Welcome to the jungle


It’s with no small level of trepidation that I re-enter the gym tomorrow morning. Early. Or as a catholic gym goer might say, ‘Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been more than two weeks since my last exercise session.’ So yes, the penance for my repentance is twofold: the certain knowledge that it’s going to hurt and the carrying of the inner knowledge that I deserve it for celebrating the end of Dry September a little too well.

Ah, well. What’s done is done. If you fall off a horse, the most important thing (apart from not breaking your legs) is that you get back on it again. And if you do break your legs, then you really must get back on, lest you lose your nerve and surrender to fear.

So back I shall go, even though it will take me at least a week to stop hating it, and getting used to a drier life again. I also know in advance that the pain was worth it, especially for all the lovely wine. The good news is, that this time I don’t want to let this hedonism continue. After a couple of weeks of drinking and slobbing around a bit, I want to get healthy again.

I started writing this on Sunday, with the rugby world cup in the background, where Scotland were brutally shafted in the dying minutes of the game and got booted out by Australia, losing by one point. I don’t care much for rugby, it’s too stoppy starty for my tastes, but the Scots rarely do well at things these days, so I thought I should make the effort. And it does contain muscled men covered in mud, so what’s not to like?

I ended up following the second half of the game, vexed as one team pushed in front of the other, only to lose their lead minutes later. It was still stoppy starty, but it was exciting, and while not as gutted as a real fan, I felt the sting of disappointment most of us feel, when their home nation gets kicked out at the top level of anything. The world cup finals have been running for a few weeks and that is the first (and last) game I’ve watched.

There are some women my age who did get taken to football by their dads when they were young, but they are rare. That was a mainly father-son bonding activity in the 70s and 80s, so I never went. Interestingly, I come from a line of professional footballers on my mother’s side, that stopped at her father: my grandfather. The breeding on our side of the family has been predominantly female in outcome, so innate footballing talent was never tested or nurtured. I like to think that with the profile of women’s football on the rise, things might change in the future.

As far as the rugby goes (and indeed football), things are all a bit shite for the home nations of the UK, except in the women’s sports, where we are performing so much better. Attendances at women’s football games are rising as a result of this success, amongst both men and women. And women’s attendance at all football and rugby games in the UK is rising too, although gender figures collected slowly across the FA – the last figures are from 2009 and show average 19% attendance. The figure is surely higher nowadays, including high percentages watching at home. A stat I have now lost, showed that at last year’s World Super bowl in the US, the female viewing figures for the final were around 45%.

Yet the advertising was for the usual male fare such as shaving foam.  The commentators on UK football shows  now are all male and talk much meaningless rubbish.  Where’s the female role modelling there?

As said, I didn’t grow up in a sporty culture. The only sports watched at home (on the three channels we had until the 1980’s) were football, tennis – i.e. Wimbledon, and snooker. Snooker in the days where it looked more like a night out than a sport: men in dodgy bow ties, drinking pints and whisky and smoking fags while they waited at the side. Oh and golf, but no-one watched that but my dad. Other than that, we might watch bits of the tournaments like the Olympics, or athletics or gymnastics that were on.

All this recent rugby got me thinking about the sport women watch, rather than the sport they do. NB There’s no scientific rigour behind these observations by the way, only forty three years of experience. I think we, and advertisers generally who are quick to cotton on to, or indeed, shape these things, think of watching sport on TV as a predominantly male thing.

In general, women and men both watch the sports they like or they actually do, whether that be football (I know many women who love the footy as passionately as the men), tennis, running, or swimming. All are popular with both genders. Gymnastics are equally popular, both genders finding something to like amongst the ribbons and the bars. And in any competition finals like the commonwealth games or the winter Olympics, there will always be unusual sports that people get behind, like the curling. And the World’s Strongest Man – who doesn’t love that?

But – and this is my gender generalisation – the tendency to watch dull crap sports that you have no interest in, whilst flicking channels, is stronger in men. So while women might flick past darts at 2am in search of something more interesting unless they are darts players, men will happily settle. No matter how sporty the man, or how good or bad at darts. It’s as though there’s been some gender conditioning for men to have sport as default channels.

Of course, we all might discover a bizarre interest in something quirky, like Sumo wrestling. I remember a school friend whose parents loved it so much they taped it if they were out for the evening. Or those strange sports, shown at one in the morning on Channel Four in the interests of cultural diversity, such as kabaddi. Our stoned, late night minds had no idea what was happening, but we watched those Indian school girls try and knock each other over with gigglish glee.

So of course, there is always the potential for weird sport love to entrance any gender, at any time. However, as I’ve said, and as any woman who lives with a man will know, men spend A LOT more time watching sport on TV than we do. Not all men, but many. Why?

I’ve seen various theories bandied. Men are more competitive than women, we dislike the bloodthirsty competitive nature of sports. To this I say BOLLOCKS. When they are into their competitions, women holler just as much at the TV as men, and feel a similar pain of loss or joy of victory. One of my favourite things about a long singles tennis match, is watching the psychological, as well as physical, battle of mano a mano (or woman versus woman). We women are used to blood. We are fine with that, as well as tears; as long as it’s a fair battle.

It will come as no surprise to all the numerous sports women of all varieties out there, that women are competitive too. It might not always be as obvious, or as gung ho as it is for men, but it is there. We hide it more because we are taught to hide it. Competitive men are go getters, competitive women are aggressive. These stereotypes lurk behind everything, tainting the victories of the female athletes like Serena Williams. And they seep into real life too. We women can often feel that pressure to be less competitive in subtle ways, that it’s wrong for women.

My theory, as it is about participation by most so-called minority groups (women are not a minority group!!), is that it’s about visibility and perceived value that permeates more widely. So we see virtually no female versions of perceived ‘male’ sports on TV (e.g. football, boxing) but reasonably mixed coverage of the mixed ones like athletics. And even more interestingly, is that the ones with the highest perceived mixed gender appeal and therefore coverage, had the most equal pay. Pay and respect being two things that attract people into professions, alongside talent.

Perhaps the main thing that needs to change is the media, to reflect the sporting interests of a wider range of society, not just men. And I don’t know what it’s like to be a sixteen year old female anymore, but I hope that girl is being encouraged to participate in sport more than I was, and to enjoy the fun of watching and supporting it too.

It’s too late for me now, but what if there had been the skills of a future Ronaldhina, waiting to be nurtured in my toes? I hope the girls of the future get to find out.

Until next time,


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