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.

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)

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

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?

Mystique? More Like The Feminine Mistake

Helen Grant’s belief is that when it comes to women’s sport we need to ‘give them what they want’, which are sports that are in one way or another beautifying. Cheerleading, ballet and roller skating (were Grant’s examples). Not only does such a claim render invisible all of the hard work that these bodies do when competing in such sports, but women’s interests are returned to thostrong_is_beautifulse of ‘being-looked-at’. Sport is, by its very nature, active. It is precisely about doing.

Jon Berger’s claim that ‘men act, women appear’ is therefore painfully relevant here. When discussing roller skating Grant said how wonderful the women taking part looked while doing the sport, with ‘lovely sparkly socks’ and ‘their hair done’ (clearly she wasn’t observing the brutal sport of roller derby, where while some of the socks may be sparkly, there is no time for hair under those sweat filled helmets). In such comments, the active women of competitive sport are reduced to little more than how they appear. Could you imagine if Welsh rugby star Adam Jones was told that his appearance when competing should now be a concern?

Look prettier Adam!

Look prettier Adam!

And this is the important thing, it’s not that women can’t or shouldn’t look presentable (whatever that means) when competing, but rather that this is not something we say or expect of men. Rather than encouraging women to take up sport because they can still look feminine while doing so, we should be encouraging women into sport because of what it allows them to do.