I could have bashed my key board and my phone in frustration yesterday as people seemed to jump on the outrage train. The outrage was all focussed on a female Tory MP who gave an interview to the Telegraph about getting more women involved in sport.
Helen Grant, the minister of sports, equalities and tourism, (and a former under 16 Judo champion FYI) made some good points (although she did tweet that she’d been taken out of context):
“I think we need to get to the point where women’s sport is looked on and regarded as equal to the men’s game. When we get to that point that’s when we get the balanced coverage.
“To get to that point, we need certainly the media to do more, we need more finance, more businesses getting involved through sponsorship and we needs sports governing bodies and others and schools to be very innovative with ways to get our girls involved.”
But she also made some very questionable comments:
You don’t have to feel unfeminine,”…. “There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheer leading and even roller-skating.”
But in the article she also seems to be pro-active and has been getting Sports England to invest money in finding out what women actually want and the issues that might prevent them in getting involved in sport and activity. Do you think that anyone picked up on that issue though? No, everybody went straight for the comment about cheer leading and being feminine.
So then Helen Grant was pretty much flamed as you’d no doubt expect. Another article about women in sport was published about real women wanting to be muddy and sweaty. Tweets slagging off cheer leading and ballet, which I really don’t understand because if you’ve ever watched a cheer leading routine it is gymnastics and dance and looks incredibly hard work. I know I couldn’t hold a friend up in the hair just by her feet or do a backwards tumble from a standing position. And roller skating? Having treated injured roller derby players I wonder if the ‘radiance’ is actually from their bruises. But I digress. This reaction was hypocritical by many and completely missed the point IN MY HUMBLE OPINION!
Hypocritical because many of the people directing the anger towards Helen Grant are the same people who slag off PE at school for being things like cross country, hockey, dance etc, basically the things that make you sweat. I have seen blogs begging for yoga and pilates in schools as an option for girls who don’t want to do the ‘traditional’ classes. Yet now that’s not ok and all women should want to do fell running and mountain climbing.
Some people went off about the feminine side of it. I agree that if she did say that then it was a poor choice of words but since when has being feminine and being sporty been wrong? Social media is full of articles about not compromising style over fitness and umpteen blogs about really expensive, patterned leggings. I matched my nail varnish to my running vest for my marathon. I still fecking ran it, I felt awesome and enjoyed my little ‘feminine’ pre race ritual. Doesn’t make me less of a runner. I think all sport celebrates femininity and it’s many many facets but say feminine and people automatically assume the negative. It’s like the daft argument that you can’t wear make up and be a feminist. Somewhere there is a man behind all this, I swear!
And then among all the shouting I came across part of a discussion that I, as a health professional, could get on board with.
It shouldn’t just be about being on an equal footing with men, it shouldn’t all be about being feminine or unfeminine. People have missed that quite an important part of sport is understanding that what your body does in response to exercise is NORMAL! Sweat is normal. Being red in the face is normal. Feeling your heart beating out of your chest is normal. Feeling achy and sore for maybe a week after your first ever exercise session is normal. These are all things that need to happen to maintain a basic level of physical fitness. But it’s ok because the human female body is an amazing thing and it is doing all those things to keep your body in check. Some women will sweat from Zumba, some women don’t even break a sweat during a jog on the treadmill but our body reactions are normal!
We also need to promote the physical long term benefits of exercise and activity to women and show that it’s never too early or too late. Weight bearing exercise and weight training will help to prevent osteoporosis. Exercise will help prevent heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Exercise has been promoted as an adjunct to treatments for mental health conditions. But I get that none of this is as sexy and exciting as a bit of Twitter outrage. Apparently now all women should want to aim for up to their knees mud as soon as they start a sport rather than the gradual, confidence building, strength and endurance building path that might benefit a larger number of women.
A while ago I wrote a post about behaviour change and what actually goes into people changing their behaviour. People do not like to be forced into things, they can become quite ambivalent towards change, even if it’s for their own benefit. What is probably needed is more education in school sports and PE about the positive effects of exercise and ‘sweating’ on the human body and why it is so important. Choice will also go a long way too, as a woman interviewed on the BBC just said, girls should be allowed to play football at school if that’s what they want but equally if they want to do cheer leading and learn about team work and team spirit then that should be fine too.
And maybe that is the key with women and sport: choice. We are all created differently. We don’t all want to be competitive. We don’t all want to run really far. We don’t all want to do back flips or jump a pommel horse (this was my PE class at school and it was my idea of hell, I hate being upside down). We shouldn’t mock others or become ‘sport snobs’ (I say this but don’t get me started on darts). And we probably shouldn’t attack someone for a poor choice of words, it is nothing but counter productive and doesn’t help anyone (if you actually read it back it is the interviewer who quotes a report and puts the words feminine and unfeminine in Helen Grant’s mouth).
So that is my take on Friday’s twitter outrage. I would be interested to know other people’s opinions and how we can encourage more women and girls to feel positive about exercise and sport participation.