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Helen Grant and Women in Sport

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I don’t know if you’ve seen it today, but the Sports Minister Helen Grant is being quoted all over the news as having suggested Women should take up more “feminine” sports, like cheer-leading and roller skating, in which they can look “glowing and radiant”.
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I followed the stories back to this interview in the Telegraph, as I don’t like to take a quote out of context, no matter how cross it makes me. The majority of what is said makes perfect sense. In order to get women to engage more in sport we need to ensure that it fits in with their lives and offer a range of sport and fitness options that appeal to them. She also talks about the lack of coverage of womens sports in the media, something which is undoubtedly true.

Where is all falls down is in those comments that got picked up by other newpapers about wanting to look “feminine” while doing sports

There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating.

In my ever reasonable fashion I can acknowledge that this comment is merely reacting to the way things are. A report published in 2012 showed that 48% of all the girls surveyed thought that getting sweaty was “unfeminine” and although they wanted to be more active they felt they lacked the opportunity.
3328438143_59e6cf9bde_zWhat makes me sad about these comments is the lack of challenge. As well as being the Sports Minister Helen Grant is also the Minister for Equality, and what I don’t see in these comments is any drive to challenge the status quo, push for equality in sports reporting and participation or help Women and Girls realise the liberation they could find in a sport if they let go of the cultural expectations placed upon them.

Implicit in these comments is an acceptance of the current situation. The Media doesn’t cover Women’s sport, but rather than pushing for change we just hope that they will change themselves as Women demonstrate success in sport. Women feel so much societal pressure to be pretty that they fear being seen hot and sweaty for 30 minutes while they go out for a run, but rather than drive for change we just present sports as more “feminine” to encourage participation.

2947237475_e54487cb46_zIt seems to me that the answer to getting Women involved in sport is to stop treating them like a different species. Labelling certain sports and exercises as more “feminine” not only alienates women, but also men. Who says all boys want to play Football? Why aren’t men going to Zumba and Gymnastics? Is it because the labelling of sports as feminine and masculine limits the potential options of women AND men.

This starts at a school level, to encourage girls to try out more sports and to stay involved in them. It also needs a cultural shift, so women and girls aren’t perpetually judged on their appearance to the extent that they feel their physical experience and the way they feel are less important than how they look, and it needs female athletes  and sports to be more visible in the media, taken seriously as sports people rather than eye candy.
2327240310_a16bf41d3b_b I was 33 when I finally started taking exercise and physical fitness “seriously” and and I started Roller Derby at 34, finally finding the team sport for Women who hate team sports. If it’s not too late for me to get over my paranoia of clothing my less than “perfect” body in lycra and sweating in public then its not too late for anyone.

Making the switch from baggy sports kit to heading out for a run dressed head to toe in lycra wasn’t easy, but it made running so much easier and more comfortable. I still sometimes feel self concious running past groups of people and irritating men in cars (so brave, in a car) still think it’s ok to beep and shout out of the windows at me as I run, but none of that outweighs the benefits of exercising.

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I’m not tiny, my legs still wobble when I run, and I sweat BUCKETS when I exercise. Not a feminine glow, I sweat like actual water dripping off my eyebrows and running down my chin. It’s not pretty and its got worse the fitter I get. It took me a long time not to care about that, in fact sometimes I still do. Comments like those Helen Grant made make me feel a little bit like I *should* care, they also make me feel pretty bad, because I’m fairly sure I could spend 10 minutes doing a nice genteel “feminine” sport like ballet and I’d still sweat like a pig.

I can only speak from my own perspective, I can’t speak for the experiences of people older, younger, fatter, thinner, richer, poorer, or from a different culture, but at a basic level I believe the physical experience of sport and exercise is the same for everyone, male or female. It brings confidence, physical strength and a sense of accomplishment as well as health benefits both mental and physical.

Experiment, try different things, find something you enjoy, whether that’s pushing yourself to the limits on a climbing wall or bouncing around in front of your TV to a Davina DVD. Do it wearing lipstick and lycra, do it make up free and in baggy sweat pants, but don’t limit yourself based on what other people might think of you, because in the end the only person you’ll be cheating is yourself.

Resources

Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation

I will if you will: Fitness in Bury

8 Responses
  • pixieanna
    February 21, 2014

    Ms Grant clearly doesn’t know her sports. Ballet may look pretty and feminine but some of the best athletes in the world are dancers – both male and female. I suspect she would be horrified should she ever attend a ballet class!!!

  • Fi Phillips
    February 21, 2014

    Great article and some very valid points. This year, I’ve found myself battling against a number of friends who think exercising will make me muscley and therefore unfeminine. I just want to be healthy. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • zolaspud
    February 22, 2014

    The thing that bugs me about the whole “women and sport” debate is the sport bit! Why “sport”? Why not “exercise”, “play”, “fun”? Sport implies competition to me which I find inherently off putting. I want to bounce around for the sheer joy of it. I don’t want to have to try to win, or resign myself to never being as good as xyz.
    Does anyone else feel that way?

    • Paperdoll
      February 22, 2014

      Totally agree, I hate ‘sport’ (still have flashbacks to P.E. at school) but I’m health and fitness mad….. I only compete with myself and what’s wrong with that?

  • Dani
    March 3, 2014

    Comments like that from Mrs Grant are absolutely ridiculous

  • Dani
    March 3, 2014

    Rollerskating feminine? Has she seen roller derby?

  • Mitchell Okotie
    March 23, 2014

    A great article on females being active doing sporting activities. It makes a lot of sense.

  • owenr8
    June 10, 2014

    What got to me was the mention of cheerleading! It’s just so misinformed it’s unreal. As a competitve cheerleader myself, I don’t think I’ve ever lookes LESS feminine at training! Cheerleading isn’t the pompom-waving sport that it is still thought to be and it makes me so sad to hear comments like this!