‘Shut up lady, the footy is on… get back in the kitchen’. ‘God, she’s a butch dyke’. ‘What a skank with her tatts.’ ‘She’d be a good root.’ ‘My 8-year-old son can take a better mark than that fugly AFLW lesso.’ ‘That female cricketer is useless and shouldn’t be paid a dollar.’ ‘She’d take it up the pooper.’
ENOUGH! (I hope you screamed that out loud.)
You’ve just read a bunch of social media comments written by, let’s call them morons, about female athletes. Pretty offensive, huh? Well, this is the norm according to a new report by leading girls’ rights agency, Plan International. Their research found social media abuse aimed at sportswomen is overwhelmingly sexist with women subjected to THREE TIMES as many negative comments as men (27 per cent vs 9).
A whopping 23 per cent of all negative comments towards sportswomen referred to traditional gender stereotypes, while 20 per cent belittled stuff like athletic abilities and skills. Sexualised comments aimed at men were 0 per cent (no, that’s not a typo), while for women 14 per cent of comments were sexual.
The 12-months of research analysed more than 1300 comments as well as responses to comments, discussion among social media users, and the use of emoji, GIFs and videos shared by major sports news broadcasters in Australia on Facebook. Just imagine if Twitter and Instagram were included.
Let’s talk about that hurdle
So, here it is… the gold nugget of research to back-up what we already knew – that deep-seated sexism and misogyny exists in women’s sport. We witnessed it in all its glory recently when legendary AFLW player, Carlton’s Tayla Harris called out vicious trolls who commented on that Instagram post of her phenomenal kick, legs high in the air displaying her gobsmacking strength and athleticism.
This report is clear evidence of yet another hurdle for women in sport: sexiest, abusive and offensive comments on social media.
Take a moment and think about how such comments really make our amazing athletes FEEL. Think about how this makes YOU feel. How this makes hopeful YOUNG athletes feel. And the DAMAGING effect this has on WOMEN PLAYING SPORT at all levels. (Sorry, I can’t help but get all shouty when I rant about this.)
Let’s talk about what could happen
Let’s rewind 10 years. In 2010, the Australian Sports Commission released a report, Towards a Level Playing Field: Sport and gender in Australian media, which came to the horrifying conclusion that racehorses got more TV airtime than sportswomen. Today, the landscape has changed. Thank the lord. Women get billing rights on TV, they can earn a good buck from their sport, and young women and men are taking-up and idolising their role models in droves. I LOVE it. Alas, a lot more still needs to be done.
Amidst this burgeoning female sporting fanfare, these increasing levels of online harassment are concerning. Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena warns, “This toxic online abuse can not only have severe consequences for the victim’s wellbeing and mental health, but also for girls and young women in the broader community who witness this despicable behaviour and receive the message that they are not welcome in this space.
“We’ve still got a way to go in being broadly inclusive of all types of women that play sport, let alone women who have a disability or Indigenous women.”
Let me highlight that comment, “not welcome in this space.” Legena says that social media abuse perpetuates harmful traditional gender stereotypes, which have been linked to their low participation rates in sports. And that’s where it could all start unraveling. Dare I ask, could we go backwards? If we don’t highlight it and stop it, social media could have a catastrophic effect on women’s sport.
Let’s talk about what you can do
Social media – the necessity yet nemesis of modern life. Sure, we can sit behind our phones and comment on our sportswomen’s Facebook picture, “Don’t listen to them. We still love you.” But that approach ain’t working, clearly. We need to step-up and hold the trolls accountable, moderate their comments, and encourage our sporting bodies and media companies to do the same. We ALL need to hold these morons responsible, challenge them and embarrass them.
US feminist icon Lindy West’s advice is best on this: “I want to say to men online, “Come get your people. Police your fellow dudes and talk to them about this shit. The answer to how to fix internet trolling is like fixing sexism. How do you do that? I’m of the opinion that discourse helps, that changing people’s minds changes people’s actions.”
Today, I’m challenging you: next time you see a sexualised comment aimed out our female athletes, call it out – whether it’s on social media, at the pub or in your own kitchen. All of us – men and women – need fierce, strong and awe-inspiring female role models to follow. Let’s rally together, support our sportswomen and stop the social media morons.
Felicity Harley is the editor-at-large of whimn and a passionate advocate of women in sport. After nearly two decades working in – and running – Australia’s leading women’s publications, she now juggles desk life with cleaning-up-after-three-kids life. In her, er, spare time the health and wellness fan drinks coffee and exercises (to stay sane).