Long before I started flexing my feminist muscle, I watched the 1992 film A League of Their Own, by ground-breaking director Penny Marshall and starring Geena Davis.
It’s a story inspired by the inaugural season of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1940s USA – which was founded to keep interest in baseball ticking along while male players were away fighting in World War II.
One line stood out to me back then. The General Manager of the League addresses the players: “Every girl in this league is going to be a lady”.
I now understand the full significance of those words.
They sum up the troubled relationship between sport and femininity. Above all else, no matter how strong, talented and powerful a woman athlete is – she must be a ‘lady’.
In the Oxford dictionary, a ‘lady’ is described as a woman who is polite and well educated, has excellent manners and always behaves well: ‘His wife was a real lady’. ‘You could at least try to behave like a lady’.
Put simply, ‘lady’, an Old English word from the mid-5th century, carries assumptions about how a woman should act. She should be virtuous, she should be modest and she should be selfless – ‘God’s Police’ to give it an Anne Summers Australian context.
In our modern society, the term ‘lady’ doesn’t work for women athletes or the rest of us for that matter.
We are women.
And we are not just one type. Thank goodness. We are gloriously different, and we’d rather not come with an outdated list of beliefs and expectations about what we should say, what we should wear and what we should do.
The male equivalent is ‘gentleman’ but, not surprisingly, it hasn’t overstayed its welcome the same way ‘lady’ has.
The ‘gentle’ from gentleman has largely been dropped, yes it rears its head from time to time, but it doesn’t carry all the musty baggage that ‘lady’ brings with it.
Last Saturday night as I settled in to watch Ash Barty take on Karolina Pliskova in the Wimbledon final, I cringed.
“Welcome to the Ladies’ Singles Final”.
Even though I’m well aware it refers to itself in this way, I can’t help but find the reference uttering jarring.
The Ladies’ Singles have been played concurrently with the Gentlemen’s Singles at The Championships since 1884. However, there is a difference. The Gentlemen’s tournament is more commonly referred to as the Men’s – not only by players, but also by the commentators and the fans.
Has anyone ever asked you if you can get them ‘tickets to the Gentlemen’s final on Sunday?’
Surely it wouldn’t be that difficult, or controversial, for the All England Lawn Tennis Club to drag itself into the 21st century and rebrand the tournament as ‘Men’s’ and ‘Women’s’.
They shouldn’t stop there. The champion’s board hangs on the wall like a giant anachronism.
Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s name near the top left of the board is written as “Mrs R Cawley”. The “R” stands for her husband Roger and Cawley is his surname. He must be delighted.
Chris Evert’s 1981 victory is recognised as “Mrs J.M Lloyd”. John Lloyd is her former husband. He never made it past the third round.
And the unmarried champions all have “Miss” before their name.
Juxtapose this with the men’s board. There’s no “Mr” or “Master”. Just their name.
It’s not hard to fix.
If the gender equality angle isn’t the All England Club’s cup of tea, it should at least consider the zeitgeist.
Women’s sport is on the rise globally – gone are the days of having to search for the word ‘woman’ in a conversation about sport.
It’s out! And it’s loud and it’s proud.
The W is something to be celebrated.
Consider the change to the Australian sporting landscape in recent years.
We have AFLW, NRLW, WBBL and the W-League.
These sports are unapologetically played by women. Actual women. Not a type of woman from a bygone era tottering around in ruffles, lace and a bonnet.
The way we use language carries weight. It matters.
Sexist language not only reinforces the notion men are superior, it also perpetuates male privilege in society.
Language shapes us and our culture. As we evolve, our use of language should too.
A League of Their Own has come to mean so much to so many women around the world. The message that women belong in a field usually reserved for men is a powerful one – and it goes a long way to unshackling old fashioned ideas of womanhood.
Whether it’s work, or life, whether it’s baseball, football, netball, hockey, or indeed any sport, it’s okay to get ‘dirt in the skirt’.
And that’s not something a ‘lady’ would approve of.
There are some things in life you never forget.
In the European summer of 2004, I set off to Greece to learn more about my family history. It would be an emotional pilgrimage that took me from one side of the country to the other; from Odysseus’s rugged homeland Ithaca, to Rhodes, the jewel in the Dodecanese.
This journey came about because I never knew my maternal grandmother. I wanted to hear her story firsthand. Against her wishes, she followed her husband to Australia in 1939 where he promised her ‘a better life’. It didn’t turn out like that for my Yiayia. Her migration experience was full of sadness and tragedy; she gave birth to four children, two got sick and died, and she was left to mourn, alone in a strange place. Yiayia went back to Greece and died a broken woman.
I knew this trip was going to throw up many confronting emotions, what I didn’t know (and didn’t see coming from a million miles away) was that I was soon to be engulfed in one of the most joyous moments of my life.
My trip coincided with the UEFA European Football Championship in Portugal.
The mood in Athens was subdued, and for good reason. Greece was a 150 to 1 outsider to win. As proud as we Greeks are about our achievements, (just in case you didn’t know, we invented everything) Greece viewed its national football team as a bit of an embarrassment.
Greece had only ever been to two major tournaments before 2004 (Euro 1980 and 1994 World Cup) and it hadn’t won a game at either of them – and its sum total of goals scored was… one.
