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.