It's 7:10pm on International Women's Day, and footy takes centre stage at Canberra's UNSW Oval. The Friday night clash between the Giants and Adelaide is broadcast around the nation on three major radio stations, while also screening on Fox Footy.But this is not an AFL Women's fixture — it's a JLT men's practice match. That's right, on a day purpose-built for furthering gender equality, and in the middle of the AFLW season, the stage is instead set to showcase men. It's howlers like these that infuriate fans and players alike (including, notably, former Collingwood AFLW player Meg Hutchins) and make one doubt the AFL's commitment to — and vision for — its national women's competition.
Fans of women's sport, the broader LGBTIQ community and those interested in gender equity more broadly — these are the people I see drawn to AFLW matches, many of whom would have made the trip to Footscray for their first ever match of Australian rules football on Friday.
In 2017, AFLW rode in on a glorious wave of cultural change that felt unremitting and incapable of being reversed. Finally, women had the opportunity and national stage to play that felt like an acknowledgement of, and beginning of a correction to, over a century of exclusion and marginalisation. But now more than ever it needs champions like Hope to be brave enough to assert themselves in the face of the increasing backlash to the opportunities that wave provided.
It should go without saying that men who participate in Australian rules football (or rugby league, or any other sport for that matter) also put their own bodies at such risk. Those choices, however, are not questioned in the same way women’s are, because men are seen as having autonomy over their bodies and their decisions, while women’s bodies – in the minds of dinosaurs like Malthouse at least – are still subject to men’s control.
For me, I have concern about the expectations placed on AFLW. Like many forms of change and innovation, people often want their cake and to eat it too. It would seem that there is an expectation of parity on the field when I doubt their is parity off the field.
I was watching Talking Footy recently and Brian Taylor spoke about the process that Collingwood are looking at to fix Darcy Moore’s hamstring issues. They are hoping to do biometric testing during the preseason to identify where the stress is coming from. Would an AFLW player who needs to take leave from their full time job receive the same resources dedicated to them?
Women must say no when the AFL refuses to play fair, as tennis players did in the 1970s
Some men might think scoreboard is more important, but what I see [in AFLW] is belief, and people feeling a sense of belonging and community.