Res-Sisters 2015

From November last year until about three weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of writing a collaborative article with a group of early career female and feminist academics. We all write from relatively different disciplines ranging from education and sociology to my cultural studies end of the spectrum, but because we are all youth researchers, our paths have managed to cross.

The chapter that we have written has been for an edited collection about being a feminist academic in contemporary Higher Education (Feminist Beginnings*), and so we all wanted to respond to talk about our experiences of the neoliberal academy. We specifically decided to write collaboratively, as a means of writing an article that also provided a space for consciousness raising. As a means of rejecting the rampant individualism of the neoliberal academy we were committed to ensuring that there was no one lead author, and this is something that we are particularly proud of. We all care deeply about our roles within Higher Education and we also care passionately about the wellbeing of one another, both within the Res-Sister collective and our colleagues within the field; encouraging conversations that build solidarity and support. With this in mind we encourage all Res-Sisters to share our experiences far and wide. So, when asked to produce a Pecha Kucha as part of my teacher training I could think of no better topic to present on. It prompted passionate discussion amongst the academics in the room, ranging from Pharmacy and Environmental Science through to Economics and History. Despite our differing intellectual backgrounds we all felt disillusionment with the neoliberal academy and the demands it places upon us (well, all bar the economist anyway!). It is so important that we talk about these things, and that we render problematic the common-sense of the neoliberal academy.

As part of this sharing, here is the Pecha Kucha that I presented last week. It cuts off at the end (you lose the last 20 seconds), so if you are desperate to know what I say, you can listen to it here. We hope that you appreciate what we have to say:

*a link will appear when its available to purchase/reserve from your local library.

Advertisements

Look after yourself and care about what you do: the prize giving speech I made to my old High School

A month or so ago I was approached by my old high school who had found out about my ‘successes’ in academia. They invited me to give an address at the ‘Prize Giving Evening’ for former Year 11 students. Its more or less a commencement speech. Out of all of the talks I have given, this is the one that I found most difficult to write, and certainly the most nervous I was about giving. What could I say to these students that would matter to them? Last year sport presenter Jake Humphrey gave the talk, and save for a few appearances on local media, Jake Humphrey I am not! These students had no reason to care about what I had to say, so I figured I should at least take the opportunity to tell them what I wish I had heard when I was their age. I hope that it came across that way.

So here’s the speech I gave (more or less), feel free to share with young people that you might think could do with some reassurance as they try to figure out where they sit in the world:

You probably hear this all of the time, but you are the future. You guys, sitting here in front of me. Be the change that you want to see in the world. Be loud. Be heard. Command respect. You deserve it. Take care of yourself. You deserve it.

Take a deep breath and say: I matter. Because you do matter. Each person in this room matters.

I spent a long time thinking that I didn’t really matter. It was a bad habit I got into around about the age that you are all now. I didn’t think I mattered until someone told me that I mattered, so I spent a long time running around trying to get validation from other people. I was constantly trying to prove to other people that I mattered and I did this so much that I never stopped to realise that actually the only person that could really define my own self worth was me. I would walk around thinking, is this the right band to like? Am I wearing the right clothes? Do people like me? I still have to work to silence that voice of insecurity, doubt and uncertainty.

But then it’s only been a short while ago since I realised what an unhealthy way of living that was. That’s why I want to tell you this now. You matter. You don’t matter because I’m telling you that, you matter because you matter. Tell yourself that everyday. Truly believing in yourself can only come from within you.

You can do things and you will achieve things. I mean you’re sitting right here right now. You made it through high school! Some people say that high school is the best time of your life, and in some respects that’s true, but they can also be some of the most difficult years of your life too.

Just because I am telling you to believe in yourself does not mean that I am telling you to have all the answers, or even any of the answers. In fact, not having the answers is what makes where you are in your lives so exciting. You have the time, the space and the opportunity to figure all of that out.

