The past week has confirmed two things for me.
Women in Australian football are on the rise and a few men in the media just don’t get it.
The juxtaposition could not be any more blinding.
Girls, smiling and proud, stepped out onto the MCG with stars of the women’s game for the announcement of the eight inaugural teams that will make up the national women’s league.
Men, two presidents and a past player, laughed and joked about drowning award-winning Fairfax journalist Caroline Wilson – described by Eddie McGuire as “like a black widow”.
They played the woman not the ball.
The “banter” between McGuire, James Brayshaw and Danny Frawley on air before the Queen’s Birthday game was sorely out of step with the times.
Footy culture is moving beyond this.
It’s been, and still is, a slow and bumpy ride.
As a woman who loves the game I’ve found it difficult to walk through the turnstile at times, but the message of respect is starting to cut through.
For the past two years, former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty and others have been fronting a nationwide campaign highlighting the connection between disrespectful and sexist language, and violence against women.
Research tells us that language matters.
No matter your intention, sexist jokes reinforce sexist attitudes, which in turn underpin violence against women.
Anti-violence campaigners Jimmy Bartel, Marcus Bontempelli, Patrick Dangerfield and Shaun Burgoyne get it.
Violence against women is no laughing matter. It’s time a small but influential pack of middle-aged men joined the dots too.
You don’t have to listen too hard to know there’s a sense (worldwide) that women are tired of waiting for change.
They’ve had enough of sexism – at work, in government, in the media, in medicine, in the armed forces, in film, comedy, in the literary world and in sport.
As each day goes by, sexist ‘jokes’, ‘playful banter’ and ‘throwaway lines’ in football (which could fill the MCG 10 times) will be recognised and understood for what they are – and the harm that they cause.
This was a golden opportunity for the AFL to show strong and unflinching leadership a few days after partnering with Our Watch – a national initiative to prevent violence against women and children.
CEO Gillon McLachlan said: “I, like everyone else, still have a lot to learn … we’re still learning that everyday comments cause harm.” He condemned the comments but stopped short of punishing the men involved.
For meaningful change to occur there needs to be awareness, discussion, and debate.
How can you have a serious debate when only one type of voice is heard?
Commentary teams and panels made up of white men don’t allow this to happen. This is where the heart of the problem lies.
Diversity is the key to changing attitudes and it’s what makes life interesting.
Imagine if we had to eat the same meal every night – chicken, potatoes and peas. Or had to read the same book night after night, Trump: The Art of the Deal.
Life would be … uninspiring.
So why should footy fans be subjected to the same 10 or so blokey voices all trying to outdo each other?
Football culture is stubbornly masculine, but things are changing.
As exciting as an elite competition is for women and girls who aspire to play at that level, it’s at the grassroots where things are really happening.
I see it and hear it firsthand when I speak at local footy clubs. Presidents, committee members and parents proudly tell me their club culture is changing.
Having more girls and women around the place has made the environment more inviting and boys are learning about the values of equality and respect.
If the message is being received loud and clear at the grassroots level then surely the elites who run the game should get it too.