My first column with Fairfax
As a teenage girl growing up in country Victoria, I was an avid reader of The Age. It inspired in me a passion for journalism. I did work experience on the local paper and went on to study journalism at RMIT. I scored a cadetship and began my life as a working journalist. A few years later I was awarded a scholarship to study journalism in the U.S. While in the States I submitted my first feature piece to Rosemary West then editor of the Age ‘Accent’ section. She ran it. I returned and began writing freelance. Now I’ve been given a gig as a columnist with Fairfax including The Age. My columns will appear every fortnight. Here’s the first, which appeared on Sunday.
Women judged to not possess hot bodies, or who fail to exude sex appeal to the ogling masses, are unworthy of sporting pursuits.This is the verdict of many voyeuristic spectators who saw French player Marion Bartoli win the Wimbledon women’s singles trophy last weekend. Her skill on the court was irrelevant. Bartoli didn’t conform to the sexy sporting babe norm. How dare she even show up with a racquet?
Worse still, this ”oily-faced bitch”, without the requisite sexy body, defeated a tall ”good-looking” blonde, Germany’s Sabine Lisicki. This was treated as a crime against humanity. Bartoli was subjected to a public shaming – a stream of eviscerating cyber disparagement for her appearance. Comments included Ellis Keddie’s: ”How is bartoli a professional athlete and fat as f—?” and London’s Stifler: ”Bartoli you fat shit. I don’t want an ugly bitch to win.”
In the global eroticisation of women in sport, what’s the point of a woman competing if she can’t provide eye candy to the men?
Has a male tennis player ever been subjected to such mob vilification for not conforming to a sexualised beauty? Do men endure such excessive focus on their bodies?
Shortly after Bartoli won, BBC Radio 5 commentator John Inverdale said: ”I just wonder if her dad … did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘Listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a [Maria] Sharapova, you’re never going to be five feet 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs, so you have to compensate for that.
”’You are going to have to be the most dogged, determined fighter that anyone has ever seen on the tennis court if you are going to make it,’ and she kind of is.”
Bartoli bravely dismissed the comments: ”It doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry,” she said. ”But have I dreamt about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes … and I am so proud of it.”
The hypersexualisation of female athletes means a woman’s strengths are ignored. Reinforcing appearance over talent means sportswomen are openly abused in the public space.
Remember when swimmer Leisel Jones’ body shape was pilloried during the 2012 Olympics? Jones, the first Australian swimmer to compete at four Olympics, was judged out of shape (read ”fat”). English weightlifter Zoe Smith was labelled a ”bloke” and a ”lesbian” on Twitter. She went on to break the British record for the clean and jerk. American gymnast Gabby Douglas was criticised for her hairstyle. She won two gold medals.
In this appearance-based culture, girls get the message that to play sport, especially at high level, is to be subjected to judgment. Only certain body types need apply. This is reinforced by the Roxy Pro surfing promotion featuring a slim blonde in something akin to a lingerie shoot.
Hawaiian surfer Keala Kennelly wrote on Facebook that she thought the promo looked like an ad for a gentleman’s club or escort service. ”It says to me, ‘Who you are as an athlete is not important, what is important is that you have a hot little rig guys can perv on. As somebody that has fought so hard all my life to be respected in the surfing industry for talent not tits, its [sic] just really frustrating to see Women’s Surfing going in this direction.”
In Huck magazine, surfer Cori Schumacher wrote: ”I hoped that they would be able to focus more on their surfing ability rather than being burdened by a sexually available, blonde, fit image that took much time and money to maintain. But … the trend of focusing on the bodies and sexuality of female surfers seems to have grown worse.”
Girls need to be inspired by representations of women mobilising their gifts and abilities to reach their goals in sport and life. But, by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys, according to the US Women’s Sports Foundation.
The Roxy and Wimbledon examples won’t inspire girls to take up sport. If you don’t look ”hot”, you may as well sit on the sidelines. And that’s the last place we need our girls to be.