Most people, especially the Greeks, thought the miracle of this tournament was the fact that they had actually qualified. No one seriously expected Greece to win a game in its ‘group of death’, let alone navigate its way out of the group stage.
As a result, I didn’t pay too much attention to the build-up to Euro 2004, the general feeling in Greece was let’s hope we don’t get humiliated.
Seven minutes into the opening match against host nation Portugal, all that changed. We scored. What’s even more remarkable is that we actually went on to win the match 2-1.
During the opening ceremony before the game, a replica of a 16th-century ship was used to show the expeditions of the Portuguese explorers. While broadcasting the match against Portugal, Greek radio sports journalist Georgios Helakis, commented that, “since the Portuguese team appeared in such a ship, it’s time for us to become pirates and steal the victory”.
After the win, the team had a new nickname, To Piratiko, meaning ‘The Pirate Ship’ – and suddenly the whole country was onboard!
Next, we held former champions Spain to a 1-1 draw.
Greece lost its final match against Russia but it didn’t matter – To Piratiko had done the unthinkable and qualified for the knockout stages.
The shame of past performances had been replaced by a strange sensation. Pride.
I watched the quarter-final against tournament favourites France in the harbour town of Vathy on Ithaca, my father’s island. The plateia was bustling with a mixture of locals and priests, all joined together in prayer.
In the 65th minute Angelos Charisteas broke the deadlock. The square descended into madness. Ouzo flowed. Prayers were answered as Greece held on to win. There were more tears. And more Ouzo.
The next stop was a semi-final against the Czech Republic. By this time, I had taken to wearing the goat’s horn of Amalthea around my neck. And by now, I truly believed it would ward off the evil eye and help us beat the Czechs.
Deep into the first period of extra time, defender Traianos Dellas headed home a corner. Dellllllllaaaaaaaassssssss! Greece had qualified for the final of Euro 2004.
July 4th, 2004. Omonia Square, Athens. I’m squashed in the middle of the world’s largest mosh pit. One pair in an endless sea of glistening eyes transfixed on the giant screen for the match against Portugal.
There are some things in life you never forget.
The 57th minute.
Charisteas scored with a header off a corner kick from Angelos Basinas. And the world went mad…
As the final whistle blew in the Estádio da Luz, fireworks lit up the Athens night sky and the Acropolis, while cannons under Mount Lycabettus, the city’s highest point, fired shots in celebration.
Under the ancient monuments, 250,000 people descended on the capital accompanied by a symphony of car horns. People in cars, people on mopeds, on foot, waving flags, letting off flares, singing, dancing, kissing, hugging strangers, laughing and crying.
The team, coached by German Otto Rehhagel, who spoke only a handful of Greek words, the team accused of being boring, negative and killing the tournament (The Guardian’s Barry Glendenning, said they were “the only underdogs in history that everyone wants to see get beaten”) – had pulled off the greatest upset in European Championship history.
One of the greatest sporting upsets of all time.
I felt Greek to my core. I felt connected to my people like never before. We may be scattered all over the world but we have a shared history, from ancient fables passed down through the generations to this, the most magical of summers.
The diaspora is vibrant and strong. Our stories of love, loss, migration and celebration are the things that connect us and give us strength.
In my Yiayia’s village on Rhodes, her sisters gathered around to tell me all about the sister who was taken away from them.
“You have her eyes and her spirit”, they said.
The summer of 2004 gave me love, belonging and pirates.
And a deeper sense of who I am.
I’ve always had a thing for women detectives on TV.
Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect, Sophie Grabol (and her hand-knitted jumper) in the Danish series The Killing, Gillian Anderson in The Fall, Sarah Lancashire in Happy Valley, Toni Colette in Unbelievable – and most recently Kate Winslet as Mare in Mare of Easttown. Or, as I like to call it: Mare of Lockdown.
These gripping screen heroines are my kind of women. Strong, smart, driven and flawed. And by flawed, I mean human, refreshingly real. Their characters stand out because they come fully formed. They don’t represent some kind of glossy ideal, a cardboard cutout representation of reality – someone’s manicured ideal. And that can be a simple thing like waking up in the morning… looking like they have just woken up in the morning.
Like womanhood itself, you can’t squeeze them into the same box. They’re all things. The one thing they do share is a fierce independence, they don’t doggedly follow the ‘rules’; they shoot the finger to the script society has rolled out for a woman in a man’s world. (And nothing is more masculine than the world of crime-solving.)
They don’t roll over, they confront and challenge sexism when they see it, they fight against discrimination, and, because they’re brilliant, they always uncover the most obscure link to solve the crime. They smile when they want to (not often), they swear when they want to (very often) and they wear what the hell they want.
They do it their way.
As Grabol who plays Sarah Lund in The Killing eloquently puts it: “Lund’s so sure of herself she doesn’t have to wear a suit.” (instead, she wears a jumper so fashionably unfashionable it inspired a cult-like devotion).
When DSI Stella Gibson in The Fall is asked: “What if he kills a prostitute next? Or a woman walking home drunk?” Gibson responds: “The media loves to divide wom-en into virgins and vamps, angels or whores. Let’s not encourage them.” Best. Line. Ever.