When I was sitting where you are now I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I think I may have had some vague ideas but that was about it. I did know that I wanted to keep learning, so I did what everyone else was doing, I went to sixth form. Maybe you’re going to sixth form, maybe you’re doing something more vocational, maybe you want to try and get a job straightaway. Whatever you’re going on to do, I guarantee you this, you will be learning. And that’s fantastic, but I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for you to take on challenges and get some qualifications. They open doors.

When Mr Vandenburgh asked me to speak to you I wondered what I would say. Reflecting back on the past 11 years since I was sat where you are now I felt that I’d just kind of fallen into where I am now. ‘I got lucky’ was what I used to say to people. But then when I sat down to write this speech I realised that actually, it wasn’t luck, it was a lot of hard work and a whole load of passion for what I was doing.

I realised that when it came to making choices about what I would do, I made sure that I cared about it in the first place. Sometimes what you’re good at and what you care about don’t always match up. When I left Fram my GCSEs were good but not great. My A-Levels were just okay. I figured I was going to be academically average for the rest of my life. And that kind of fit every image I had of myself and to be honest with you, I was a little disappointed but I was fine with it.

I felt that science was interesting but that it didn’t really click with me. For me, it was all about the humanities. I loved learning about the Vietnam war – I’d just discovered Rage Against the Machine and I suspect my Mum was worried I was going to grow into a communist revolutionary (which is really only partly true). People will tell you that studying the humanities will be a waste of time and that you’ll never get a job with them. Well let me let you in on a secret. Those people are lying to you. The humanities opens up the world to you. You start to see the world for what it really is. You can identify problems and enact change. The humanities gives you the skills to keep learning well beyond the time you will be at university. It gives you the skills a whole bunch of employers will appreciate.

After finishing my A-Levels I decided to take a gap year, but rather than go somewhere glamorous like Thailand I went to Hull – quite possibly the exact opposite of Thailand! When I was 19 I went to York University to study Sociology because that’s what I most enjoyed. But I found it hard to be away from home and the majority of people up there were a bit posh. My family say I’ve gotten posh in my speech but I am and always will a council house kid – posh I am not! Finding it hard I decided to move back home. But rather than drop out I wrote to the UEA to see if they would take me as a second year student. And maybe luckily, or maybe because of my perseverance, they did.

It was in transferring to the UEA that I shifted my focus from sociology to cultural studies, and in that shift that I started to realised what I cared about. I cared about people and their politics, people and their power, and people and their oppression. At UEA I discovered race studies, and class studies, I discovered the thing that changed my life, feminism. There was finally stuff that I really cared about!

And because I cared about it my grades started to rise. At York I was a 2:2 average, which was fine, but at the UEA I started getting firsts – for those of you that don’t know, that’s the equivalent of going from a C to an A*. In 2008 I graduated with a first class degree with honours and I knew I wanted to do more, I wanted to do a Master’s Degree.

I applied to charities, I wrote to rich people, I worked two jobs. I got onto a Master’s programme. A year later I graduated with a distinction in Media and Cultural Politics. But even then I knew I wasn’t done.

If you watch the Big Bang Theory you might have a rough idea of what a PhD is. Only, rather than sitting a lab all day I went to schools and talked to teenagers, year nines to be precise. I wanted to know what impact gender has on young people’s lives. Writing a PhD is hard. You have to write a 100,000 words and you have three to four years to write it. You just can’t do it if you don’t care about it. You can’t do it without friends because they keep you sane. You can’t do it without family because they are the ones that remind you what it important in life. And this might go without saying, but you can’t do it without looking after yourself. And I think that is true of all things in life, whatever your path.

Where Are All the Sports Women?

In this blog post I’d like to share with you my findings from a very unscientific study into the representation of female sportspeople. Over the course of the past 6 weeks (35 days) I have found that of over 117 stories to be featured in the Guardian’s sports side bar have been about women. Yes, you heard right, over 35 days 117 stories featured on the side bar, just 3 of them concerned women in sports.

