This week the AFL announced the eight teams that have gained licences to play in the first national AFL women’s competition, catapulting girls and women’s participation in football into the national spotlight.
Eight teams named for inaugural women’s national league https://t.co/37tQdUdzzS
— AFL News Wire (@AFLNewsWire) June 15, 2016
Women have been playing Australian rules football since the early 20th century. They’ve also played in structured leagues (at least in Victoria) since 1981.
But the widespread acceptance of women as capable and elite footballers is a relatively new phenomenon, largely fuelled by the recent support of the AFL media. The AFL is encouraging women who were once relegated to on the sidelines to get involved, or send your daughters.
Historically, opposition to girls’ and women’s participation in football has been less about whether they were physiologically unsuited to the sport, and more about discomfort with female masculinity. As gender studies expert Barbara Baird writes, sport has:
… historically been the site of public anxiety about women’s gender and sexuality, and their development of unfeminine muscular bodies.
Women who played football were thought to lack femininity and transgress gender norms, and were stigmatised as lesbians. Such negative labelling of female football players as “butch” and “dykes” served to uphold traditional gender norms and male dominance and dissuaded many from taking up the game.
While men and women may have different physiological strengths and weaknesses, their capacity to play sports shouldn’t be dictated by fear of injury.