Our watch has just begun
Emma Race, host of The Outer Sanctum podcast, shares what she learned from the 2019 Our Watch Fellowship.
Less than 12% of sports journalists in Australia are female. I am one of the 12%.
I have been an Australian Rules Football fan my whole life. But I had never heard footy discussed in the media the way my friends and I discussed it, so we decided to BE the change and thus The Outer Sanctum podcast was born to its six, proud, footy loving mothers.
In a recent World Cup press conference US soccer player Megan Rapinoe, who is as fierce off field as she is on field, verbalised the need for diverse voices telling sport’s stories:
“As much as we love all your men’s faces, the more women the better. We want to get more women asking questions to tell the stories from a different perspective.”
We started the podcast in 2016, which is only a few swipes back in your calendar app. However, it was a time before the AFLW competition launched and before #metoo went viral. Pre-2016 was a different (foot)ball game for a female footy fan.
In Australia, especially in Victoria, the question “Who do you barrack for?” is pretty much a colloquial greeting. It can lead to jovial ribbing of a stranger with familial rudeness or see two new acquaintances plotting to get matching tattoos after they finish their beers.
Each week footy gives us a shorthand to address the social issues that shape both the code and our communities.
Our commentary on the game focuses on inclusion through sport. More often than we like, the topic of disrespect and in some cases violence, towards women committed by people associated with footy has been the central topic. Despite our love for the game, the code has a history of mistreating women and excusing perpetrators of violence against women, awarding them limitless second chances, even elevating them to “king” status. In taking on these discussions we often rely on the resources offered by Our Watch to contextualise our stories with facts, statistics and research.
For this reason, the Our Watch Fellowship call for entries jumped off the twitter screen at me when I saw it. My thrill at the potential opportunity was quickly deflated when I saw the program was to be administered by the Walkley Foundation. I was certain the judging panel would not risk sullying the honourable reputation of the Walkley Foundation by taking on me.
Despite my concerns I was accepted into the fellowship and added this opportunity to my LinkedIn profile immediately so it would be too awkward to walk the offer back.
We were promised insight into best practice reporting of violence against women, but the program delivered so much more.
Over three retreats we formed a team of not just allies, but accomplices. We came from different mastheads, dotcoms and networks around the country but were united in our commitment to turning the back the tide of violence towards women through our stories.
Through the raw experiences shared by survivors of violence and panel chats with journalists from culturally diverse backgrounds I learned the failures, successes and lasting impact of telling the stories of violence.
From one of the most astute orators I have ever heard speak, I learned of the ongoing and lasting scars of colonisation on Aboriginal women who experience violence. I learned that Aboriginal women are 35 times more likely to endure violence, not necessarily at the hand of an Indigenous man. The experience made more traumatic as Aboriginal women try to protect themselves and their children from violence while navigating systems and authorities which history has taught them not to trust.
The statistics on how violence affects women with a disability or who are from a linguistically diverse background came to life for me, grounded in real world experiences gifted by generous guest speakers.
An expert in the systems that triage the fallout of violence walked us through the maze of emergency and temporary housing in a whiteboard presentation. The session left many speechless, a few in tears and all in unanimous understanding that the question should never be “Why doesn’t she leave?” rather “Where could she possibly go?”
From a journalist/writer/academic, with such lofty credentials I couldn’t look her in the eye, I learned that violence against women is the biggest political, crime, health and economic story in the country — yet it rarely leads the bulletins. From PricewaterhouseCoopers I learned violence against women costs the Australian economy $21.7 billion dollars a year which literally makes this an issue for everyone in the country whether they want to acknowledge it or not.
At all times, central to all our discussions, away from the pages of the statistics, reports and research were the women facing violence in their homes and communities in real life. The names and stories of women we had only come to know because of the way they had died, were present in all the moments. Their legacy in the room was an impetus for us not just to do better, but to do our best.
Many of the journalists in the program had been alone in the trenches for years, telling these stories. They brought depth of understanding, critical thinking and nuance to the discussions, which was a benefit not advertised in the brochure. The camaraderie ignited by the fellowship has ensured that none of us will ever have to sit through a harrowing royal commission alone.
As a team, we discussed plans for re-entry into our workplaces post-fellowship. We identified resistance we may face and ways to deal with it. We also made plans for Our Watch to provide in-house training for our colleagues to ensure we could bring others along with us on this endeavour.
On the final day, after all the muffins had gone and the urn had been emptied, there was one post-it-note left on the whiteboard, a challenge we all agreed would be the hardest of all in this context. It read “I don’t want to just tell sad stories”.
There is a Japanese concept called “Ikigai”, which refers to the intersections of all your interests and passions, values and beliefs. The heart of all these intersections is your Ikigai — your reason for being. The investment Our Watch and the Walkley Foundation made in me has confirmed my Ikigai. It has left me with passion, direction, support and the tools to responsibly tell these stories through the lens of sport.
While it may sound like the Our Watch Fellowship has rendered me the worst person to get stuck sitting next to at a dinner party, I can guarantee, I was no fun at parties before the fellowship.
It has left me optimistic that the stories inspired by the fellowship will help change someone else’s story and I am honoured to be a part of that.
Emma Race is the host and producer of the ABC’s award-winning, all-female footy podcast and radio show, the Outer Sanctum. Along with Lehmo she co-hosts the ABC Grandstand pre-game coverage each Sunday on radio, and during the AFLW season she hosts Daisy, Lane and Race, an online AFLW television show with Daisy Pearce and Samantha Lane. Her proudest title is #1 ticket holder of the Hawthorn Football Club. Emma is passionate about the role of podcasting and storytelling in empowering women. She uses sport as a vehicle to discuss, model and advocate respect and equity for women.