When Female Footballers Take the Field

In Australia it is difficult to pin-point our national identity. We don’t have a great or resolved history; heck, a lot of us don’t take any pride in our history at all.  Many of us don’t have faith in our politicians. We are without an overarching religion that strongly unites our nation. We have a few successful artists, but I doubt we are defined by them.

As we are about to write off hope for a national identity, we remember our sporting culture. For many, sport is a way of learning the power of compassion, acceptance, and unity. Sport grants us with important life lessons and our most valuable friendships. For some, sport is a way of conceptualising and resolving the dark corners of our history and a way of grasping our political matters; for others, sport serves as both religion and entertainment.

In recent history, we have made every attempt to use sport as a peace-keeper, and on successful occasions it has transcended prejudice and discrimination. We hold our sporting pride close and are fiercely protective of it. From where I am standing, AFL as our national game is the centre of our sports governed moral compass. I must say that the AFL is in no way blemish free: for a long time, the AFL, with all its societal influence, exclusively represented the traditional white male identity, which is the catalyst for a plethora of issues. But now, in our developing society, we have moved past this limited representation. When male footballers speak of illness, mental health, racism or equality our nation listens. And when female footballers take the field, people flock by the thousands to show their support.

On the 31st of March 2019, the AFLW Grand Final saw us redefine our Australian sporting culture, translating to a progression in our national identity.

The 50,000 plus fans elevated these female athletes to a status above a ‘pre-game’ special. There was no lesser version of the game – as critics like to call it – to be seen that day: these women displayed skill, cohesion, ball movement and strength that silenced those who constantly sit back and only compare our game to that of children. As records were broken and tears were shed, this larger than life spectacle brought triumphs by the tonne, if only measured by the sheer amount of people packed into Adelaide Oval.

I would like to make a comment about leadership within our game. There isn’t a more concrete display of masculinity than what is seen in the role of a traditional football captain: leadership in itself is masculine, but in a space dominated by lad culture, where aggression is at its core, masculinity can be heightened to the point of toxicity. We may expect our female captains to lead in the same way, however, recent discussions about a woman’s approach to leadership have questioned if they should endeavour to lead with the same masculine approach or whether it is more effective to bring feminine qualities to the position – looking at Jacinda Ardern as a role-model.

Here our co-captains, Chelsea Randall and Erin Phillips in their guernseys and football shorts, display everything that our game has kept at arm’s length:

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As leaders, Randall and Phillips embodied the femininity society assigned to them as women and gifted it to the world of football: it is a gift the AFL never knew it needed. These captains owned emotion and sensitivity, while simultaneously displaying veracious strength. They took time to celebrate vulnerability and the individual. They offered difference in leadership, a difference that was not deficient, lacking or sub-par, but equally as powerful and equally as impacting.

These leaders brought together the qualities that are traditionally separated into categories of masculine or feminine and generated a new sense of humanity in this sport. They, and the teams that follow their lead, revolutionised our national game, opening doors, building bridges and welcoming in people who have never wanted to be a part of football. They set an example, showing that there is now more than one way to lead a football team, there is more than one way to define strength in the Australian identity.

Simply, these women chose to lead as women.

When we are old and grey, we will tell our grandchildren that we were there on that day. We were there to see a group of individuals love the game in all its authenticity and cherish the opportunity they were given to play it. We were there to see them break records on a stage they so rightfully deserve. We were there to see our nation embrace football – and consequently the women who play it – in its new and equal form.

I hope that every AFLW player knows that they are adored. I hope they know that they are part of something bigger than themselves, that they are inspiring change and triggering movement in a sport and society that has stood steadfast in its ways for most of its history. I hope they know their actions have allowed every female with a connection to the football world, from spectators to grassroots players to team managers, to feel a new sense of safety, respect and belonging in Australian culture.

The greatest part of all this? It’s only the beginning.

 


Words by Michelle Wakim

Photo by Sandro Schuh on Unsplash

socially [un]acceptable

Laura Desmond is challenging the barriers of “acceptable” assault in her one-woman show, socially [un]acceptable. In a performance which is not for the faint of heart, but is definitely something everyone should hear, Desmond recounts personal experiences of sexual assault and the misguided “societal norms” that allowed these events to take place. She asks the question many people have asked, but still remains prevalent in today’s society: How many times do you have to say no for someone to accept that you don’t consent? What else signals a lack of consent – crying, body language, physically moving yourself? She examines the power of guilt and the mistaken yet common notion of “owing someone”, as well as the need for ongoing consent within a long-term relationship. The primary focus of her show is to shine a light on the normalisation and social acceptance of these murky-territory assaults – the circumstances where you didn’t necessarily scream “NO!” and run away; where you knew the person who assaulted you; or where your choices were taken away from you.

Desmond’s performance is raw, powerful and thought-provoking; it is something that will get you talking and stay with you long after the end of her act. She gets angry, she gets sad, and she gets hopeful for the future: that her own daughter won’t have to do a one-woman show to illustrate consent one day. She’s ready to do her part to revolutionise “socially acceptable” assault – are you?