Off screen, Winslet is doing her bit to change the way society views women. In a recent interview in The New York Times she revealed that the director of Mare of Easttown had offered to edit a “bulgy bit of belly” in her sex scene with Guy Pearce – an offer Winslet refused, saying “Don’t you dare!” She also sent back the promo poster twice because it was heavily airbrushed. “Guys, I know how many lines I have by the side of my eye, please put them all back”, she said.
You could argue it’s easy for Winslet to be opinionated and bold because she’s in the privileged position of having lots of money, job security and Hollywood connections – and yes, all that is true (and then some) but it’s a view that sells her short.
Her words are important and powerful and go way beyond the film industry. It’s not just women approaching 50 who feel the pressure to look a certain way. Body negativity and shaming are endemic in our society and can start at an early age for both girls and boys.
Mission Australia’s latest annual survey of young people aged 15-19 in 2020 identified body image as one of the top three personal concerns for young Australians. The top three were: coping with stress (42.5%), mental health (33.9%) and body image (33.0%). The proportion of females concerned about these issues (and many of the other issues) was much higher than the proportion of males.
Compared with male respondents, notably higher proportions of female respondents were extremely or very concerned about coping with stress (55.5% compared with 24.8%), body image (45.9% compared with 15.7%), mental health (43.4% com-pared with 20.7%) and school or study problems (40.5% compared with 21.4%).
Winslet’s words matter because having a negative body image can lead to mental health problems, extreme dieting and eating disorders.
These alarming statistics show nothing much has changed from my high school years in the 1980’s where friends dropped out of PE because they hated the way they looked. I saw girls living on a diet of Coke, chips and cigarettes – already terrified of food and already dangerously harsh on their bodies. I saw girls relentlessly pursuing a notion of ‘beauty’ pushed by glossy magazines, advertising agencies, movies and popular culture. And if this meant starving themselves to fit in, throwing up what they ate, then so be it.
If anything, the internet and cyber-bullying has made it worse for kids and teenagers today who, under the influence of ‘influencers’, are chasing the perfect Instagram image. The pursuit is mostly unobtainable. It’s fake.
Winslet’s words matter because the social pressure to conform to beauty ideals never really goes away for women. It just changes. It becomes less about vanity and more about career survival. Society is more accepting of older men for whom grey hair is distinguished and a sign of great wisdom. Women are judged differently. Women who don’t dye their hair run the very real risk of being thought of as ‘past it’. In public life, this double standard is even more pronounced. Just consider Friends: The Reunion. The three women looked great, but undeniably locked in time.
Women have a ‘Hobson’s choice’ – get off the bullshit beauty merry-go-round or keep your career ticking along?
Instead of airbrushing, photoshopping and editing out body parts to meet one particular type of ‘beautiful’, it’s time we were allowed to celebrate who we are.
Faces change. Bodies change. Faces that change are beautiful. Bodies that change are beautiful.
This conversation shouldn’t be a fad just because a Hollywood celebrity has had her say.
This conversation needs to be ongoing.
You don’t have to be Agatha Christie to figure that one out.
It’s week 50 of the year, and 50 women have died violently in this country.
Statistically, it’s unsurprising – on average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
This kind of violence is unimaginable, and yet it occurs with devastating regularity.
On November 30, three deaths were recorded in a single day. Shamefully, it wasn’t front page news.
These numbers have become a distressing preoccupation for those of us who care about the violence against women epidemic, including academic and journalist Jenna Price who researches, records and publishes every reported femicide in Australia as part of her Counting Dead Women project by anti-sexism group Destroy the Joint.
We live in the ‘lucky’ country and we count dead women. Just let that sink in.
Every time I see the number of deaths go up by one, I feel sick to the stomach. When that feeling subsides, I find myself mourning for a woman I didn’t know, and for her children if she had them. And then I get angry about the apathy and inaction.
Another woman is dead and what are we doing about it?
To quote political journalist Annabel Crabb, “If a man got killed by a shark every week, we’d probably arrange for the ocean to be drained.”
Hidden behind the rolling death count are incalculable numbers of women living in dangerous situations. Every two minutes in Australia, police are called to a domestic and family violence matter.
The reason I get stuck in the angry phase is because violence against women, whether it’s physical, sexual or psychological, is preventable if the will is there to do something about it.
We need strong leadership.
It’s imperative our political leaders view and speak about violence against women as a national emergency, but regrettably, this doesn’t appear to be the case. There was no new funding for domestic and family violence in this year’s Federal budget, despite all the evidence that covid-19 had exacerbated existing inequalities and contributed to a spike in violence against women. (In July, a survey by the Australian Institute of Criminology revealed almost 10% of Australian women in a relationship had experienced domestic violence during the coronavirus pandemic). Without adequate support, women have been made to bear the physical, emotional and financial cost of being trapped in a cycle of abuse and control at home, with no way out.
Family violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and children, yet there wasn’t any additional funding in the budget for safe housing for victims/survivors.
Why isn’t the safety of women and children a priority?
Furthermore, a planned merger of the Family and Federal courts poses a risk to women and children. The Family court was established in 1976 as a specialist, standalone court to deal only with family law matters. Family law experts fear a merger will have bad outcomes for children and families. Law Council of Australia president Pauline Wright describes the merger as a ‘terrible gamble’, and says “family violence best practice responses worldwide recommend enhancing, not undermining, family violence specialisation in courts.” We should be listening to the people who work in the field.
