Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Further to my piece on sexism, racism and the AFL

After my article went live on Monday, I received a lot more attention than I anticipated. Being critical of the AFL is apparently a sure-fire way to generate some hits. Apart from appearing on The Drum; which was a wonderful and terrifying experience for me because I was a live cross and all I had was an earpiece (no screen to watch the panel) with my woeful ears; I dodged a lot of questions and comments and went to ground by concentrating on my day job. The joys of being an INFP...

The reasons I write this are two-fold. Firstly, whilst I am happy with my piece there is a lot more that I could have written on the topic but we are always limited by word counts. Interviews are supposed to create an opportunity to expand, but I'm still learning to accept the fact that I have published articles now, let alone the fact that folks may wish to talk to me. Secondly, some of the questions raised created interested points for further discussion. Some of this discussion would have been stuff I would have definitely covered in a longer piece and some of this was additional.

Last night on Facebook, I posted up a status update, highlighting some of the additional stuff I would have covered. Here they are:

1. I would have included a part regarding the LFL talking about how it is that even when women engage in high profile sport, how they look playing it is perceived as being more important

In addition to the Brownlow Night point, I also feel it is important to look at women's sport as a whole. Women work their guts out on the fields constantly. They work just as hard, if not harder, than the men. In comparison though, they receive very little recognition for their efforts and dedication. Their sponsorship is chicken feed and their professional earnings, with only a couple of exceptions, amount to pocket money in comparison to what men in AFL will make. In addition, society itself, due to a deeply embedded culture of believing women's sport is not as good due to their lesser physical capabilities (or something) or that a woman's place is not on the field. For further information, please revisit the kind of slurs you hear directed to male players when they are perceived to not be playing their best game. Our amazing Australian women's cricket team which continually brings home the trophies gets zero recognition compared to our currently mediocre men's team. Our almost unbeatable netballers get paid about $15k in their rookie year, compared to the $130k AFL players get. Each year, the Deadly Awards offer three sports categories for men to win in, one unisex category and one for women. You get my drift.

And this is where the Lingerie Football League, or "Legends Football League" as it has now been rebranded (to stop the evil feminists howling, I assume) comes in. Like the Brownlow, how women look becomes the main reason to celebrate them. Most women's sports can barely get coverage, yet throw some flimsy garments on the athletes designed to "expose" if they get ripped and suddenly there's interest from the commercial stations in broadcasting it and the beer companies in sponsoring it. Suddenly, hoards of drooling neanderthals wish to view women's sport. One of the more idiotic comments I have heard on the LFL is that these women "choose" to undertake the sport so who am I to judge? Frankly, I'm not judging these women. I am judging a socially-embedded culture that ignores women's sporting achievements unless they're playing in their knickers. I'm judging TV stations for deeming this game to be of interest. I'm judging sponsors for only supporting exploitive and titillating women's games.  And I am judging male sports' stars for buying into the culture that they are utter gods and not generally assisting in the push for equality.

2. I would have also mentioned how when race and sexism intersect, St. Kilda consider it too hot to handle and move straight away to dismiss players even when that player is eventually acquitted

I talk here of course of the case of Andrew Lovett and how quickly he was stood down when he was charged with rape. Why was it that he was treated differently to Milne? Or rather, why was Milne treated differently to Lovett and not also stood down immediately without apprehension and without the teammate sideshow? It may be as simple as Lovett not being around as long as Milne and therefore not considered as valuable a player, but I also have to speculate whether the intersection of race and sexism made him too much of a hot potato to handle; by the club and by his teammates. Lovett was eventually acquitted but he was not brought back into the fold. Was he still considered too hot to handle despite his acquittal? Although Milne has now retired, it will be telling to see what happens beyond his case when it comes to his old club. 

Despite their many strides towards combating racism, I wonder whether the AFL is adequately equipped to address when issues intersect. My article title stated that "The AFL is doing great when it comes to racism" but this was a hook and I didn't write it. If this were the case we wouldn't have the moronic Eddie McGuire making comments about King Kong promotions. My honest belief was furthered a bit in my interview that night, and is that whilst the AFL has made great strides, it still has a long way to go. They will continue learning and racism will keep pushing the boundaries and that's just the way it works. A place to start will be looking at how Aboriginal players are treated differently when issues such as sexual assault arise and developing a consistent policy that is applied to such players, but also shows the general public that they take such accusations seriously and have an actual process for dealing with it. This would additionally assist in combating the football player culture of entitlement to women that seems to permeate so many of the football codes.

