A Girl’s World

22 / 09 / 2015

This month for Sheilas women and sports theme, we’ve got the tremendously clever Ruby Bell with us once again, writing on her experience with the issue of gender inequity surrounding sports. Although Ruby’s is an unfortunately common experience when it comes to young girls impressions of sport, it’s great to see a change in how this is viewed and the effect it can have on a young person’s confidence. 

I never played sport when I was younger. It wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy physical activity. As a child I was always very energetic and active. Even today I often feel full of energy which I can’t always release. Rather, I didn’t play sport because I didn’t feel good enough. I was an uncoordinated and often unfocused child — not ideal qualities for a sports player — and consequently was more often than not the dreaded “last picked” for any class sport. My belief that I wasn’t good at sport became a self fulfilling prophecy: I believed I was no good, so I didn’t try, so I was chosen last, so I believed I was no good.

When I got to high school, boys and girls were segregated for sport class. This suited me — I had no annoying boys gelling at me for missing the ball or complaining about being stuck with me on their team. Instead I was free to play with other girls, most of whom didn’t take the game very seriously. However, this blissful period did not last, as we were de segregated in year eight. I asked the teacher why this had happened and he replied that co educational sports classes improved participation and confidence, especially for girls. I wondered who had told him that. It certainly wasn’t me or any of my friends.

I was relieved when sport became optional in year ten, but then I went on exchange to Italy for a semester where it once again was a mandatory part of the curriculum. Sports class in Italy was different to Australia. We were mainly left to play the sport of our choosing with little input or guidance from the teacher. For some reason table soccer was considered a sport so I chose to play that most of the time.

Italy was also where I joined my very first extra curricular sports team. For six hours a week I played volleyball (pallavollo) with thirty Italian teenage girls under the guidance of our coach, Claudio. I loved Claudio, who was encouraging yet firm, and I loved playing volleyball. I still wasn’t any good but the team had such a positive atmosphere and, naturally, there was a strong rush of endorphins after every session. I didn’t continue with sport upon my return to Australia — my lack of confidence in my abilities followed me home.

I’m 21 now and I still don’t play sport. It may sound like a cop out but I truly believe that being female plays a large part in this. Women in sport aren’t as valued as men are. The pay disparity between our women’s and men’s national sports teams is a prime example of this. Sports is such an important part of Australian culture, but we only ever see images of male sport in the mainstream. Playing sport improves your physical and mental health. It is something that should be encouraged and celebrated for everybody, particularly women and girls. Australia needs to value women’s sport as much as they do men’s. Little girls need to be able to see themselves represented in professional sports as much as little boys do. This is something that must be approached from both the elite level – ie. government funding and television broadcasting of women’s sports, and the mass – ie. people actively watching women’s sport.

As for me, I’m still extremely insecure about my sporting abilities. But as I get older and health becomes trendier find myself more drawn to exercise and sport. I’ve even signed up to my local gym. I’m probably never going to be an elite athlete but I can turn around my lacklustre beliefs in myself and my approach toward my health. That feels pretty good.