What I Did:

I have followed the sports side tab on The Guardian home page for the past six weeks (October 13th-November 21st), screenshotting each day (I only followed weekdays). Of the six weeks that I was undertaking this content analysis only three stories appeared that featured women in sports, despite there having been many opportunities to represent more (the WTA World Tour Finals took place during data collection for example and only one featured, meanwhile there were lots of stories that concerned the ATP World Tour Finals). Of the three articles, one was about Christine Ohuruogu’s comments of concern regarding Doha 2019, another was about Liverpool’s retention of the Women’s Super League title, and somewhat ironically the third story that was featured was a story specifically about sexism in sport. 

Take a look at these images from the study just to see how dearth the reporting of women’s sports were on the homepage. Click on any image for a larger version of it (it also opens up a gallery) and you can see the date of the screenshot on the image too.

What I found:

While this might not be the most scientific of studies (I screenshotted at different times in the day, and may have missed the odd story about women in sports as features changed), but the findings are clear. Women in sports are almost entirely invisible in this form of media. Let me reiterate, 3 out of 35 days, 3 out of 117 stories. This is just not good enough. It’s not.

Why it Matters

The invisibility of women in sport is something that has frustrated me for some time, and is something that I think has a big impact on the ways in which women and girls imagine themselves in relation to sport. Based on my findings I don’t think its a stretch to say that women are represented vastly differently in the world of sport to their male counterparts (lets not even get into the impact the insistence of a gender-binary in sport has on trans and queer sportspeople – a whole other ballgame).

This difference in representation has an impact, it has an impact on the women that are in sport, it has an impact on the sports that women choose to go into, it has an impact on whether women even want to go into sport. A recent study into exercise in England found that women undertake much fewer physical activities than men:

  • 67% of men and 55% of women aged 16 and over met the new recommendations for aerobic activity. 26% of women and 19% of men were classed as inactive.
  • 46% of men and 37% of women reported walking of at least moderate intensity for 10 minutes or more on at least one day in the last four weeks.
  • 52% of men and 45% of women had taken part in sports/exercise at least once during the past four weeks.

Source: HSCIC, 2014.

When it comes to events such as the Paralympics, male sportspeople continue to dominate. For example, at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Summer Games the total percentage of female participants was just 35%. Meanwhile London 2012 saw only a marginal improvement:

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 14.53.22From: http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/aug/30/paralympic-teams-athlete-numbers-gender-data

One of the arguments that I’d like to make is that women have to see women doing sport in order to imagine themselves doing sport. This comes back to the See Jane motto of ‘if she can see it, she can be it’.

There’s widespread discourse about sport being un-feminine. Women’s bodies look ‘less attractive’ during sport, we sweat and perhaps we get muscles. All of these things lie in opposition to the feminine ideals still propagated in the beauty myth (which has lots of implications in terms of race, ability, class). And so, its crucial that women (and men, and everyone else) see that women’s bodies can be athletic (whatever they may look like when actually doing sport), and that women are valued when taking part in sport. And this leads me to the final reason for why we need fair representation of women in sports.

Women still earn less than men and women are often valued less when undertaking sports (professional and otherwise). This was clearly demonstrated in the findings of the BBC report into prize winnings, where they found that men earn more than women in 30% of sports. The following infographic collated from this study displays the disparity starkly:

BBC prize disparity infographic

One of the greatest achievements of patriarchy in recent years is to downplay the financial inequalities that women face in 2014. One of the most common comments that I am given by people that question my feminism is, ‘but we’re all equal now, right?’. Well, no, unfortunately we’re not, and no such place that this is more starkly demonstrated than in sports prize winnings. Women spend no less time in training than men, and yet they are not equally rewarded for their hard work. Women have been undertaking inspiring feats and yet we rarely see films the scale of Rush, Chariots of Fire, or Ali featuring sportswomen at our box offices. We need to see women in sport in our media not simply because (although, why not ‘just because’?), but because we need to inspire women and girls into undertaking sport, into seeing that if they do so they will be valued (equally), because it encourages girls and women into living healthier lifestyles, because sport is for everyone not just the few.

Because, if she can’t see it, she probably won’t be it.

 

(For inspiring stories about women in sports, as well as opportunities to get involved, see places like Women’s SportNet*, IPC Women in Sport, or check out your local sports centre/council for opportunities)

Kindness and Peer Review.

