This is something a little bit different for this blog, but certainly not for me personally as a writer. When I used to write for lipmag (an online feminist mag, which has loads of great content updated daily, check it out!), I contributed a fortnightly column on women in sport. It’s always been one of my great passions, and I really feel an urge to write about just how far women in sport have come in the last few years.
As I am writing this, I am watching the build up to UFC 208 – where an inaugural women’s featherweight champion will be crowned. When, it was only six years ago when the president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, Dana White, looked right down the barrel of a camera and declared “never” when asked about women fighting in the UFC. In a matter of hours, there will be three women’s champions across three different weight classes, something unforeseen and fantastic for the sport of mixed martial arts across all disciplines.
It may seem like a swooping generalisation, but women in the UFC all started with Ronda Rousey. She was the first ever woman to become a UFC champion, and defend her belt numerous times. Originally a judoka, Rousey documents her rise to fame in her 2015 release My Fight, Your Fight, and it shows just how much work, effort and passion went into not only her fighting career, but her entire life. It’s an inspirational story: from her father’s suicide, to her struggle to support herself financially as well as represent herself and other women in cage fighting, it’s just one of many stories of women in sport and their struggle to be recognised.
Since Rousey stepped into the octagon, her weight class of bantamweight has emerged as one of the most tightly contested divisions in the UFC. There is also a dominant women’s champion in the strawweight division, Polish fighter Joanna Jedrzrejcykz, and in a matter of hours, either Holly Holm or Germaine de Randamie will be a champion at featherweight. There are women’s MMA bouts featured in just about every fight card the UFC has to offer, often main events where they are showcased as the best of the best. It’s a true testament to the power of women in sport as well as their strength and determination to get this far.
And then there has been the meteoric rise of women’s AFL. The AFLW season kicked off on Friday February 3 of this year, with a match between Carlton and Collingwood, which was one of the most amazing and historic nights of sport in Australian living memory. Of course, the AFL women’s division has a rich and colourful history, detailed in an amazing recent books, Play On! by Brunette Lenkic, which shows us some of the rebellious women of history, as well as some of the absolutely shocking commentary that these women faced just to play the game that they loved.
Despite this history, however, it is amazing that the time has come for women to be represented on the big stage as true AFL contenders. From personal experience, I know just how hard it must have been for these women to persevere through many of the struggles of playing Australian Rules football. Many women are forced to give up playing the game, as I did, around the age of twelve or thirteen, when mixed gender sports groups are deemed “too dangerous” for the girls to continue playing. Despite an abundance of amateur men’s leagues and clubs, there are less options available for women to continue playing the sport, and for it to have a foreseeable future at an elite level. However, some of these women refused to take no for an answer, and, as a result, many of the stories which are coming from the players and coaches of the AFLW are just amazing and incredible feats.
A handful of these are told for the future generations of women’s AFL in a 2017 release by Alicia Sometimes and Nicole Hayes (a staunch advocate for women in football through all female podcast The Outer Sanctum as well as young adult author) A Footy Girl’s Guide to the Stars of 2017. This book is aimed at young readers between the ages of 8 and 12, and gives a little bit of an insight into one girl from each of the eight clubs playing for the AFLW in 2017. Here, readers get a glimpse into the lives of such stars as Melbourne’s Daisy Pearce, a nine-time premiership player and six time best and fairest winner, and Adelaide’s Erin Phillips, an Olympic medal-winning basketball player who always had a passion for football. These are just some of the amazing stories to come from the AFLW, but, perhaps more importantly, the skills and competition from just two rounds of playing have been remarkable, and there are already so many stars that we can look forward to watching for many years to come.
Another amazing feat of women’s sport is, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, the greatest athlete on the planet, Serena Williams. Earlier in the year, Serena won the Australian Open (against her elder sister, Venus Williams, another tennis prodigy and amazingly talented athlete) to make her a 23-time grand slam winner. This is a record in the Open Era, and a testament to how elite and strong she has been in tennis over such a long period of time. She is truly an astounding athlete, and has had to face all kinds of stereotypical criticism of many women in sport. Critique of her choice of outfits, body shape and graces are just some of the things that she has come under fire for over the years, none of which truly affect her ability to play at the highest level. Unfortunately, it is a particularly common problem amongst female tennis players, and the way in which the media portrays and speaks about them. Hopefully through Serena’s dominance of the sport, we can all find a way to acknowledge women in tennis as sporting elite rather than as anything other than just this.
Of course, I have not the room nor the expertise to write about the many, many more women in sport doing great things – the dominance of the Australian women’s cricket team, the burgeoning popularity of women’s netball and the different kinds of competitions that it has inspired, and many, many more. It’s inspirational and motivating to say the least, and hopefully not just young women but all kinds of different people have the courage to fight like girls in all fields of life as a result.