Women and sport
William Byford dons his hard hat
In my own sweet way, I regard myself as an enlightened metrosexual gentleman – in this context I would cite the example that I go to the expense of applying shaving cream before scraping my chin, rather than just soap and water as was the habit of my grandfather.
And yet we are also children, if not prisoners, of our own time and no doubt those young (and not so young) women campaigning in the 21st Century for further advances in the cause of ‘equality’ would regard some of my views as positively antediluvian.
Take the subject of female sport, for example.
Today the Daily Telegraph website contains an interview given by Helen Grant, Tory MP and minister for sport, equalities and tourism, in which she discusses the ways in which young girls can be encouraged to take up, or become more involved in, sporting activities. I hold no particular brief either for the Tories or the Government, but – on the face of it – her comments and opinions seemed fairly uncontroversial to me.
Here’s an extract of what she said:
“Women 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, cheerleading and even roller-skating. We really need to take a step back and actually ask women what they want and give it to them. Whether it’s a Zumba class or a game of rounders after they’ve dropped the kids off. That’s the approach we need to take – what works for them. It’s having a good spread on offer. Some girls may well not like doing very traditional hockey, tennis or athletics, others might.”
Personally, I cannot see anything discriminatory or anti-female in those remarks, but that is not how some others have reacted. Several newspapers are carrying reports today criticising Ms Grant for demeaning women by suggesting they concentrate upon ‘female-friendly’ sporting activities.
Whenever anyone dips their toe into gender and ‘equality’ issues – however well-intentioned they may be, even if they are female and a minister of the Crown – there’s about an even chance they’re going to get a kicking. You’re practically on a hiding to nothing before you open your mouth.
It seems to me that Ms Grant was trying to advance the cause of women getting into sport or leisure activities generally. She wasn’t specifically dealing with elite women’s sport at all.
After all – if total equality is what women’s rights campaigners really want – then, logically, there should be no splitting of sport into men and women’s events anyway.
When it suits them, it seems to me the feminist argument is that women being confined to ‘women only’ activities is demeaning in itself. So, since women wish to compete in the workplace with men, why shouldn’t they also do that on the sports field?
It already happens, of course.
Take equestrian events, i.e. eventing, show jumping, dressage. Women compete in those on an equal basis with men.
Why shouldn’t they do this in other sports as well?
Call me churlish, but at the moment I am seriously underwhelmed by the national euphoria over Team GB’s performances in the Men and Women’s Curling events at the Winter Olympics.
Can anyone please explain to me why curling has separate men’s and women’s events?
Surely if Eve Muirhead, skip of the GB women’s team, or any of her colleagues, were good enough they should be playing in the men’s team?
Surely, if you argue in favour of women’s sport being kept separate, aren’t you effectively adopting the attitude “Look as these competitors, they’re playing really well … for girls”?
I would be happy to plead guilty to sexism or chauvinism if necessary for this but, as a man, somehow I prefer to watch women taking part in sports that are suited to, and feature, aspects of their femininity.
I’m a big fan of netball, for example. I can also appreciate women’s gymnastics (especially the floor exercises and the pieces of apparatus that women specifically use) and indeed figure skating.
And that’s another important point. Left to their own devices, most women television viewers (as opposed to elite sportswomen) admire sports – even figure-skating – which accentuate feminine qualities such as grace and elegance over sheer athleticism. Hence the breathless excitement over elfin teenagers such as 15 year-old Julia Lipnitskaia, the supposed Olga Korbut of figure-skating, who last night, as it happens, eventually failed to make the podium.
Sadly, to watch some giant butch Amazon pushing behind the driver in the Olympics two-man (sorry, I mean ‘two woman’) bobsleigh event doesn’t do it for me.
Even the television commentators openly admitted that, these days, national coaches are searching high and low for bigger and heavier women to go into bobsleighing, simply because – inevitably – the heavier your team, the faster they’ll go down the course.
This morning I am feeling a degree of sympathy for our esteemed minister for sport, equalities and tourism.
See here for a link to today’s article in the DAILY TELEGRAPH