Scottish Women in Sport is dedicated to increasing the participation, promotion and celebration of women’s sport, and as part of our efforts we begin our blog series to highlight inspirational stories from around the country and in turn share knowledge and experiences. We aim to create a strong community of Scottish Women in Sport and help support each other in the process.
In the first of our blog series Jenny Jack, a Youth Development Officer at Edinburgh Leisure shares her journey in sport and her thoughts on how we capture legacy from the Commonwealth Games. We’re sure many of you will be able to relate to Jenny’s story.
If you would like to contribute to our blog please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have never really been someone who sits down to watch or read about sport. This is because it has never gripped me enough. Whenever I have picked up a paper it is always full of men’s football, rugby or whatever other male sport is being covered that weekend. Right now, I have a well known Scottish newspaper in front of me and I have to go back 24 articles before there is a mention of a female. And this may make you laugh; it is about whether females should be allowed to join the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St. Andrews.
Anyway, back to my previous point, although I appreciate male sport is where the following is and it will take a brave newspaper to go against status quo, I can’t help but wonder how different female participation in this country would be if there was more coverage of female sports. Would this help prevent sport from being stereotyped and would girls have more positive role models to look up to?
I am a female who has been involved in sport for as long as I can remember. Like many, I am sure, sport has been a huge part of my life, contributes to a lot of my memories and effects how I live my life now. It is because of my involvement in sport I chose a career to encourage others to participate. I work as a youth development officer targeting teenage girls to stay involved in sport. I see lots of great initiatives in schools and the community to encourage girls to participate, yet participation numbers are far lower than that of boys.
For the last three years I have been delivering a programme in schools helping female pupils to explore and overcome underlying issues, which can contribute to girls not taking part in PE and sport. There is of course no one answer to this problem, but my work in this area, and the fact that I am a female who plays sport, always leads me back to two crucial points; there is a real lack of coverage of female sport in the media and participation by females is not expected in the same way as for males.
I can think of sports I have played which have been more ‘acceptable for a girl’: athletics, tennis and hockey. But when it came to football, or mountain biking I often received negative and questioning comments, needing to justify my involvement in these sports. Although I am sure it wasn’t their intention, the comments often made me feel I was less feminine than my friends. Come to think of it, up until about the age of 20 my friends (and even on occasion, myself) described me as a ‘tomboy’. I wore dresses, make up etc, but I played sport and lots of it, so did this mean I was more masculine than my female friends who did not?
As a child I was lucky. I was brought up in a family where sport was a rite of passage and I built resilience to stereotyping in sport which kept me involved. I had positive role models; a Mum who was active and never discouraged me to take part in sports typically viewed as masculine. In fact, after watching me play football endlessly with my brothers, my Mum took me to the local ‘boys club’ and asked if I could join the team. At the time I was 5, so I didn’t really care about being the only girl, but by the age of 11 and still being the only girl, I started to get self conscious when I turned up at games and the opposing team would comment ‘we’ll win, they have a girl playing for them’. Thankfully, my male teammates were great and it also helped that more often than not, we won. But most of all, my family encouraged me to keep playing and to ignore the stereotypes. My parents both reinforced that is was OK to play football.
As I say, I know I was lucky. But what if you don’t have those positive role models within your family? What else do children look to? I think the answer lies in those we surround ourselves with everyday and the media.
Now, the media gets blamed for an awful lot. But with the constant contact and bombardment of media in our daily lives, I do believe it has a lot to answer for and importantly, an influence on female participation in sport.
When discussing this issue with my friends and boyfriend, I often ask the question; name five famous female sports people. Most cannot do this or answer the usual; Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendalton… I am already struggling, but when asked the same question for men, they can real them off. I have two issues with this; the first is that most females that are named are the extreme. In that, they are the utmost champions of their sport, or are extremely attractive, my second is, that it is far easier to name the men than the women. To me, this suggests a real lack of role models for girls in sport. Then ask yourself, name 5 famous females who you think girls look up to. I am sure like me, you find this far easier and most are singers or celebs, who often, when I really think about it, are probably not good role models after all.
Recently I have become involved with a networking group endorsed by Sportscotland called ‘Females Achieving Brilliance.’ FAB is a voluntary organisation whose vision is to increase the confidence and competence of female leaders in sport in the It was at one of these events that a lady called Maureen McGonigle. Maureen spoke about a website she had set up called Scottish Women in Sport (SWiS) and how she wants to use this website as a forum which people can visit to find out more, share their experiences and stories of Scottish women in sport. Through this, SWiS aim to ‘celebrate, educate and promote participation’ of female sport in Scotland.
With the Commonwealth Games just 8 weeks away I have heard (a lot) that this is the most exciting and opportunistic time that Scottish sport has had in my lifetime to change, develop and leave a legacy which will encourage greater participation in sport. We are always talking about this at work; how will this be achieved across Scotland? How can we contribute and create a positive lasting legacy?
Personally, for me it is about getting involved in SWiS and helping Maureen profile Scottish Women in Sport so that generations to follow have positive and inspiring role models to look up to. I love the concept of SWiS and admire Maureen for not just talking about, but actually attempting to do something about it. I want to help challenge attitudes and long standing stereotypes of women in sport and contribute to living in a country where my daughters and nieces are confident and excited to take part in sport. I truly believe that more stories of female individuals, athletes and teams participating, and competing regularly, will help eradicate the current attitudes towards female sport. Perhaps then it won’t be so difficult to name 5 female sport persons!
I am excited to encourage other females involved in sport in Scotland to write and report about their experience through this blog and to show that actually, there are a lot of girls who take part. We just don’t always know about it!
Does this make me a ‘tom boy’ or just a girl who likes to play sport?