But the disregard shown towards women isn’t just in the policy sphere. The day after three more women were murdered, Federal Communications Minister Paul Fletcher asked ABC chair Ita Buttrose to explain why the recent Four Corners report “Inside the Canberra Bubble” was considered newsworthy and in the public interest. He either didn’t understand that the story was about male privilege, power imbalance and a workplace culture that protects men and discourages women from speaking out, or he chose not to grasp it. While we’re talking about culture, the minister should also take the time to research the link between disrespect and violence against women too.
Until women have equality in all sectors of society, and until they’re safe inside and outside of their homes, we have to apply a gendered lens to policies, and we must demand more from those who are elected to represent us.
More broadly, we need a whole of community approach to tackle this insidious scourge. Research shows that gender inequality (where women do not have equal social status, power, resources or opportunities, and their voices, ideas and work are not valued equally by society) is a driver of violence against women.
We’ve all seen and heard ‘jokes’ that disrespect and demean women online and in everyday life, ‘throwaway lines’ that condone violence, snippets of toxic conversations that reveal coercion and control – all these expressions of sexism and inequality create the culture we live in. Children see and hear this behaviour and think that it’s okay; they then repeat what they see and hear – and the cycle continues. As citizens, we all have a responsibility to challenge and call out these underlying drivers of violence to stop violence before it starts.
Christmas can be a difficult time for many people. For the families and friends of 50 women, this one will be particularly so.
It’s time we all said enough is enough.
Family and domestic violence support services:
• 1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732
• Women’s Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
• Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491
• Lifeline (24-hour crisis line): 131 114
• Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277
The recent Four Corners report “Inside the Canberra Bubble” generated a whole lot of debate about whether the story was in the public interest or not?
Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, much of the commentary was divided down gender lines.
A lot of women say yes, it is a matter of public interest, while many men believe what happens in a dark corner of a bar between a minister of the Crown and an employee is no one else’s business.
But this is not about sex.
This is about male privilege and workplace cultures that protect men and discourage women from speaking out.
This is also about power imbalance.
My hunch is women say it is in the public interest because most women have seen or endured, or at least know of a woman who has experienced unacceptable workplace behaviour.
I certainly know what it feels like…
A man’s lips rushing towards mine to greet me (I almost give myself whiplash to get out of the firing line).
A man lifting my dress over my head on the dance floor.
A man following me into the bathroom and pulling out his penis.
All work associates. All more senior and older than me.
Everyone has the right to feel safe, secure and comfortable in their workplace or in a work situation – or frankly, anywhere.
So yes, when your workplace has a culture of disrespect towards women, where in some cases women are treated like playthings, it is absolutely a matter of public interest.
I didn’t always speak out about sexism during my career because it’s hard carving out a career in a male-dominated field, especially in the early days. The last thing you want to do is rock the boat when it involves a ‘revered’ man and a whiff of controversy.
I knew that by turning a blind eye to darker elements of sporting culture, I was compromising my values but it was a conscious decision to just get on with it and kick career goals. I didn’t feel great about it. I still don’t.
Let’s face it, women who speak out about sexism, discrimination and inequality are labelled troublemakers, killjoys and uptight, and retribution can be swift.
Two of the women featured in the Four Corners story know about that. Kathleen Foley, the Melbourne barrister who described Attorney-General Christian Porter as “deeply sexist” and a “misogynist”, lost her bid for re-election to the Victorian Bar’s governing council. She just happened to also be a staunch advocate for changing the profession’s attitudes towards women. Former senior ministerial advisor Rachelle Miller, who has made an official complaint about the way she was treated by her boss at the time, government minister Alan Tudge, was demoted after their affair ended, and she may lose her new job with a defence contractor after her Four Corners appearance.
Conversely, both men have continued on their merry way, hypocritically espousing ‘family values’ – while Tudge was also a vocal advocate of traditional marriage during the same-sex marriage debate.
Can you imagine if a woman with the same views about marriage was outed as having an affair with an employee? She’d be crucified. Just think about what happened to Labor MP Emma Husar, who lost party endorsement for her seat and was pursued relentlessly by the media, amid unproven allegations of sexualised workplace misconduct.
An appalling example of double standards.
This is why women bury their own values, and go along with things.
The sad reality for girls is that this kind of pact with the devil starts early. Although society’s tight grip on gender stereotypes is slowly loosening, as girls become older the pressure to accept intrusions and impositions and insults without causing too much fuss – especially when they’re made by men in powerful positions – is always there.
Women and girls can absolutely make a difference by challenging the status quo, but there’s a limit to how much can be achieved when your views aren’t equally respected and you don’t have the same decision-making clout.
Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to wave that will get rid of deeply entrenched sexism.
The solution lies in men respecting women and treating them as equals.
I’m sick and tired of women shouldering the conversations about basic decency and respect.
Men have to step up.
Men have the power to smash the paradigm, if the will is there.
Men have the opportunity – and I’d say responsibility – to fix things.
A good starting point for all men is to stop enabling sexist or demeaning comments, un-asked for gropes, kisses and drunken lunges. Men need to stop viewing women as a score card. All this stuff adds up and creates the culture of the place where you work.
The only way forward is for all of us to speak out.
We’ve had four years of staring at his orange face, a face only a mother could love (we won’t bring his sister into this). The intensity of the orange sometimes varies – sometimes it’s apricot, sometimes it’s tangerine – but it’s always within the orange colour spectrum. The fact that he’s superglued a Peruvian guinea pig to the top of it only heightens the horror. Or at least my horror.