I’m never sure if I should write about this sort of thing, because I often fear that in doing so I’ll reveal myself as either a) the shabby and fraudulent academic writer that I am, or b) an academic that can’t handle the heat of the job. But I want to write about it because if I don’t then it won’t be said and we can’t actually get around to making any changes. Nadine Muller’s academic consciousness raising has taught me that much of the feeling of inadequacy that academics experience isn’t something that is, nor should be, considered ‘normal’ and it seems to serve little purpose other than to make people feel crap (read: not actually progressing the field). I know that I am definitely not alone in dealing with mental health problems that have either been caused by, or at least exacerbated by being in academia.

So, I want to spend a moment thinking about the peer review process, and the impact that it has on us. Peer review is an essential part of the academic process. It ensures that the work that we produce is up to the necessary standards, that we are progressing knowledge with work that is of the highest quality.

One criticism that has come up in conversation recently is the lack of peer review. We write and write and write for publication and sometimes when we receive feedback (good or negative) it is only a couple of lines long. But today I’m not discussing that type of feedback, I talking about the feedback that is substantive, but its substantive and mean.

Now, I should note that peer reviewers work for free, we take time out of our already busy workloads to review work, and that doesn’t always lead to the best working conditions for reviewers. But I’ve noticed that there’s a common issue where some reviewers are being unnecessarily unkind in their reviews. This is when the review reads more as ‘cutting’ than it does constructive. I always try to be constructive, even when pointing out the flaws in the work, but that doesn’t seem to be common practice (I know a number of colleagues at various levels who have all received unnecessarily mean reviews from a particular journal). The problem seems to be that reviewers seem happy with taking the author down, along with the work. This is something that can be particularly damaging to authors that are early in their career, attempting to carve out a name for themselves.

Take this comment from a recent review I received as an example:

Screen shot 2014-11-08 at 13.53.33

Okay, so maybe I used the phrase too often (I am reminded this later on by the reviewer):

Screen shot 2014-11-08 at 14.06.15

Okay, okay, I get it. But there are ways to say it. Now that I have some distance from the review I can almost find it comical (by this point in reading the review for the first time I’d actually started crying), but I just wonder how hard it would have been for the reviewer to stop for a second and wonder if they would like to read what they were writing if it was their work under review. Such catty remarks serve not to progress the work to where it needs to be, but to push the author away from it altogether. Its hard to go back and try and take constructive comments from a review that makes you feel bad about yourself when you read it.

This following piece of writing from Bev Skeggs is one that resonates with me. I have it pinned up on my office wall as a reminder that even some of the most sophisticated thinkers struggle with their identity in academia:

skeggsquote

I talk about my class a lot. I have spent a lot of time in the university context feeling that this is not a space for me. I don’t know the language, I don’t know how to use the space, I don’t know how to fit in. I’ve struggled to write academically throughout my career, what grammar goes where and how to use longer words. To use entirely inaccessible language here, my habitus is faulty. And sometimes it feels that the peer review process only seeks to reaffirm that to me. So, when I see:

Screen shot 2014-11-08 at 13.30.20

I read: ‘You don’t belong here. You are not good enough‘.

But then I reflect on how I have lots of friends and colleagues from more affluent backgrounds who have the same anxieties as me, so I’m not even sure its a class issue. I think instead its actually a “don’t be so fucking mean” issue.

And maybe the piece of work wasn’t quite right, it probably wasn’t ready for publication in that state. That’s fine, I can live with that. Most pieces of work need some or maybe even a lot of attention before they’re ready. And sometimes, a piece of work could have a fundamental flaw at some level and it won’t ever be viable for publication. But there are ways of saying it.

So, what I want to encourage us to all do is to realise that firstly, we’re not alone in this, and secondly, it’s not on. We can all do a little bit in our own reviews of other people’s work, asking ourselves if we would be happy to receive the comments we’re giving. We seem to be stuck in some nasty cycle where we get a mean review and assume that’s just how its done, repeating the cycle. For lots of reasons academia has ended up in this really shitty place where people find themselves getting ground down in all avenues of their work. Peer review could be an easy place to enact some changes.

