Whilst it may seem like Tory MP Helen Grant had good intentions in her plea to encourage more girls to join sports by her comments in the Daily Mirror, in one fell swoop she consigned cheerleading and figure skating to being only for girls and assumed that the reason why girls don’t take part in sports because it makes them feel sweaty and ‘unfeminine’.
To start with, ‘feminine’ is merely a construct created by society that has been embedded into our norms and culture to the point where what we perceive as feminine has to be associated with a girl, and masculine with a boy. This constricts the activities that boys and girls can partake in, particularly sports.
Grant’s comments successfully assign football, hockey and tennis to boys, and cheerleading, figure skating, gymnastics and ballet to girls. This immediately limits girls from participating in so called ‘boys sports’ and assumes that should they want to, they are breaking pre-determined stereotypes that assign them to certain roles. This then becomes problematic when girls do take up football or hockey. They often face a backlash from the media and from some people within their sport. Equally, there is a clear bias from the media when it comes to showing men’s football on the TV and women’s, with women’s football being completely under-represented and lesser paid.
She also affects the sports she condemns to being ‘women’s sports’. Cheerleading has faced a lot of bad press because of common misconceptions and stereotypes. It is under constant fire for not being considered a sport and equally from the idea that it is just for girls. Male cheerleaders are in fact becoming much more common and are an asset to cheerleading squads. This should be something to be cherished and encouraged rather than dismissed as ‘unmanly’. This puts greater stead on ‘masculine’ sports and again relegates those of the women to being easy and inferior. From my own experience as a cheerleader I have had some of the most grueling practices and end up look far from “radiant and beautiful” as Grant claims. Cheerleading is a great sport and it should be used to get people from a young age into sport but it shouldn’t be exclusively targeted at girls.
The idea that women should look and smell good whilst doing physically challenging sports is an ideal that is not fulfillable and it harks back to the ages when women were seen as dainty and breakable. This image needs to be dispelled, and that is how women will continue to participate in sports, and not by assigning separate activities to girls and boys, all of which are based on historic ideas of the capabilities of men and women. Crucially, cheerleading and ballet and so on should be sports in which men too are encouraged to participate. This feeling that Grant describes about wanting to feel ‘feminine’ is not reserved solely for girls, and the fact she overlooks that is an issue.
The article by the Daily Mirror has undoubtedly twisted some of Grant’s comments and has made her out to be un-feminist and ignorant on such matters. Her original article in the Telegraph seemingly tries to address the issues further about women in sport and her arguments appear more balanced. The Mirror’s angle is simplistic and reductionist and seems to be attacking feminism by twisting one woman’s words and turning them into a reproduction of sexist stereotypes. This is an example of certain media continuing to remain partial and biased in its attempts to undermine the feminist struggle.
So in fact, we shouldn’t simply be criticising Grant’s comments, while they may be unhelpful and short-sighted, but the media who skew these comments, particularly those made by females, that add to and perpetuate the gendered stereotypes that surround women in sports and also the feminist fight. By doing this, we can challenge the prevailing norms surrounding women and hopefully create a more fair and equal society in which stereotypes don’t dictate your interests.