That face, that singular face, has pervaded every living breathing part of my life. Last night I sat down to dinner, a delicious Chicken Tikka Masala, and I got caught staring at it looking unnerved; the thick spiced buttery orange-coloured sauce – orange sauce, good grief I’m eating Chicken Trump.
Turn on the television. He’s there. Turn on the radio. He’s there. Four years of The Donald. Four years of divisiveness (and evasiveness), finger pointing, lies, delusion, self-obsession and late-night tweeting (maybe that should be LATE NIGHT TWEETING !!!!)
I’ll always struggle to comprehend how Donald Trump got there in the first place. I honestly thought that ‘grab them by the pussy’ would put a full stop on it but sadly, America – vast, complex, sprawling and divided, didn’t. This complicated country wanted change and was willing to gamble on a man who, ironically, went bankrupt in Atlantic City.
This one term President was never going to go quietly. To be thought of as a loser strikes at the heart of his narcissism. But fortunately, all the bullshit in the world could not save him. The thing is, like it or not, he has left his mark. He has left a very conservative mark in the Senate and in the Supreme Court.
His mien has also left its mark. The leader of the free world, and any other country, should always aspire to lead with grace and decorum. Whether we agree with their politics or not, they should have our respect – however grudgingly, they should be ‘presidential’.
They should not be the kind of person whom 25 women have accused of sexual assault and harassment over the past 30 years.
I’m hoping his departure will signal a return to (some kind) of decency.
But right now, that feels like a pipe dream. I was hoping Covid would cause us to look inwards, to remember what it is to be human, and by human I mean to care for humankind, and I was hoping Trump’s prolonged lack of dignity would instinctively cause us to kick back against the crudeness his time in office will be remembered for. Of course, it hasn’t. Yet.
Last week I was abused by a man in a black Range Rover for doing a legal U-turn. The roads were tumbleweed-empty and he was speeding. My U-turn must have put an extra six or seven seconds on his journey. Then there was the woman in the butcher shop who gave me a royal bollocking for inching too close to her while inspecting the honey and soy pork ribs. While she shouted at me like some deranged diva, everyone in the shop looked on in silence.
It wouldn’t be fair to blame Trump for the rudeness in our society. He doesn’t have a monopoly on crass and boorish behaviour, but I can’t help but shake the feeling that his omnipresence has loosened a kind of moral grip and made it more acceptable to behave like an ‘asshole’. He’s certainly made it easier for racists and sexists by being their poster boy.
I’m also not completely at ease with a narrow Joe Biden victory, or even Biden himself. Dynamic is not a word that springs to mind when Biden approaches a podium to speak but, despite this, I couldn’t help but get swept up in his powerful and unifying victory speech, and the words of vice-president-elect Kamala Harris before him. What a contrast to the previous four years.
I’m hopeful president-elect Biden will conduct himself in a way befitting a leader, and a sense of calmness returns. Whether he will heal America and regain the trust of the working class remains to be seen, but at least he won’t revel in the chaos and stoke division. And that’s a start.
For now, I’m enjoying the end of Trump’s reign to the sound of The Angels “Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again”.
And yes, I’m shouting out the sweary bit during the chorus.
I am Catwoman.
I am nine years old, and this is serious business.
I’m wearing a shiny tracksuit, and I’m squatting on a perfectly manicured lawn a few feet away from the clothesline. The ball hits the metal pole at speed and rebounds at right angles, flying past my left side. I react quickly – shifting my weight and diving after it, arm outstretched.
Thump. The beautiful, clean noise of the tennis ball hitting and sticking onto my palm.
I lie on the ground, my hand squeezing the yellow, slightly furry ball as I hold it aloft. “Hoooooooooooowzat!!!” I spring to my feet, toss the ball high into the sky and finish the routine with a soccer-inspired lap of the lawn, high-fiving the bottlebrush on the way through, giddy on the simple pleasure of catching a tennis ball – albeit, one that had no right to be caught.
Extract from Breaking The Mould
Angela Pippos, 2017
It’s been a shitshow of a year, especially for those of us who call Melbourne home. Despite this, 2020 has given me something that can never be tarnished or ruined, can never be taken away, or packaged up and sent to the Gabba – it’s given me a memory I will treasure, a gleaming nugget of gold that will continue to sparkle long after this Truman Show-esque year has been consigned to the history books.
March 8, 2020. International Women’s Day.
The Women’s T20 World Cup final.
86,174 at the MCG.
All my worlds collided that night. Vindication for two decades of telling anyone who would listen that we must invest in girls and women. Girls deserve the same opportunities and pathways in sport as boys. That should be our starting point.
It’s a moral argument.
As Katy Perry was strutting her stuff pre-game with giant feminist symbols all around her, I thought about how we got here, how we got to this moment of a near-full MCG for a women’s cricket match. I thought about Betty Wilson choosing cricket over marriage because a woman couldn’t have both; the unfairness of women being excluded from the Long Room until 1984; the pain on women’s football pioneer Debbie Lee’s face when she told me her story of shame and embarrassment because she wanted to play footy; the ignominy of Kathrine Switzer having to hide her sex to compete in the 1967 Boston Marathon – historically, sport hasn’t rolled out the welcome mat for women.
