I play roller derby. Wait- let me say that properly: I skate motherfuckin’ ROLLER DERBY, beaaaatches. That’s more like it. Y’see, roller derby isn’t something I can talk about neutrally. This is a game where “derby saved my (metaphorical) soul” has gone from a common statement to a boring-ass cliché. Practically everyone I know who plays this game says it’s changed her life. It’s helped her find her confidence and her grit. It’s shown her how to love the body she has and appreciate it for what it can do, not how conventionally attractive it is. It’s given her a community, friends and role models. It’s taught her how to (literally) get beaten down and (literally) get back up again. In this game I’ve gotten bruises and sprains. I’ve seen people break bones more times than I care to remember. Far more important than that, though? They get those bones healed and put their skates back on. I see us getting knocked over and getting up again and knocked down again until our muscles will barely obey us when we stand again, and I see us doing it again and again until finally, somehow, we break through. And in between all of that, I see the hours we put in, every single week. Spending our evenings and weekends, every week, training in any hall that’ll take us. Spending their days off organising, promoting, planning, coaching and paperwork. And more training. Always, more training. And what do people say about us? Catfights and punches- both of which will, by the way, get you expelled, and have never happened at any game I’ve been to or played in. Booty shorts. Girls in fishnets hitting each other. Short skirts and tight tops.
But this isn’t about roller derby. This is about rugby.
Ireland’s women’s rugby team are, as I type, having a phenomenal World Cup. A hard-fought win against New Zealand- who’ve won every World Cup since 1998- followed by a decisive 40-5 victory against Kazakhstan has us through to the semi-final this Wednesday evening. And- just like you USians with women’s
soccer football this year- Ireland’s finally waking up to the fact that we have a world-class team that we should be paying attention to. In the middle of all of this, the Sunday Independent- one of Ireland’s major broadsheets- published an article today on the growing popularity of rugby among Irish women. The title? “Niamh Horan on women in rugby: ‘I never play a game without my tan‘”. Yep. It starts with this:
As I bent over with a blonde’s hand slipping around the top of my thigh, I pondered how there are worse ways to burn calories on a sleepy Thursday evening
For those of you who don’t know, by the way, having a teammate’s hand on your thigh is a perfectly ordinary thing to happen in a game of rugby. This is the equivalent of saying something like:
She slid her hand sensually along the length of the tennis racket, grasping it firmly on the handle with the air of someone who knew exactly what she was doing. She sprinted across the court, her toned body using up calories. It was Saturday.
His body slid through the water, his glistening, muscular arms arcing through the air with every stroke, like a sexy person who was attractive doing sexy things because somehow this is about sex now. Also he didn’t have much body fat.
Back at the article, things are- I’m afraid- just going downhill from here. There’s gender essentialism with a side of homophobia:
These are not butch, masculine, beer-swilling, men-hating women. They are fit, toned, effortlessly pretty players who love nothing more than getting dolled up for the evening – and that’s just to step on the field. … Minutes earlier, I had arrived with full hair and make-up for a post match night out, expecting a few raised eyebrows from my new-found team mates. “Most of the girls are like that,” Shirley continues. “Our scrum half, Jessica, never goes on the pitch without her blonde hair done, a full face of make-up and her nails perfectly manicured.
Constant reminders that sometimes journalists have photographers with them and also that there were other people around who could see her doing things:
The photographer flashed away gleefully beside me. In fact, when I got back to the office I never saw so many people interested in seeing the photos from a job. Their fits of laughter brought me back to the moment on the pitch. … I could hear the roars of laughter from the sideline just above the ringing in my ears. “Thank God that happened in front of just women,” I gasped. Before the camera flashed again.
And finally, questions apropos of nothing about the players’ sex lives:
Before I left, I couldn’t resist asking the question: any rugby threesomes then?
