Women’s sport has come a long way, but there’s still a ways to go.
Take the photo of AFL player Tayla Harris kicking a ball on the field. It went viral for all the wrong reasons and attracted sexist comments from online trolls. But then, it turned. Harris’ response, plus the support she received, changed the conversation and highlighted the sexism that professional female athletes face.
On the latest episode of Healthy-ish ‘Time’s up on sexism in sport’ Felicity Harley talks to co-hosts Dr Sam Hay and Maz Compton about the unique challenges that women in sport face.
Harley, the editor-at large of Whimn.com.au, wants to change how Australians treat professional female athletes.
“A new report by a girls rights advocacy agency called Plan International found social media abuse aimed at sportswomen was overwhelmingly sexist so that women were subjected to three times as many negative comments as men,” she says.
“They trawled social media for a year and analysed, I think 1300 comments. We’ve come so far but then there’s this hurdle of ingrained sexism which a lot of men have when they see women play sport.”
She references AFL player Josh Green, who quit being a professional sportsman because he couldn’t handle the online trolling.
“So I do think there’s a problem, just for women more so, but also men,” Harley says.
“There’s a woman in the US called Roxanne Gay and she has a great quote about this and she just says ‘Men, rally your fellow men and tell them I won’t swear.’ Basically she uses a swear word.
“Just pull your socks up and support and call out when they’re (other men are) making sexist comments about an athlete.”
Championing female athletes is a cause Harley is passionate about.
As the former editor of Women’s Health magazine, she launched the I Support Women In Sport Campaign eight years ago. While dating her now-husband, Tom Harley was formerly captain of AFL’s Geelong Cats, she realised that female athletes were missing from the media.
“I was just consumed with all this sports media. I would sit there, Fox Sports would be on all day, and I would never see any women,” she says.
“I thought, I can actually change this. I’m in a position that I can advocate for more air time for female athletes.
“A report came out around that time, a government report, that said race horses got more TV time than women.”
It was the impetus she needed to launch I Support Women In Sport. Julia Gillard chipped in some funding and Harley put on an event with the aim to “rival the Brownlow.”
“I just wanted to get them out there in media to tell their stories so we could just learn more about them and know what they do in their sport in their daily lives,” she says.
“To award and applaud the amazing female athletes that we have because I really felt female athletes are amazing role models; for young men, young women and also us.”
For women to get the kudos they deserve, they need champions in the media; to give them coverage, to give them a platform, to give them the chance to tell their stories.
“I would front up to CEO of Chanel 7, I was in his ear all the time, ‘You’ve gotta put these on, play the soccer games on TV, you’ve got to start showing more female athletes,’ and he said, ‘Why would we, because they don’t rate’,” Harley says.
“It’s almost like a chicken and egg thing.
“Maybe 10 years ago, we didn’t do it…and now we do it and now we watch it.”
Want to hear more from Felicity? Tune into episode 53 of Healthy-ish, ‘Time’s up on sexism in sport’. Listen above, at Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts from.