But things could not have felt any more different that night at the MCG. The juxtaposition was stark and glorious.
As the dominant summer sport in Australia, men’s cricket has enjoyed all the trappings – extensive media coverage, juicy contracts, rusted-on sponsors and glorification. Up until quite recently, women who chose to play cricket were thought to have simply lost their bearings on the way to the netball court. They were relatively unknown, despite women’s cricket having a vibrant history in Australia.
Founding mother Lily Poulett-Harris, a Tasmanian, captained the Oyster Cove Ladies Cricket Club in the league she created in 1894. By the following year, the ladies’ competition was turning heads, as noted by a sports journalist in the Mercury on 2 December 1895: “(Interest in cricket) seems to be growing, and extending to the weaker sex, who often have a quiet match upon a romantic little plateau on the Domain immediately beyond the upper cricket ground”.
These days you can cheer on members of the “weaker sex” in the world’s best women’s cricket league, the WBBL.
WBBL/06 is a different looking season with 59 games over 35 days in a Sydney hub. It began last Sunday with a Barefoot Circle by Indigenous players and captains to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, and strongly show their commitment to reconciliation. It was a poignant, no fuss, player-led stand against racism.
The WBBL has been a gamechanger for women’s cricket in Australia and globally. It attracts the world’s best players from New Zealand, England, South Africa and the West Indies, it’s evolved into a standalone tournament and the number of games broadcast on TV continues to grow.
The 86,174 didn’t spring from nowhere.
Seeing women athletes on the WBBL stage sends the message to everyone that girls and women belong in cricket, but it goes deeper than that. One of the reasons teenage girls drop out of sport is because they can’t see female role models and they can’t see a pathway to elite sport. Thankfully, this is changing. Visibility of sportswomen also challenges gender stereotypes and shows girls that you don’t have to be drawn into the feminine stereotype that’s been constructed for you – you can create your own version of what it means to be a girl.
These days I need a twice-weekly Pilates class to keep me agile, but I still love, and can still pull off, a classic catch, whether it be in the park, the backyard or the kitchen (as a rogue mini-bocconcini ball rolls off the bench). That feeling of exhilaration that goes with it never fades.
While the younger me pretended to be Catwoman in the garden as my brother and I played our catching practice game, girls today don’t have to fantasise about being any superhero – they can be Meg Lanning, Alyssa Healy or Megan Schutt.
March 8, 2020 was a day for the true believers who knew a packed stadium for women’s sport was possible.
All that was needed was the will to do it.
Denigrating a degree in humanities is nothing new. Ironically, it’s a bit of an art form in itself. Arts graduates are well used to defending their chosen field of study – something I found myself doing over and over again throughout my university years.
One of the many skills an arts degree gives you is the ability to construct an argument and articulate it in a clear and compelling way. Fortunately, this enabled me to dispatch every “But what will you be when you finish your degree?” to the boundary, one condescending engineering student at a time – in the same fashion Alyssa Healy sorts out a full toss.
Under the sandstone arches of the University of Adelaide I discovered my passion for politics, the classics and feminism. I left uni with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) – I also left with a strong sense of social justice and equality, an even stronger sense of myself and, importantly, a manageable HECS debt. (HECS was introduced halfway through my degree).
Although it may not have been precisely mapped out at the time – my degree was my springboard into becoming a journalist, author, documentary-maker and campaigner for gender equality.
If the ‘practical’ benefits of my degree only came under scrutiny from a few dry, smug engineers, or from a smattering of privileged, loafer-wearing medical students, it wouldn’t matter so much. But sadly, contempt for the arts and humanities runs deeper, much deeper, and it’s set to become enshrined in law.
The Federal Government’s Job-ready Graduates Bill passed the Senate (28 votes to 26) last week.
The House of Representatives will consider amendments made to the legislation when parliament sits again. Under the new funding arrangements, future university students in disciplines such as law and humanities will pay up to 113% more than current students. (The cost of a 3-year humanities degree will rise from about $20,000 to a whopping $43,500). This astronomical increase will fund fee cuts for other courses that fit the government’s idea of ‘job ready’, such as maths, science, engineering, information technology and nursing – and an overall cut in the government contribution from 58% to 52%.
The bill passed the Senate with support from One Nation and Centre Alliance. Labor, the Greens, and independent senators Rex Patrick and Jacqui Lambie opposed it.
Senator Lambie tweeted: “It’s a bill that creates no new uni places, makes them more expensive, gives 10% off coupons to rich kids and tells poor kids to go dream elsewhere”.
The package is grossly unfair and short-sighted and comes at a time when the rapidly-changing labour market needs more graduates with a broad range of transferable skills, not less.
Education must be viewed as a right, not a privilege, and it has to be accessible to all.
Applying a gender lens (the same one that apparently went missing during Federal Budget deliberations), these changes to university fees will disproportionately affect women. Engineering and information technology courses predominantly attract men, while women overwhelming make up society and culture subjects. (Perhaps some thought should also go into how we can bust a few stereotypes and get more girls interested in STEM subjects from a young age.)
The Job-ready Graduates Bill isn’t just an attack on the arts and humanities, it strikes at the heart of what it means to be human.
Critical thinking is a cornerstone of a civilised society. 5th century BC Greek philosophers knew it. Socrates said “education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel”.
