Why Sport Needs Feminists

So last week I was watching the BBC 2 show Icons, which was celebrating the achievements of some of the greatest figures of the 20th century. The shortlist was made up of men, and Clare Balding made a really astute comment on why this might be the case. When asked if she was surprised no women made the shortlist, she said:

“I wasn’t surprised, disappointed but not surprised because I think you can’t be an icon unless you are allowed to have the limelight and I think the 20th century largely was the history of men told by men”.

I love Clare Balding, and so I tweeted a condensed version of her speech, saying “YASSSSSS ! Brilliant summary of why no women made the shortlist. The 20th century was a history of men as told by men.”

Clare Balding

And boy oh boy did that tweet get some attention (by my standards). I got accused of “moaning”,  was asked to name one woman who was worthy (ROSA FREAKING PARKS), got told that men are the reason my life is so good and was told that feminism is killing our culture. When I challenged this last point (made by someone who considers themselves an egalitarian rather than a feminist) I was told that women in the west “are vastly more privileged than men” and that feminists are “smashing western civilisation”.

I’m always interested in the opinions of others and so I did a bit of reading around feminism vs. egalitarianism (this article by Beth Turnbull was particularly useful), and after some research I still consider myself a feminist.  To quote Beth’s article:

“Egalitarianism is not an alternative to feminism. It’s like saying, “Why worry about exercise? Why not just worry about health?” You can’t really have one without the other. And don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with egalitarianism. It is simply a broader view of the fight for equality. Feminism is a narrower focus of that view; a focus on bringing women up to the same places men have been for years.”

So why am I mentioning all this in a fitness blog? Because a couple of days after this debate on Twitter, I saw a new petition on my timeline called #SeeSportyBeSporty by Totally Runable, calling for sports coverage in the media to be more gender equal. Despite the 2012 Olympics, where women won one third of all British medals, currently less than 3% of photographs of sport in the newspapers show women playing sport. and this article from 2014 shows that just 3% of sports articles at that time were about women as well. So this is where feminism comes in – not to tear down men, but to raise up the stories of women doing incredible things in sport (and all other sectors for that matter).


So we need to push for change – for more coverage of women in sport (you can sign the #SeeSportyBeSporty petition here) so that young girls can see themselves represented across the board. We need to keep shouting about the achievements of women like Jasmin Paris, Desi Linden, Dina Asher-Smith, Laura Muir, Jo Pavey and countless others (I’m focusing on runners here as that’s my passion but there are so many women doing incredible things in sport). When I google “Boston Marathon winner” I want the first result to name both Yuki Kawauchi (who I think is brilliant BTW) AND Desi Linden. We need to push for equal coverage and call out aging white men who write articles for crappy newspapers claiming that women’s sport is not as good as men’s and that’s why they don’t deserve equal coverage. And we need to keep telling the stories of female 20th century sporting icons like Tanni Gray-Thompson, Kathrine Switzer, Bobbi Gibb, Joan Benoit and many more. Because their stories are incredible, exciting and inspirational, just like the men’s stories are.

And I know this is ever so slightly off-topic, but this is a good time to shout out to Dr Jess Wade, who has written literally hundreds of Wikipedia entries for women in science (as well as other underrepresented groups) whose achievements have been overlooked in the past, in the hope of attracting more girls in to STEM in the future. Awesome stuff.

The Body Battleground

Another day, another stupid effing “challenge” on social media where people show how skinny they are by holding up a piece of A4 paper in front of their waists. If your waist disappears behind the piece of paper when you hold it portrait in front of your torso, congratulations, you’ve passed the challenge.


Sometimes I really, truly despair.

A4 Waist


This is yet another fad (after the “Belly Button Challenge” and “Clavicle Challenge”) to emerge out of China, and it’s come at a time where yet again there seems to be a lot of unreasonable focus on women and their bodies and reputations (because the focus is more on women as the above photo shows – good luck finding the guy whose self worth is valued by how he looks in a crop top).

Take for example the recent furore around Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley, when the following image was posted to Instagram:

Daisy Ridley

When I first heard about this I was genuinely confused by the whole thing. I have never viewed Daisy as having an unrealistic body type. Since when did being strong and fit become something people viewed as a bad example? Understandably Daisy felt somewhat attacked about the whole thing and felt she had to defend herself online. A little further digging on the matter showed that the image had been lifted from a satirical cartoon strip and been taken completely out of context. But satire exists to mock and ridicule wider issues in society – and how often has the “real women have curves” argument been thrown across the body battleground? All women are real, regardless of shape and size. It really is very, VERY simple.