I need to additionally stress that male football players are not helpless victims of evil female accusers here even though they are painted and perceived as such. The reality of the situation is that 70-85% of sexual assaults go unreported. For every 10 cases that actually get to trial, only 1 will end in conviction and indeed, rape has one of the lowest conviction rates of all crimes. The false report rate is thought to be only 2-3%. The likelihood, therefore, that women who report being assaulted by football players are "making it up" is incredibly low and accusers are very unlikely to be successful if they do try and fight for justice. The system IS NOT against football players, it's against female victims.   

3. I would have found more players who have shirked the culture to highlight as examples of what the code should aspire to.

Heritier Lumumba continues to amaze me. I have never seen him play yet I have followed his journey. I have seen his posts on asylum seeker rights. I have followed him and his numerous stands against homophobia, sexism, racism etc. He seems to have developed more consistency in these stances as he's grown. I have seen him openly suffer pain in the public eye using his platform to draw understanding of mental health issues. He has been on a journey and I believe he is going to continue to be an inspirational leader well into the future.

He's probably not the only one, but when comes to naming others I am truly stuck. I would dearly love it if people took the time to point me to a few people via the comments section. In Rugby Union, I can name David Pocock immediately who, with his wife Emma, does amazing work. But finding pro-feminist footballers in any code seems to be like finding a needle in a hay stack. Oh, and don't bother suggesting White Ribbon Day endorsers. I've already said enough about them in my article...

4. I would have highlighted how sexism also fuels homophobia in the code

Why has no football player come out yet publicly? Why is it such a risk for them to do so? Why are we yet to see a boyfriend of a player join the women on the Brownlow Night rotisserie? (That's a joke. I never want to see a poxy rotisserie ever again). Only a couple of years ago, when Akermanis made those comments about shower rooms, there was talk of a player gearing up to make an announcement and this never eventuated. I wasn't surprised by this. A homophobic culture is bad enough, but what about a homophobic culture within a hypermasculine culture? Not just within the clubs either, but within society itself? 

Women have no place within football culture bar being ornamental, and when they do make in-roads, such as by joining a commentary team, they're usually treated by the public as if they're intruding. They're excluded due to this hypermasculine culture. Gay men also threaten this hypermasculine culture because they don't live up to the stereotype of the conquering burly hero who has women chasing him and ends up landing a supermodel wife. This is a simplistic explanation, but gay men are still stereotyped as effeminate; their sexual activities still seen as an act of submission to men which is considered the traditional realm of women (regardless of whether we women actually live up to that expectation). While sexism is still an issue, so too is anything that is seen as "feminine". Men who break the hypermasculine mould via their sexuality will find it difficult to be open in the AFL, and other football codes, until some of this embedded sexism is broken down and to be a woman, or woman-like by virtue of the fact that you sleep with other men rather than "conquer women", is not to be considered second class.

Two final notes: Firstly, society is definitely still racist and sexist. It doesn't always work this way, but I think that those who are "othered" have a unique opportunity to break moulds because they don't generally fit them well to begin with. Their very presence challenges the embedded cultures and stereotypes. Therefore I think those that who are marginalised within the game by virtue of race; and yes, I do believe people are still marginalised because of race regardless of what moves the AFL has made; have the ability to challenge other boundaries. They have a greater capacity to join forces and show solidarity with other marginalised groups, challenging "the establishment". A minority which joins forces quickly becomes a majority. And the AFL has a responsibility to listen and learn.

Secondly, I never again want to hear anyone excusing the behaviour of men in the AFL. They can play football, but they are still responsible for their actions. Women are blamed because AFL players are not seen as being responsible for their actions. Laddish, thuggish behaviour is excused. People are still idolised no many how many violent incidents they're involved in, how many women they've sexually assaulted, how many drugs they've snorted, how many times they're bailed out. The ability to kick a football is not more important than justice and human rights, and a person does not become above facing justice or respecting another person's human rights if they can kick a football. Making football a place where women are celebrated as much as men is a huge part of this. Shifting society's views dramatically is also a huge part. 

I think that's all ;)

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