And then again, I still feel that sharing this is a risk. Its a risk because I do run the risk of revealing myself as a poor academic. But I’m not a poor academic, and I have to have faith in that, we all do. It doesn’t feel right to say “I’m well regarded by my peers” because we’re constantly taught to second-guess ourselves. But you know what? I think I am well regarded by my peers. I have produced, and published, good academic work. I want to fucking own those statements.

We’re constantly taught that what we’re doing isn’t good enough, we’re not working hard enough, stress isn’t stress until you’re in hospital. But we have to change that. We have to say that “I want to work in a supportive, constructive and kind environment, an environment where we’re not in competition with one another, but where we want to see our colleagues strive and achieve for the good of both them, and for the progression of knowledge”, and we have to fight for achieving that environment.

 

Why Norwich Needs Feminism

This blog post originally appeared at Norwich News in January 2014.

Third wave, fourth wave, digital wave, whatever you want to call, it feminism is back on the agenda. It seems that not a week goes by that we don’t see a story of feminist concern hitting the news, be that a pop singer aligning herself with the movement or a campaign for gender equality (bank notesequal pay, or FGM to name but a few), and that’s just in the UK. This increased visibility of feminist voices is not only necessary, but long overdue. When it comes to gender, things in this country are far from fine, and yet despite this, feminism remains a dirty word. People of all genders seem to be disgusted by feminism, I can’t count how many times I’ve read something abusive to feminists on the internet, seen students eyes roll as soon as the ‘f-word’ is mentioned, or heard the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but…”. Much of this is perhaps due to the representation of feminism as a bunch of big, hairy, bra-burning, man-hating white-women. And don’t get me wrong, that image perfectly describes some feminists, but it far from describes us all. Feminism is a multi-faceted and rich world-view; feminists come from diverse backgrounds and have many different histories. Feminism unites so many people from so many backgrounds, and it is able to unite because the struggle is experienced so tangibly by so many.

It can be easy to think that gender problems are ‘other people’s problems’ and that somewhere like Norwich, with its cobbled streets, independent shops and eateries, and two universities could need feminism. Of course, such an opinion would not only be naïve, but also dangerous.

I have written this piece because I help to run the Norwich Feminist Network – I say ‘help to run’ because I set up the Facebook group, but other than that it is a wholly collaborative effort. That said, I am writing this as an individual local feminist, and not on behalf of the community. I hope that over the months you will hear the voices of local feminists, and through this come to appreciate the diversity of perspectives that make up the Norwich Feminist Movement.

There are a lot of feminist issues that I think we need to address in Norwich. Norwich has an increasing community of peoples of colour, many of whom are rarely seen (in local press or advertising) and whose voices are almost never heard. Given that women of colour experience the double disadvantage of being female and of colour it is crucial that their voices are heard. I can’t think of many other adult groups in our community that experience the burden of privilege and power while also being rendered so invisible within the community in which we live (of course that’s not to say that I don’t think ageism or ableism are of lesser importance).

There is also a massive issue of safety, harassment and objectification within the area. A common theme of discussion within the feminist meetings that I have attended is of women and trans people feeling utterly afraid when walking our streets, especially at night. There are obvious problem zones, like Prince of Wales Road, which can make getting of the train and walking home in the evening an emotional challenge for the most strong-willed of people. I’ve been catcalled first thing in the morning and I’ve had my skirt lifted up on me while dancing in the evening, I’ve been grinded up against by a stranger and then threatened when I called him out on it, I’ve been utterly terrified while trying to navigate my way home safely in streets that the council have deemed unnecessary to light at night.