Lastly, on a slightly different topic, we’ve had Maria Sharapova come out and admit that she tested positive for Meldonium, a drug that was added to the banned list on the 1st January this year. Whether she cheated by knowingly taking a banned substance or whether she showed negligence by taking it without knowing it had been banned, her reputation and career are currently in a bad way. The thing that has struck me about her case though, is Nike’s attitude to it. Don’t get me wrong – if one of your athletes has taken a banned, performance enhancing substance, by all means you should walk away from them.

So how does that explain their relationship with Justin Gatlin? What gives Nike? Gatlin has been completely unrepentant about his past transgressions, so why one rule for the male athlete and another for the female?

This has been a bit of a brain dump of a post so far. I think I’ve just felt so frustrated by the media in the last few weeks (which is nothing new really) and the way there is ALWAYS so much focus on how women look. When Chris Hemsworth beefs up for the Thor films, do you ever hear even a sniff of “what a terrible example! I can’t live up to that!”? Or does everyone gape in awe at his commitment to lifting weights and chugging protein shakes?


I don’t know. Maybe I’m part of the problem by even talking about these things in the first place. Or maybe I’m just too idealistic by wanting women to be valued by their achievements rather than their looks. But is it really too much to ask for the Women’s Varsity Rugby Match to be shown on BBC2 like the men’s was rather than online only (especially as Cambridge’s thrashing of Oxford led to a incredibly exciting match)? Or to focus more on women like Gee Purdy, Bella Collins, Lauren Morton and Olivia Bolesworth who became the youngest and fastest all female crew of four to row across the Atlantic Ocean? Or Paralympian Jordanne Whiley, who has 7 grand slam tennis victories under her belt? These are the things we should be sharing on social media, not the utter, UTTER bollocks that makes young girls think that the size of their waist is all that matters, or that men will always be treated differently in the same scenario. That has to change.

Although when a search for “smart female sportswomen” comes up with this as the top three hits – I have to wonder if it’s too big a battle:

Smart Female Sportswomen

Eff you internet. I may only be a tiny blogger who can only really rely on my mum reading every single post I write (love you!) but I’m still going to play my part by always celebrating inspirational sportswomen whose minds and bodies are leading them to achieve greatness.


Let’s Have Another Chat About the Perception of Women in Sport

So today I heard something that properly got my hackles up. I know what you’re thinking – “it doesn’t really take much does it?” I have a bit of a reputation of being loud and opinionated (and probably not always right) about matters that affect women so sometimes I worry I come across a bit “crying wolf-y”. But my officemate Lucy was bothered by it, and she is generally pretty laid back about things like this so that gives you some idea of just how bad it was. When she told me what had happened our conversation went something like this:

Me: silence – mouth open in shock

Lucy: “I know.”

Me: silence – mouth open wider in shock

Lucy: “I know.”

Me: “What. The. Actual.”

Lucy: “I KNOW.”

So let me show you what happened. The Cambridge University Women’s Rugby Football Club (CUWRFC) appeared on Heart Cambridge Radio this morning to talk about the Rugby World Cup. So far so good. Getting these amazing women out there into the public view is a great thing. But then “Kev” happened. Listen to the opening of his brilliantly professional interview:

I know right? In case you couldn’t hear him clearly he starts by saying – STARTS BY SAYING – the following:

“You don’t look like what I thought you’d look like. You’re all like really attractive, sort of fit girls”.

I’m actually finding it hard to organise my thoughts as I type this. In what universe is this an acceptable way to start an interview about sport? Can you imagine him speaking to the men’s team this way? “Oooh you’re all quite thin with lovely straight noses! How unexpected!” Of course he would never do that. And therein lies the problem. No matter what women achieve in sport – they thrashed Oxford 47-0 in their last Varsity Match by the way – how about doing your research and opening with that “Kev”? – they will still be judged by their appearance and patronised by those who should know better.

This is just a smaller scale – but no less important – version of what the England Lionesses experienced on their return from the Football World Cup. Tweet in point:

Patronising Lionesses Tweet

This awful, AWFUL tweet rightfully caused an uproar online. The idea that our incredible female footballers – their performance was the second best by an England team following the 1966 win by the men’s side – should be defined by the roles they perform for others rather than by their own achievements was so patronising as to verge on hysterical. Some even questioned whether the tweet was a joke. I think Jo Liptrott, someone my alter ego has followed on Twitter for a while, put it perfectly when she said “”Maybe they go back to having actual jobs & lives which DON’T revolve around them being subservient to other people???”

