Football’s Women — Respect is Our Responsibility

Who serves up the sausage rolls on the chilly Winter mornings in suburban Melbourne football? Makes up fifty percent of the fan base?

Who now has a new national league?

The initiation of AFLW took place in February this year. The first season consisted of eight official AFLW teams competing against one another.

As AFLW gains more awareness, sponsors and passionate supporters it is becoming increasingly clear just how much females love the AFL.

This is nothing new. But the struggle for their acknowledgement in this sporting world and the dismissal of their abuse continues.

Since its origin in the 1840s, Australian women have had a significant role within football culture.

It has been suggested by sports science researchers and media commentators that women began establishing a presence as early as 1859.

After completing my PhD (and novel Siren) with Victoria University, which focused on sexual assault and the mistreatment of women in the AFL, my research discovered the ignorance regarding women’s involvement in this sport. In 1859, The Herald, reported that ‘a large contingent of fair sex’ were in a crowd of two thousand people who had arrived on a Saturday afternoon to watch a match of the fledgling code. It is the belief of some male researchers that women only attended the game due to the voyeuristic opportunities and the delights of the male body in tight uniforms.

Sports Science Researcher, Rob Hess drew on the theory that women who associate with the AFL purely do so to enjoy the appearance and male physique. Hess’ theory discusses that football matches might have offered the genteel women of the Victorian era a voyeuristic opportunity to view a scantily clad male body, but also recognises that many women spectators attended matches because they derived a legitimate pleasure from ‘the actual game itself’. Thus, it is dangerous for women’s interest in football to be trivialised as merely ‘a discussion of the delights of male bodies in tight shorts.’

Go to the footy and listen. There’s commentary from women about the umpire’s decisions and performance of the players. They know the stats. They care about how their team is performing. They’re not surveying who’s wearing the tightest shorts.

Yet the misogynistic attitudes from key figures continue and do little to respect women’s integral relationship with the game. Sam Newman remarked on Channel Nine’s The Footy Show, ‘Tell me what they’ve (women) ever done in football or for football, just tell me that. Billy Brownless referred to a mother and daughter as ‘strippers’ at a football social gathering. A Freemantle fan punched a woman during a game at Subiaco.

Arguably, these attitudes may perpetuate the place of women as secondary figures and even more alarmingly, do nothing to address their abuse in this culture (consider more than 27 reported cases of sexual assault involving 57 players and club officials but not one conviction).

Without women, football would not function. It’s time we talk about respect and acknowledgement, alongside a zero tolerance for the crimes of sexual abuse and assault.

They are the background figures who keep the clubs running from the canteen to first aid, wash the muddy jumpers and cheer on partners, sons and daughters. And despite their background role and claims of abuse, Australian women continue to love and contribute to this important national sport.

‘Siren’ by Rachel Matthews

My book Siren, is a novel that explores the mistreatment of women in the AFL. You can purchase your copy here —