Sweating it out

A couple of weeks ago Helen Grant, the Minister for Sport and Equalities, gave an interview to the Telegraph about how we can improve the number of women who participate in sport

The resulting media coverage was unfair to Grant, suggesting that she thought women should do elegant, more gentle activities, if traditional sports made them feel unfeminine.  I suspect that few people who criticised her actually read what she said.  If you want to see for yourself, then the whole interview is here.

There is nothing wrong with her basic suggestion that women should be given a wide choice of activities, and should not have to participate in something that makes them uncomfortable.  Perhaps her words should have been chosen more carefully, but to label Grant sexist is plain nonsense.

What caught my eye though, and seems to have been completely overlooked, is this paragraph from the interview:

“When it comes to sports, it is always the same issues that tend to put women off from participating: finding the time, childcare and work, and viewing sport as ‘unfeminine’ - as almost half of UK schoolgirls think that sweating is “not feminine.”

What was not addressed in the interview – and what I was so disheartened to see – was that statistic from girls in school.  Almost half the girls in our schools will consider avoiding a fun, healthy, sociable activity in case they are seen as “unfeminine”.  While the boys are running around rugby and football pitches, building teams, learning skills, exercising, the girls are fretting about how it might make them look.

It’s statistics like this that remind me just how far we have to go before girls feel free enough from the pressures of what they look like to be truly equal to men.

And that’s the part I wish Grant had commented on.  Instead of telling us that we should give those girls what they want, something radiant and pretty, I wish she had been able to sit them down and tell them what a waste of their time and self-esteem it is to be so focussed, at such a young age, on how they look.  To find out where on earth they got that idea of what is “feminine” and to reassure them that playing and running and feeling free to join in sports could never make you less “female”.  It’s sad to think that girls feel the pressure, while still at school, to consider their femininity, and therefore their attractiveness, in everything that they do.  Will I look pretty if I do this?  Will I feel unattractive? How will people see me?  These are not questions our school children should have to ask.  It frames and limits everything they do with an idea of being female that is already inferior to the men.

Boys don’t care about this stuff, they just enjoy it.  And the moment girls allow themselves to do the same, is the moment when they really will be equals

Author: Panda Date: Mon, 03/03/2014 - 15:09

I am very lucky as I coach to Olympic level a sport that has both genders within it. Field Hockey. I have coached in a number of countries and the way the sport is perceived for both genders is very dependent on the dominant National sports. In the UK Football is the dominant male sport and for women it is fast catching up too. We are seeing sports such as rugby and cricket also being played by both sexes and my sport hockey is a classic example. The biggest difference is usually the speed of the game and the size of the athletes but rest assured they all SWEAT! So do attendees of Zumba classes and gym classes and in many of those cases its frowned upon for men to attend so that's why I have commented on the last statement "Boys don’t care about this stuff, they just enjoy it. And the moment girls allow themselves to do the same, is the moment when they really will be equals" Blokes just get on with it and in fact enjoy trying new activities and a good example is all the athletes who have won Strictly Come Dancing. The competitive nature of sport produces winners and this can be either gender! This subject can dovetail out and we can look at sport in schools at all ages and we can look at lack of male teachers in primary schools where "invasion games" should be rife in my opinion. Netball and Football are invasion games by the way.
I could also show you pictures of feminine high achieving female sports people who have broken fingers, noses and suffered horrendous injuries in their sporting careers who are invited regularly to appear as models for fashion labels. Two Dutch Olympic Gold Winning Hockey players appeared in the legendary Sports Illustrated Swim Wear magazine.
There is a massive push in our sport to get women 'Back to Hockey' and England Hockey are seeing new teams within clubs as women join and learn the game again or for the first time since school. After they will freshen up and no doubt 'make up' and then have a drink with friends and be feminine!
I am not going to speak for all Men but I would say the majority enjoy the company of women who partake in contact sports and get "sweaty" oooh I said it again but its true. Its also a good way to meet people and I can name tens of couples who met when "Sweaty" or were muddy and probably smelt, but by the time they had cleaned up they were regular people. I appreciate girls at school may feel uncomfortable and I know some who hate boys seeing them covered in Field Hockey Goalie kit...but I say to them, maybe its a rapport build...just maybe they want to know what you do as you stand out and are individual. The days of a goalie being the last picked are gone its now a sport where designer kit is worn for outfielders and goalies and its played 90% of the time on plastic AstroTurf pitches with no mud. Like all things its about education and maybe that's what we should be looking at before we start labeling. Happy to discuss with anyone at anytime. Thank you will stop now as its got infinite avenues.