But if the official governing body of a sport is coming out with this junk, then surely we can’t be surprised when the local media does the same? The problem goes so much higher than some misguided DJ on a local station.

While a little bit of me was frustrated that CUWRFC didn’t pull “Kev” up on his dreadful comment, it’s easy for me to think of something to say in reply outside of the stresses of live radio. One of the players can be heard shouting “strong, strong” over the nervous laughter of the others, but I would have loved them to say “I don’t see how our appearance is in any way related to our sporting achievements.” I suspect “Kev” would have been more than a little flustered with a response like that.

And these are the responses we need to keep coming back with. We need to continue ridiculing patronising tweets and comments and to keep pulling people up when they behave like this.

I tweeted Heart Cambridge Radio and “Kev” about this earlier but unsurprisingly I didn’t hear back from either of them, but I didn’t really expect to either. I just hope that the next time they get a team of such incredible sportspeople in the studio, they’ll start off by talking about their achievements and their sport, rather than their appearances.

My thoughts on the great Protein World debate

Right, for those of you haven’t seen the social media rumblings around Protein World’s recent campaign that is currently all over public transport in our capital, it goes a little something like this:

Protein World Image 5

Now, a lot of people have taken great offence to this, because of the implication that the company is saying that if you don’t look like the model in the photo (the lovely Renee Somerfield), you shouldn’t be wearing a bikini on the beach. It’s the suggestion that only a certain type of body is ready – and to another extent welcome – on beaches. And I’m afraid that no amount of supplements is going to give me that torso. I’m 5’3” and extremely short-bodied for crying out loud.

I’ve found the whole debate interesting. The argument has involved fat shaming and nasty Twitter exchanges against feminists who are called “Feminazis” and are accused of being obese, ugly and jealous. Then there’s been fit shaming against Renee (who clearly works hard to look like that) and the argument that people should pick their battles because let’s face is – sex sells and it has done for a really long time. Protein World are not doing anything that hasn’t been done thousands of times before. But for me, and for the majority of other people who have voiced their dismay at the campaign, the problem is based around the message, not the imagery. Playing on people’s insecurities is always a weak ploy.

Another side to this story, is the way Protein World have handled the backlash. Rather than being cheeky or maybe even asking their naysayers what they would like to see in their advertising, they’ve decided to retweet really offensive tweets against women. Here’s an example for you (some of the milder ones to avoid multiple swears on here):

   Protein World Image 6 Protein World Image 7

But do you know what my problem with Protein World is? The fact that for a company supposedly promoting fitness, they are in fact really flipping LAZY.

Let’s picture the scene. Imagine a brainstorming meeting about their new summer campaign. They need to come up with a brilliant new idea to sell their product to new markets. Now, what awe-inspiring, innovative, earth-shattering new idea are they going to use for this?

“Why don’t we put a model in a really small bikini?”

SHUT THE FRONT DOOR. This is flipping genius! I can just imagine the high-fiving and back slapping that went round after that!


The really disappointing thing is, Protein World have got it really right in the past. I mean, just take a look at these images:

Protein World Image 3  Protein World Image 1

All Protein World photos taken from their Facebook page

I work and socialise with a lot of women involved in fitness, and we’re all far more inspired by images of strong women working hard to make themselves fitter and stronger. I particularly remember the debate we had around the England Netball posters for their “Back to Netball” campaign that showed women posing with balls in casual clothes rather than them ACTUALLY doing sport.

Back to Netball

I mean seriously. What is this?

On the whole though, Protein World’s advertising is just pants. Literally. Of the 192 photos (at the time of writing) that they’ve posted on Facebook so far in 2015, 57 of them show scantily clad women, and 7 show scantily clad men (I didn’t count the images of the couple they used in their Valentine’s marketing). Of those 57 photos of women, 13 are close ups of the woman’s backside. There are no close ups of men’s backsides. Just FYI.

Protein World Image 4

A very relevant image to accompany the message they’re making

I guess my point is, that I am far more likely to make changes to my lifestyle if I’m inspired into doing so, rather than “guilted” into it, and I think most women feel the same. I work in fitness, so I am their target audience, but based on their responses to the backlash and their general use of imagery in their marketing, I’m not inclined to buy products from a company that views women in the way Arjun Seth and his company clearly do. And since I already have my bikini, I’m already Beach Body Ready. Just like everyone else.