Of course, studying philosophy, politics, history and classics provides the context to better understand society and the world. These types of subjects set young people up for a lifetime of asking questions, analysing facts, debating ideas, and showing empathy; contrary to some thinking, they prepare people for the real world.
These are the skills that underpin leadership, regardless of whether that leader is a member of parliament, a school principal or the CEO of a major corporation.
And the real tragedy (and hypocrisy) is politicians know this. Two-thirds of chief executives of ASX200 listed companies have degrees in humanities – and the most popular combination of qualifications across both major political parties in Australia is a double degree in Arts and Law. Nine Coalition ministers and 14 Labor shadow ministers hold a BA, and four of the past eight prime ministers have a humanities degree – Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Bob Hawke.
The Federal Government says its strategy is all about stimulating jobs and growth but leading education researchers and economists have challenged the thinking behind it. They say the key to filling shortages in nursing and teaching is improving wages and conditions, not reducing course fees. And rather than channel people into vocational courses, a better solution is to create more viable post-secondary options for students and let them make the choice that’s best for them.
The question I’m asking is, “What sort of country do we want to be?” A curious, creative, clever, and empathetic one, or one that allows one-eyed bureaucrats to ruthlessly steer us into places where ‘effectiveness’ can only be measured in terms of hard-data and productivity.
Surely there has to a balance of not undermining the vital importance of our engineers and scientists but of also not undermining the vital importance of what it means to be human.
There’s something powerful that unites women all over the world.
It’s an intangible force, not in a George Lucas kind of way – it’s real for every woman who feels it, and it exists because of a very real problem. Inequality. At the heart of this bond is the ongoing pursuit of equality which, in Australia, began with nineteenth century suffragists staring down convention to win the right to vote. And this pursuit of fairness, across all parts of society, continues today.
It’s often described as the fight for equality, and it is an exhausting, and at times despairing, fight, but it’s also more than that – the sisterhood is joyous, the gains along the way, whether they be made in parliament, on the sporting field or in the boardroom are joyous, and when you get them, you celebrate them because, lord knows, they can be few and far between.
What connects us is a desire for change – a desire to live in a world where women have equal pay and opportunities; where domestic labour is divided evenly; where access to childcare is affordable, where women can live without rape, sexual assault, violence, sexual harassment and sexism, where they can feel safe inside and outside of their homes and where they have the right to control their own bodies.
On September 18 when U.S Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died I felt the feminist force field in all her unbridled glory. Ginsburg was a pioneer for gender equality and a “a tireless and resolute champion of justice”. Regrettably, her death has set off what shapes as an ugly political battle over who will replace her on the Supreme Court, and it’s a decision that could have serious repercussions for hard-fought abortion rights.
As I sat reading about the potential consequences of Ginsburg’s death, a photo popped up in my Twitter feed that made everything feel good (albeit briefly). Someone had placed a lace collar on the Fearless Girl statue, which stands across from the New York Stock Exchange. Ginsburg’s jabots were her trademark and seen by many as a statement to “unapologetically feminise” the masculine black robes of her profession. What a fitting accessory to an already fabulous statue – an all too rare statue.
In nearly every country in the world, women make up 2-3% of the public statues. In Australia, just under 4% of all statues represent historical female figures. I see dead (white) men everywhere. We have more statues of animals than we do of women, and a smorgasbord of over-sized food (all of which I like by the way) – The Big Banana, The Big Prawn, The Big Murray Cod, The Big Merino, The Big Macadamia Nut, The Big Pineapple and on and on.
According to statuesforequality.com there are currently 580 statues in Melbourne and only 1% are of real women on their own in a public space. That’s a grand total of five women.
Where are the women who made Australia the country it is today? Where are the suffragists? (In 1894, South Australian women became the first in the world to not only vote but also stand for parliament, and this set the rest of the country in motion). Catherine Helen Spence should not be on her own. Where are the women from literature, science, sport, feminism, indigenous rights and the arts who shaped our nation?
Public statues reflect how a society values its women and men. Excluding women sends the message that their contributions throughout history are not as important as those of men, and this message seeps into the public consciousness, and feeds a belief system that places white men at the top of everything. Lining a boulevard exclusively with men in gleaming shades of bronze gives us an incomplete and skewed version of our history. And, if there are no women to literally look up to, how will boys and girls see the sexes as equal? We need statues of women so we can find out about their stories, celebrate their lesser-known or unknown accomplishments and shift attitudes.
Statues are important.
A statue honouring Justice Ginsburg will be unveiled on March 15, 2021, in her birthplace, Brooklyn. To celebrate this victory, and get the conversation started closer to home, I’m going to nominate a few Australian women who deserve to be immortalised in bronze too. Suffragist Vida Goldstein, Olympic gold medallist Cathy Freeman, Professor Fiona Wood, who invented spray-on skin for burns victims, equal pay campaigner Zelda D’Aprano, (‘Operation Zelda’ kicked off in March this year and is the first statue of a campaign called ‘A Monument of One’s Own’ by historian Professor Clare Wright and journalist Kristine Ziwica), and former test cricketer Betty Wilson.
Wilson was the first Australian woman to score a test century against England, in 1958 she became the first cricketer, male or female, to take ten wickets and score a century in the same test – and she’s been inducted into both the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame and the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame. When Wilson died, aged 88 in 2010, she was acclaimed the finest of all women cricketers.
