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A look at Football, fury and Feminism

– Sandy Lowres

Tayla Harris – Image by Michael Wilson

“Here’s a pic of me at work…think about this before your derogatory comments, animals.”
Tayla Harris – Boxer and Carlton footballer, AFLW,

I was recently asked to be on a panel for International Women’s Day, and I was honored to be asked. The MC introduced me as a writer, blogger, full time working mother and advocate for women over 40.  The Good Girl Confessional does proudly write to an audience of women who are forty plus, (and I’m almost fifty), but I am most definitely an advocate for women of all ages.

I would like to live in a world where my daughter who is on the cusp of Millennial and Gen Z, wouldn’t have to suffer the misogyny my mother did, or as I have.  I would like to and yet, sadly, I still can’t which is frustrating and like so many women, it makes me bloody angry.

Australia has the capacity to be progressive on the issues of women’s rights and equality for all, given we were the second country to give women the right to vote back in 1894, and as history would have it, the first to give women the right to be elected to a national parliament in 1903. And yet, our own PM declared, on International Women’s Day no less, that ‘we don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse”. He then added that he has a wife and two daughters as if being in the presence of women justifies his antiquated and misogynistic comments.

Using the ABC Q&A program as a platform, Greens Senator, Sarah Hanson-Young, rightly called him out, “What he said to women right across the country on Friday was that, ‘yeah, you can be equal, just not as equal as men’. That’s what he said. And it’s not on.” The bigger message of course was if the leader of our country fails to understand the basic concept of equality, how do you then achieve it in the real world?

This week when the Channel 7’s 7AFL social media platform removed a striking photo of athlete and Carlton footballer, Tayla Harris, I was left bewildered, frustrated and angry at how far we are yet to go in the struggle for equality for women. Some 46 years after my own mother was “detained” for marching for women’s rights in Melbourne, and even with the #MeToo movement in full swing, we are still needing to fight for equality.

Case in point is the photo (above) is an image taken by Michael Wilson and it’s an impressive action portrait of a strong elite athlete.  This photograph however became the eye of a storm that erupted about the lewd, sexist and transphobic comments that women in our modern society still face.

When the image was first posted, it attracted so many misogynistic and sexually abusive comments from male trolls that 7AFL made the bizarre decision to remove the image of Harris rather than addressing the abysmal behaviour of their male followers who chose to troll her. An outpouring of support for Harris, and anger directed at 7AFL, swiftly followed. In the knee jerk decision to remove her imagine, 7AFL not only punished the victim, they also excused and ignored the grotesque comments of sexist bullies.

Harris re-posted the photograph to her Twitter account with the message “Here’s a pic of me at work…think about this before your derogatory comments, animals.” Photographer Michael Wilson proudly creating a GIF from the images of Harris he captured throughout the game.

In the aftermath of this, I was so angry that I sent an article about this to my partner to read. He glanced at it, and without reading the story texted back that he couldn’t see any issues with the photo.

Because the issue is not the photo, but the response taken.

In fact, this occurs in all areas of life, in any arena where light is shone upon the achievements of women, threatening the fragile egos of the patriarchy and it gets tiring and frustrating. I have witnessed the damage that trolls have unleashed on close friends, and others that I admire, who went about their business as writers, sports women, leaders or advocates for their communities. 

This is not the only time of course that women in sport have had to deal with trolls and it may not be the last given that the trolls involved seem largely to be excused or ignored even when their comments include hate speech and overt threats of violence.  Across various Olympic sports, AFLW, NRL and tennis for example, women are often subjected to hateful comments about their weight, their muscular development, their fashion choice and their athleticism. The below meme of Liz Cambage, NBAW Star, emerged after she fired back at negative comments she received. Cambage has spoken out against the pay disparity between male and female sports stars, claiming women in some sports continue to be treated as second-rate professionals.

Liz Cambage on how she deals with negative comments

If you still think trolling isn’t rampant, check out Troll Hunting by Aussie Journalist Ginger Gorman in which she explains the psychology of trolling and seeks to show the damage inflicted on the victims, as well as stripping back the veil on keyboard warriors who seek to inflict harm. Ginger herself was a victim of online trolling in 2013, including a death threat after writing an article some took offence to. It’s incomprehensible that trolls covet some joy out of tearing others down. Yet, they are out there in numbers. Apparently something as simple as media displaying a photo of a sports woman is enough to incite them into action.

“Don’t tell me to get back in the Kitchen. Honey, I can pay you to make my sandwich for me…I turn that negative energy into my power.” – Liz Cambage WNBA player

If the problem of misogyny is to be solved, it first needs to be recognised by men as well as women, and we need men to be in our corner to call out the bullshit, to take a stand against trolls along side us. We need men involved in sports networks and media outlets to disallow this behaviour and shut down hate speech, and block those who dare to cross the line. We need our politicians and leaders to call out misogyny and start to tear it down so that our entire culture changes. Feminism is not a dirty word. It seeks equality for both women and men, and clearly we are still fighting for it. It seems a slow road ahead, but we as women will not go quietly into the night.


To report online abuse or trolling, contact the eSafety Commissioner: https://www.esafety.gov.au/esafety-information/esafety-issues/cyber-abuse