I see in local advertising the silhouettes of faceless women on poles emblazoned across the side of black cabs, local shops continuing to sell objectifying magazines and sexist paraphernalia, and last by no means least I find myself astonished that the that night ‘Flange’ still exists as a thing (*shudder*). Away from the on the streets to behind closed doors the force of oppression is little different. Women remain significantly more likely than men to be the victims of domestic violence and this highlights the importance of local organisations such as Leeway. In my own research and community work I have spoken to girls who have expressed how lucky they see themselves in relation to girls in the developing world, but who nevertheless experience the impact of the beauty myth on their lives. Despite its rich community and largely socially-conscious population, Norwich has far to go before we question the need for feminism within our community.

Meeting local feminists and having conversations about the challenges faced by local people as a result of patriarchy is incredibly important. It reminds us that we’re not being petty or unnecessarily angry, but actually that we’re responding to, confronting and acknowledging the issues that we face within our community. We are able to see that feminism is not just for one section of the community, but for all of us. Norwich needs feminism

– See more at: http://www.news-norwich.co.uk/women/#sthash.dlLt47EW.dpuf

Why Taste Matters: My research and the Celebrity Studies Conference

On Saturday I gave the first conference paper I have given in a long time. Importantly, this was the first conference paper I’d given since I passed my viva. It’s incredible what a difference a passed viva makes, I knew exactly what I wanted to say and why (and somewhat pathetically, I knew that the ‘experts’ in the field had okayed it, which gave me an additional kind of armour).The paper that I gave was part of a pre-defined panel at the Celebrity Studies conference, a conference full of inspiring, articulate and supportive academics. The panel that I was part of was put together by the CelebYouth team, a team working on a project that has strong parallels in to my own, and so a team that I have been in contact with for some time. We were (virtually) joined by Kortney Sherbine whose work considers young people’s engagement with Justin Bieber in the US. As a panel, one of the things we had agreed we wanted to emphasise in all of our papers was the importance of empirical research in the study of celebrity.

My intervention has always been that we should take seriously the role of taste within everyday life. I argue that what we say we like or dislike (when taste becomes public) can say interesting things about how we see ourselves and our culture more broadly.

I think it says something that some people are surprised, and that sometimes I even have to defend liking The Kardashians.

I think it says something that many people don’t often understand my support for Jorge Lorenzo. And I think it says something that I spent much of my teenage metal-head years hiding my past as a Take That fanatic (and heaven forbid people should know that I went to see them at Earls Court). But then again, after the return of Robbie and the tax fraud of Gary, I’d rather people not know that history of mine at the moment either…

 

The basis of the argument in my thesis is that taste matters, and this is what was at the heart of the paper I gave at the Celebrity Studies conference. I argued through my findings, which found that boys’ tastes are highly regulated on the grounds of (re)producing acceptable forms of masculinity and that girls taste were centred around ideas of ‘girls can like more because girls have less to lose’, that the regulation of taste happens in contemporary youth cultures.And thus it follows that I believe this matters.

It matters because it limits who and what young people can be, and who and what they can grow into. Boys, who were very fearful of appearing gay, were expected to engage with celebrities that allowed them to reproduce hegemonic masculinity (which is to say to be masculine in a way that fits with how we imagine men ‘should’ behave). Through this then the sort of celebrities they were expected to like often held some form of technical skill, so celebrities such as footballers and musicians were commonly cited. Equally, ‘conventionally’ sexually attractive women that would allow boys to perform ‘being straight’ were also seen as important. When it came to the celebrities that girls liked, it was much more varied. Part of this was because the young people described engagement with celebrity culture as quite a feminine thing, particularly in terms of the bitching and scrutiny that was seen to be a large aspect of talking about celebrities. The main workings of my argument, along with some quotes from participants, the methods I used and the theories I referred to, can be seen in this Prezi (its the one I used in my presentation):

There’s a lot of really good textual analysis work going on how there in the field of celebrity studies. This work is important. But so too is the empirical work that’s going on. By talking to young people and hearing what they had to say in focus groups, I have learned that the ways in which young people talk about celebrity is regulated by ideas of gender appropriateness. There are ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ tastes to have about celebrities for young people. Of course its complicated, context is really important, so we can’t overly generalise. Nevertheless, the only reason I know any of this, the only reason I can firmly say ‘appropriate responses to celebrity plays a significant role in how gender is reproduced during youth’ is because I went out there and engaged with young people. I spoke to them and they spoke to me.

