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).

SeeSportyBeSporty

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.

Inspiring more than one generation

Research carried out by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University showed that nearly 80% of adults were failing to meet government targets for physical activity.

A study by University College London researchers found that only 38% of girls were achieving the recommended hour of physical activity each day.

A 12-year study of more than 300,000 people by the University of Cambridge suggested that a lack of exercise could be killing twice as many people as obesity in Europe.

18 months after the London Olympics, the number of people playing sport once a week had increased by only 200,000.

In England, the prevalence of obesity among adults rose from 14.9% to 24.9% between 1993 and 2013.

Yikes.

Despair Gif

But hang on. In England, 75% of women said they wanted to be more active.

Hold the flipping phone. Is that a beacon of light I see upon the very bleak horizon?

Happy Tina Fey

Yes, some of these statistics make bleak reading, but it’s the last one that gives me hope. If 75% of women want to be more active, then something needs to be done to inspire them into action. The This Girl Can campaign has kickstarted something brilliant, but it will take time to see how successful it has been. The Olympics tagline was “Inspire a Generation”, but what I want to know is – why just the one?

The reason I’m writing this post is because I was inspired today. I took the last session of my Women’s Beginners’ Running Group this evening, getting five women of all different ages to run 5km around a very hot and very busy Parker’s Piece. And they all did it, pushing themselves harder than I thought they could in the conditions, and all coming in between 30 and 36 minutes, sprint finishing with serious strength and guts. I was so unbelievably proud of them, and I felt inspired by their commitment to trying something different and difficult, especially given the comedy geniuses who liked to shout tips at us, run with us, or copy our warm up. Seriously dudes, we get one of you every week. Come back when you have something unique.

wpid-img_20150604_193227.jpg

Warriors.

And so it got me thinking. It’s down to us to inspire each other. To inspire our friends, mother, siblings, daughters. I’m inspired by the women around me every day. By my Zumba instructor and friend Lucy who with her endless energy encourages dozens of women in and around Ely to dance their backsides off and not care what they look like doing it. By my incredibly talented friend Eloise who has worked so hard and dedicated so much of her life to her dancing which has led to her starring in the McQueen show. By my friend Sam who after just a couple of years of running ran the London Marathon for the Motor Neurone Disease Association in memory of her dad. By my boss Karen who pushes her mental strength to its limits by running 24 hour endurance races. By my sister.

And it’s not just the people I know. It’s people like Jessica Ennis, Jo Pavey, Paula Radcliffe, Nicola Adams, Kelly Holmes, Victoria Pendleton, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Denise Lewis, Amy Hughes, Katie McDonnell, Lucy Gossage, Chrissie Wellington, Kacy Catanzaro, the two crews who rowed on the Tideway (and therefore on an equal footing as men) in the Boat Race for the first time and people like 92-year old Harriette Thompson. And I’m barely scratching the surface here. These are just the people I’ve thought of off the top of my head.

But we need more. We need more women’s sport on TV. We need more campaigns like #WSW2015 and This Girl Can. We need to stop belittling ourselves and letting women be physical cliches. In short, we need less of this:

Bridget Bike Fail

And more of this:

Strong Runner

We need to be inspired into action and given the opportunity to try new things. And I genuinely believe that there is a sport out there for everyone. Women should be giving things a go and be encouraged to do so. How sad would it be if someone never found that sporting passion, whether it be netball, sprinting, ultimate frisbee or fencing?

I feel a bit like I’m brain dumping here and pointing out the flipping obvious. But next time you go to your bootcamp class, or see an advert for archery sessions, or decide to sign up for your first 5k like my running group girls, why not pick up the phone and tell your friend/mother/daughter/sister about it? You might end up turning a flicker of interest into an all-consuming flame and then they may go on to do the same thing, a ripple effect of igniting passions. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?