These women bust their asses every single week, putting in hours of training in sunshine and rain. They push each other, knock each other over, get back up again, and then push a little harder and run a little faster the next time. They do it despite a world that says that women must be feminine, that feminine women mustn’t be aggressive. And I’ll bet they do it for exactly the same reasons me and my derbs do what we do- ’cause they love it. And what do people say about them? Hands on thighs. Manicures before games. Assumptions about their sexuality and gender expression. Insinuations about their sex lives.
Sounding familiar yet?
I can hear it already. I’ve been around these parts long enough to know what someone’s going to say. Why am I making a big deal out of this? Why am I surprised that someone’s sexualised something women do? Haven’t I bigger feminist issues to worry about than someone writing a stupid article about how sometimes people like to play sports and have nice hair? Yes, I do. And no, I’m not surprised. And if you think that a blog post is a big deal then.. dude, I’m honestly worried for your safety if you leave the house or turn on a TV or read a paper anytime soon. It’s important to call this out because it’s so mind-numbingly predictable. And I’m calling it out because I’ve a horse in this race. I know how much sports can do for people’s lives. Mine was changed by one, but it took three decades to happen and I spent most of that time convinced that this wasn’t- couldn’t be- for me. I want women and girls to know it can be an option. And I want their dedication to get the basic respect that it deserves. I’ll leave you with this: A friend of mine- a kickass rugby player in her own right- had this to say this afternoon:
Calling all sportswomen and those who support women in sport:
Today an article was posted in the indo which had the effect of totally belittling and undermining efforts to grow and support women’s rugby. In a week when the Irish Women’s Rugby Team have made history and have a real chance of fighting for the Rugby World Cup the last thing we want is some ignorant ‘journalist’ taking away from it.
So I’m asking you all especially women’s rugby players to consider posting your photos from matches, tournaments, training, etc with#ThisIsWomensRugby
You can also tweet them to the author’s Twitter handle @niamhhoran in the hope that she finally sees the reality of what she was supposed be reporting on rather than just the bits she understood/suited her sexualised agenda.
Even if you don’t play women’s rugby or have any photos please feel free to share any of mine! Or find one of the Irish Women’s team and share it.
For the good of all women’s sport lets fight the ignorance!
Well. You heard the woman.
In case you thought I was the only one unimpressed:
Horan recounts her time spent with Railway Union RFC women’s team and seemed shocked that the players were in fact perfectly normal sportspeople who were passionate about their rapidly-growing pursuit. Instead, she reverts to the laziest of stereotypes and comparisons which will have done nothing to assist those attempting to widen the appeal of the game.
Apparently the club were asked by the IRFU to faciliate a Sindo journalist for this piece. In what seems to have been the most egregious selection decision in Irish rugby history since Gatty and BOD, or the exile of Trevor Brennan, they got Niamh Horan.
- Guys Do Long Established Game Of Rugby, A Guy Reports. (ronanfromcork.wordpress.com)
So there I was touching two other people – in a rugby scrum – which is not remotely surprising since I’m in a rugby scrum. I turned around (which I can only assume is one thing you shouldn’t do in a scrum because why would you put your neck under that much pressure), so I could mention one of the lads showed me how he places his hand on the ‘taint of another. Take a second to make that image in your head of a man’s hand being an inch or two from another fella’s lunchbox but don’t waste anytime imagining how I could turn my head to look behind me while wedged between two other fellas.
- Women’s rugby deserves better than lazy and damaging stereotypes (thejournal.ie)
What annoys me most about the article is that an opportunity for a great story was wasted.
I am curious about this team and (off the top of my head) I have lots of questions. Are any of their players on the national squad? Who are the key players? Where are they from? Do they get paid playing for their country and clubs? How much? (I’m not being rude, journalists are supposed to be nosey). What about sponsorship? Where did they start playing? (I went to a mixed school and no one ever threw me a rugby ball). Do they ever play mixed rugby? Should we be teaching rugby more in school? Rugby has a bit of reputation for being elitist, is that the case in the women’s game too?