 


Words by Kirsty van der Veer

Four stars

socially [un]acceptable is playing at the Bally at Gluttony February 23-24, February 26-March 3. Tickets available here.

Big Rough Stones

Big Rough Stones

Margaret Merrilees

Wakefield Press 2018


An awe-inspiring testament to the feminist movement in Australia, particularly South Australia and Victoria during the 1970s and 80s, Big Rough Stones follows the women of a collective throughout their lives together.

Focused on one particularly fiery lesbian, Ro, the novel looks back on her life, her achievements, her failures, and her relationships while firmly establishing her opinions—both those she put on and those she kept to herself. Ro spent her life pioneering to be a loud and proud lesbian who didn’t conform to the patriarchal power structures that guided and continue to guide the lives of a number of women.

Ro is dying, and in dying she wants to realise her dream of becoming a writer, even if she might have left it too late. She’s always wanted to write about her experiences being a lesbian and being involved in a number of protests and rallies. While she laments her writing dreams, she also looks back on her life, giving the audience glimpses into her past, in a natural and sometimes non-chronological order.

While the novel revolves around the character of Ro, we also get to know her friends and ex-lovers, in particular the love of her life, Gerry. Gerry is a country woman, self-sufficient and alone in the Victorian farmlands, living where there would have once been a dairy farm. She is stoic and capable, and somehow taken by Ro, who is very much loud, obnoxious and opinionated (even when contradicting herself).

The book works retrospectively, separated into four parts titled: “Now”, “A While Ago”, “A Long Time Ago”, before returning to “Now”. This shows how times have changed, how ideas from Ro’s youth have continued to inform her thinking, and how her opinions have changed as she grew older.

It was wonderful to read such a powerful, loud, book by a South Australian author and see familiar places such as Adelaide, Kingston and Grange. To hear about women living together, helping one another, and fighting for what they believe in. It was fascinating to hear about the protests, rallies, picnics, and meetings that would have contributed to the transformation of everyday life for women in Australia today.

Margaret Merrilees debut novel The First Week won the Wakefield Press Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2013. Fables of the Queer and Familiar was published in 2014 and was also broadcast around Australia as a radio serial.


3/5 Stars

Big Rough Stones is available for purchase from Wakefield press here.


Words by Kayla Gaskell

Miss Marryat’s Circle

Miss Marryat’s Circle

Cheryl Williss

Wakefield Press


Miss Marryat’s Circle is a comprehensive and well-researched exploration of the role of women in South Australian history. Focusing on the influential Marryat family, Williss chronologically details the contributions of the Marryats from their 1836 arrival to Miss Mabel Marryat’s death in 1949.

 

Williss attempts to tell the story of the first 110 years of South Australian women’s history in one 300-page non-fiction book, under the guise of focusing on one woman. Walking through the buildings of North Terrace and the rest of the city, the reader is entreated to the history of such landmarks as Trinity Church, Adelaide University, and West Terrace Cemetery, explaining their creation and their role in influential Adelaide women’s legacies. Further highlighting the role of the Marryats, Williss has selected newspaper clippings, letters, and diaries of South Australians to recreate the atmosphere of a small settlement trying to find its feet and bloom into a functioning society.

 

Miss Mabel Marryat’s role during both World War I and II revolutionised South Australian women’s role in society, with their collective aim to provide support to Australian troops overseas. Her involvement in the Red Cross, at Keswick Hospital, and League of Loyal Women in various leadership roles, cemented her position in history as a pioneer and social philanthropist, only for her to then be denigrated as someone who simply partook in “home duties” on her death certificate.

 

It is important to record women’s role in our history as it has been dismissed in our national narrative. However, Williss seems to have bitten off more than she could chew in writing this supposed biography. It read like a history textbook with dates and names thrown at the reader with no explanation of why they were important to the life story of Miss Marryat and her dedication to her “diggers”.

 

In order to set the scene, it took Williss 100 pages to introduce and focus on the titular woman. She recounted a brief and superficial history of Adelaide, rather than providing the reader with a deep, focused biography on the aptly named “fairy godmother” of Australian soldiers. It often took paragraphs – if not chapters – of trawling through dates, names and quotes to reach the point that Williss wanted to make, resulting in a book that drags along slowly.

 

Overall, Williss has provided an extensive history of South Australia and some of the women who have been forgotten, allowing them a play a role in our state and national narrative. However, to do Miss Marryat justice, a more focused study should have undertaken to truly tell her story.

2/5 Stars

Miss Marryat’s Circle is available for purchase through Wakefield Press here.


Words by Georgina Banfield

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Georgina Banfield is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English at Flinders University. When she’s not reading, writing or listening to podcasts she can be found looking at conspiracy theories and true crime. She loves anything to do with history, literature and unsolved mysteries.