We should all know Betty Wilson’s story – it should be celebrated and passed down like Sir Don Bradman’s story, Keith Miller’s story, Richie Benaud’s story – but we don’t because women’s sporting achievements have been hidden throughout history, as have the achievements of so many women.
Smashing the bronze ceiling will help fix this monument(al) gap.
There’s a rhythm to living in lockdown Melbourne. It’s not a soothing rhythm, it’s a relentless rhythm. One giant repetitive loop – with bin night the only solid marker of what day it is. The sun rises. Wake up. Brew tea. Call my lively class of one to order. Attempt to do my real job. Walk. Drink wine. Watch another episode of Difficult People. Go to bed. Do it all again. It’s Groundhog Day minus the romance, and the only way to survive the Kafkaesque sameness of it all is to seek out some form of excitement. However mild.
Let me be clear. This is not my preferred mode of exercise. It’s not even my tenth – I’d have planking on a bed of hot coals ahead of a stroll around the local park. I like to think of myself as more of a super-athlete than a walker, but a home disco-ruptured Achilles stopped me in my tracks. Literally. My last words to the surgeon before going into theatre were, “I have to be fit for the World Cup”. Admittedly, I was going to the Women’s T20 World Cup as a filmmaker and not to open the bowling for Australia but he didn’t need to know that. (He just nodded to the anesthetist, a look that said, all good, the drugs are working.) Nevertheless, this captures my spirit. In my head I’m still 14, and I’m carving up a netball court somewhere. And I’m fast.
But now all I can do is walk. It’s all part of strengthening my Achilles and ankle. And now I’m embracing it – walking every day has opened my eyes to another world; the world of the walker. Part of the excitement of lockdown walking is anthropological. I can’t help but observe the steady stream of foot traffic – all the while accompanied by a quiet Attenborough-like whisper in my head.
There are the pack marchers who walk four abreast. They move as one impenetrable line of flesh, legs in time like a military goosestep, Perspex beehive masks, tight mouths and pneumatic arms – walking has never seemed more serious.
There are the head-shakers who hate everyone, who hate making way, who hate dogs, who hate children, who hate bikes, who hate having to deviate from their path – the path of self-righteousness. Come to think of it, they hate walking.
There are the phone-shouters, why talk quietly when you can shout so the people across the footy field can hear you?
And finally, there are the smilers, even with a mask they are able to smile – their eyes twinkle, a much-needed flash of humanity – they are rare, like birds of paradise, thank god for the smilers.
Tuesday night football
Tuesday nights haven’t been this exciting since I discovered half-price ticket Tuesday (and back row pashing) at the Regent Arcade cinemas in Adelaide. On consecutive Tuesdays this month, the Adelaide Crows made light work of Hawthorn to the
melodious tune of 35 points and defeated Greater Western Sydney by two goals, earning them the reputation (by me) of Tuesday night specialists. Not only have these wins given my lockdown some much-needed pep, they’ve also given me reason to believe the Crows have the makings of a successful side. If this was a normal September, my team would be closing in on another premiership. (Last Sunday was pretty good too).
Escape to the Chateau
Over the past few months I’ve been following the exploits of Lt. Col. Dick Strawbridge and Angel Adoree as they renovate a 19th Century Chateau in France. I don’t know how or why this has happened. Reality TV is not my idea of fun – yet here I am, in front of the screen, smiling away and offering up opinions about turrets, foraging and the Versailles-inspired downstairs toilet. Escape to the Chateau makes everything seem ok. Much like my Achilles anesthetist. What would I do with 45 rooms? How would I landscape the lake? This is digitally transmitted valium. I argue, gently, for everything in Chateau world is gentle, the voiceover, the country-side, the sloping vineyards and the sweeping landscapes – I ‘argue’ with my partner about renovation decisions, food choices, which parts of France to live in, how crusty is too crusty when it comes to a baguette and why it is impossible to get a decent bowl French Onion soup outside of France.
Judging the most stupid take of the week
One side-effect of this pandemic that no one talks about is how everyone has turned into an epidemiology expert – the butcher, the baker, the grocer and the bottle shop guy. When you add the conspiracy theorists, reality show contestants, ‘freedom’ fighters and on and on… it’s a Melbourne Cup field of stupidity. What’s become quite a pleasant pastime, usually while preparing dinner, is deciding which of these mega-minds deserves my own “bonehead of the week” award. It’s been a very tight field but as we head down the home straight in third place are the 5G conspiracists, in second the anti-maskers, but still out in front are the anti-vaxxers. The world would be a much better place with polio.
My home office sits facing a fairly busy road. Over time I have become immune to the thrum of the passing traffic – it’s there but I don’t really notice it. During the lockdown this constant pulse of activity has dropped off so sharply that I’ve started to take notice of the void. It’s impossible to ignore the silence. Sometimes, to reset myself, I just step out onto my porch – I never used to tune into the daily trams that pass by, but now I’m aware of the rumble that tingles through my feet. This newly discovered quietness has amplified my love of sunsets. So, no matter what I’m doing, come sundown, I make it my business to step outside. If I’m lucky, I catch the sky turning pink and orange and I go and lean, elbows on my gate, and take in the view. The silence has never been more beautiful.