Women in sport wrap-up


Image provided by Brunette Lenkić. Daily News (Perth), 14 Apr 1950.

This week we published an online series of commentary pieces that explored women’s experience in and of sporting culture. A huge thank you to the five incredible writers who contributed to this special online series: Brunette Lenkić, Katerina Bryant, Emma Jenkins, Danielle Warby, and Holly Isemonger.

‘The Physical Is Feminine’, by Brunette Lenkić

Active women can change the world. And that might be why, over the centuries, they have been strapped into corsets, bustles and stilettos, or had their feet bound, necks extended and genitals mutilated. Such physical constraints in the name of fashion or religion suggest at a deeper level that if women weren’t tethered, they might escape. It has been a continuing challenge for girls and women to be allowed to run, jump, throw, catch, hit, chase, form teams and compete freely. Some of the obstacles that constrict female roles in wider society are particularly visible in the sporting arena because sport poses the question: what are bodies for?

‘Fuck You, Bobby Fischer: The Emotional Labour of Playing Chess as a Woman’, by Katerina Bryant

When we talk about emotional labour, it’s often referring to our immediate community. Our workplaces, our homes. Yet when I look at the small, but global, chess community, I see that the gendering of chess and volunteer time has had global ramifications. Considering the big names in chess, previous World Champions and rising young stars, there is a friction between how women and men use their time.

‘Under the Covers: Sponsorship, Spectatorship, and Sexism in Professional Cycling’, by Emma Jenkins

Just like in life, some people have tremendous advantages. Bigger budgets can buy better equipment, better training programs, and better cyclists. These advantages stack, and the men’s success is read as natural, innate. It’s taken as evidence that men are, simply, better cyclists. Disadvantages stack, too. Channel Nine, who have long held the exclusive rights to the Tour Down Under, didn’t even broadcast the women’s race this year, immediately deterring large sponsorships. This is structural inequality at its finest.


Image copyright Lyndall Irons. Used with permission.

‘Out on Instagram: Are Elite Sportswomen Changing What Coming Out Looks Like?’, by Danielle Warby

There’s a sense that today people think of their identities as more than just their sexuality. For a lot of sportswomen, being an athlete is what is front and centre – more than being lesbian, and even more than being a woman. How many times have women in sport had to ask the public to focus only on their athletic achievements?

On top of this, publicly claiming a sexual identity of the LGBQ variety is still a very political thing to do and it’s tough enough for women in sport as it is, without adding extra complications to navigating what is still, at times, a hostile environment.

‘Surfing Is My Feminist Origin Story (in That I Left for the Arts Swiftly, and Remained Angry)’, by Holly Isemonger

There are distinct differences in the way genders are marketed: men are brilliant athletes (and if they are hot, bonus!), for women the message is she is really hot, and she can surf. She becomes more desirable, not for her skill as a surfer, but as a lifestyle accessory to make her personal brand more valuable. This gendered system has its roots back in the eighteenth century. During this period middle class women were becoming more widely educated, however, this was limited to the realm of what Mary Wollstonecraft called ‘accomplishments’: music, singing, drawing, dancing and modern languages – skills that were often used to entertain but never intended for professional use. They were accessories to add to a woman’s value as a potential wife, and this was a period of time when marriage was namely an exchange of money and property. The surfing industry isn’t in the business of wives but it is in the business of money.