Blowing in the wind

Watching the Winter Olympics in complete awe of the bravery, determination and talent shown by the competitors, it upset me to hear that the female ski jumpers had to fight for years to finally be allowed to jump in the Sochi Olympics four years ago (apparently one argument against it was that their reproductive organs may get damaged on landing) and even now they only get one event, while the men get three.

There are still, as we know, huge inequalities in sport across the board: from prize money, to coverage, to access…it makes for depressing thoughts and until there are more females holding top positions on boards, progress will continue to be slow. Women are underrepresented and therefore open to exploitation and abuse.

The female snowboarders competed in horrendous winds in Pyeongchang a couple of days ago and most people, including the competitors, felt it should have been postponed as it was dangerous. Yet the message that came across was that the female athletes hadn’t made their voices heard. That they hadn’t wanted to make a fuss, to rock the boat. To me this mirrors the bigger picture of where female athletes see themselves in the pecking order.

Women need to have a voice in sport – they need to make themselves heard!

As I was pondering this inequality (and I ponder it often, as my daughter is a footballer) I thought about how important it is that we get girls into sport and keep them there! The vast majority give up sport as teenagers.

Teenage girls are incredibly self conscious and I’m convinced this is one of the main reasons why they quit sport: the outfits, the gear, the sweat, the performance- it all draws attention to them at a time when they prefer to hide behind screens with filters and two hundred takes for that perfect look.

How do we convince our girls that sport will rock their self-esteem far more than 100 likes on Instagram and more than comments such as ‘beaut’ and ‘hotty’ ever will?

How the hell are we going to convince them, when actually there’s not enough action coming from the top? This is the problem.

IF we are going to get more girls into sport, we’ve not only got to smash stereotypes at the ground level, we need to get a huge momentum going at the top end of the sports themselves.

Yes, we need sportswomen as role models, we need females in the boardrooms, we need female coaches, we need a VOICE!

The struggle is real. Sadly I think that we are years away from big change. As an International female Taekwon-do competitor, as a Taekwon-do coach, as a mum to a female International footballer, as an avid spectator of sport, I see and have seen terrible inequality.

In my sport I teach people how to fight in the ring. As a female it can often feel as if every step towards equality is a fight. Not all women are taught to fight. The ‘fight’ response is often quashed by gender stereotyping at a young age. While boys are told to ‘man up’ girls are conditioned to be ‘like a girl’ – both are wrong.

But the fight is on!

We must all play our part. We must not allow our voices to get lost in the wind.

      Stepdaughter fighting in the ring

What if?

Whenever a debate opens up about female objectification, the waters always get muddied with ‘what if’s’: what if I want to compliment a woman on what she is wearing? What if I want to wear skimpy clothes? What if there were male grid boys? What if I want to ask a woman for a coffee? What if a 60 foot banner of David Beckham in pants is adorning Piccadilly Circus? What if the grid girls enjoyed their job? The list is endless as the debate goes on.

Yes, muddy waters.

#metoo has now become muddied. People are asking if it’s gone too far? Is the movement sexist towards men?

At a time when the heated debate around the inequality of women is moving on a pace (faster than any meaningful action) I think we need to rewind and consider history.

Women have always been and still are unequal to men. But let’s for a moment rewrite the history books.

What if men as well as women had always been objectified? Human nature loves a beautiful form (beauty, of course, being subjective). Women are sexual beings with huge sexual appetites. Women love to lust over semi-naked males. Women are apt to flirt, to tease and to touch. So what if the male form had, since the beginning of time, been championed as something to openly admire? What if there had always been grid men and males in speedos telling us what round it is in the boxing ring? What if products aimed at females had always been sold by the objectification of the male?

Because women love that too – right?

If we rewrite history, where would we be now? Would there be equality? Would women have always been paid the same as men? Would girls not be growing up thinking that their feelings matter less than men’s? Would women be less harassed?

We’ll never know. It’s complicated. It’s muddy and ‘what if’s’ seem a little pointless.

History has been written in a tangled web of words, emotions, actions and conditioning. It is going to take years to untangle the mess it has become.

100 years ago women stood together and gained the right to vote. 100 years on and women are arguing with other women about the meaning of equality. Sometimes accusing each other of jealousy if they don’t agree with women wearing bikinis and parading as eye candy for men. Suggesting that fellow females are exaggerating harassment or criticising them for not speaking out. Some are saying that women’s rights have been taken away by the end of the grid girl.

So, what if we focus on our children? What if we teach our sons and daughters that they are equal? What if we reflect this in our actions? What if we don’t limit a girl’s potential by always referring to her first by her looks? What if we tell her that it’s what she thinks and feels that matters most and not how someone reacts to her? What if we tell our boys that ‘no’ means ‘no’ and girls that it’s ok to say it? What if we stop telling our sons to ‘man up’ and stop crying ‘like a girl’? What if the future, 100 years from now is a more gender balanced place?

‘What if’ doesn’t have to be pointless.

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