It was eluded by theorists such as Graeme Turner that it’s really hard to be able to say things empirically, to which I would respond that ontologically/epistemologically its hard to say things, to know things, full stop. But just because its tricky it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it a go.

 

Murray/Mauresmo and the hypocrisy of tennis’ gender politics

I came here to talk about outreach, outreach and academia and time and resources. But alas, it seems that the British press have other ideas. While I may be a feminist youth researcher, I am also a human being that has spent most of her life engaged in impassioned tennis watching.

So, when the jam and xerox girl feminism and tennis came together, as it were, with response to Andy Murray’s appointment of Amélie Mauresmo as his new coach, I couldn’t help but want to stick my oar in. These are the sort of debates that engage me and so here I am, talking about sport and gender again. I guess its kind of funny that I either don’t have the confidence or perhaps the energy to blog about issues pertaining to the specificities of my current research. Another blog for another day I guess.

winners

What the response to Andy Murray’s appointment of former world number one and double grand slam champion, Amélie Mauresmo, highlights is the persistent and insipid sexism that has tainted tennis for as long as I can remember. I write this entirely as a fan, as much as I wish it were otherwise the case I cannot accurately hit a tennis ball at all. I am therefore little more than a passive observer, a passive observer who wants to talk about how fucking ridiculous it is that a leading tennis player has to justify why he has picked a former leading tennis player to coach him simply because she is a woman. 

Response to Murray’s choice of coach following Lendl was always going to be met with the kind of media frenzy that people who are being paid to report on something, anything, often do. But come on now, questioning his choice based on the gender of the person he chose, well that’s just silly. I know that vintage is all fashionable and we’ve spent a lot of the last week remembering D Day and stuff, but let’s try a little harder to remember we’re in 2014 and not 1944.

The thing is that Mauresmo was and is a talented tennis player who was world number one and the winner of two of the four grand slam championships (one of which Murray himself as yet to get his hands on). One of the last people Mauresmo has coached was Marion Bartoli, and gosh, was that a bad decision for Bartoli to make…

bartoli

Commentators have been quick to cast their views on the subject. Jim Courier (whose CV looks a lot like Mauresmo’s having won two of the four and enjoyed a place at no. 1) described the appointment as ‘bold’, ‘bold’ presumably because it is a risk for Murray to take. Meanwhile you only have to glance at the ATP Facebook page or the comments on the countless news articles that have covered the story to see how rife sexism is in the world of tennis fandom. In fact we have to look at the woman that understands sexism in tennis better than any other for some sense on the matter:

 “It is not the gender of the coach that is important, it is the strength of the relationship between the coach and the player that will make the partnership work. Women have coached men for years, going back to Bobby Riggs and Eleanor Tennant. What is important is that this is what Andy feels is best for his current situation.”

Billie Jean King

 

I guess I could go on for an age about this, I could justify for the zillienth time the need for equal prize winnings (women don’t spend half as much time preparing you know), and the idiocy of commentators discussing the sport clothing worn by female players, and the stupid questions they get asked in interviews, but neither you nor me have time for that. And so, I just want to reflect on how this whole coaching thing compares in the women’s game. Women players consistently have male coaches, this is almost never reported upon. One of the only examples I can think of relates to Serena Williams. Rather than the choice of coach himself, Williams’ personal life suddenly found itself centre stage as the closeness of her relationship with male coach, Mouratoglou, entered the press and the commentary booth.

serena2_2449629b

Here it was not the skills or aptitude for the job of Mouratoglou that was placed under the microscope, but rather the character of Williams. A player who has all too often found herself under the scrutinizing gaze of the media, encountering intersectional challenges across her career.

It seems quite typical that the woman be should scrutinized, whether she is the athlete, or the coach in question.

When Murray took on Lendl as coach, the response was an overwhelming ‘genius’, with Mauresmo the response appears to be ‘really?‘ but if this gets us talking about sexism in tennis again, then that can surely only be a good thing. Right?