybody - might see me? To me, it's not about what the professionals get paid, it's about the complete lack of respect paid to me.