Urine Deep Trouble: Gender Discrimination in Cambridge Sport

CHRIS McKEON examines the everyday sexism of women’s sport in Cambridge.

athletics sexism in sport title IX Women's football Women's lacrosse

When the CUWAFC Eagles turned up at Cambridge City FC for their league cup final against Bar Hill, there was a small problem with their dressing room.

In fact, it was rather a large problem for a women’s football team – the dressing room only had urinals.

Not for girls! Cambridge City’s Milton Road ground

It probably wasn’t a deliberate attempt by Cambridge City to exclude women from their facilities, they just weren’t built with women in mind. It’s part of a wider attitude that acts as if women don’t really play sport – just try finding a pair of football boots in women’s sizes (as opposed to boys’ or really small men’s).

“People are either too enthusiastic or curious when they find out you play football – like you’re a two-headed animal – whereas in America it’s the definition of normal,” said Mari Oye, one of the Eagles team who has experienced women’s university sport both here and in the USA.

Over there, they have Title IX, which ensures federally-funded institutions cannot exclude women from sport, deny them the benefits of sport or otherwise discriminate against them.

And it works – providing the material, financial and moral support which enables women to compete at a high level has made it far more normal for women to participate even in sports we might see as stereotypically masculine like basketball or football.

That’s been the case over there for 40 years. Over here, we’ve got nothing except urinals and casual discrimination. One former Athletics Blue told me, “I used to hate the way that the men’s varsity match seemed slightly more important.”

Undervalued?: CU Athletics ladies

The majority of CUAC’s female squad are already experienced athletes but, as this CUAC graduate told me, they still have to meet high standards even to get a Half Blue – the men get one automatically, no matter how well they do.

There’s a word for this, and that word is discrimination. There can be no reason to deny these talented athletes the recognition that they deserve simply because of their gender, especially when that recognition is freely granted to their male counterparts.

Slowly, in a few sports, things are changing. Women’s Rugby President Fiona Gillanders told The Tab: “It used to be a case of ‘We’ll let the girls play a bit’ but now we’re actually making some progress and working alongside the men’s club.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by CUWBC chair Annamarie Phelps, who says, “Over the last two years there has been unprecedented collaboration with the men’s Boat Club and for the first time a real opportunity to give Cambridge’s female students an opportunity to train and compete at the same level as they achieve academically.”

There is still, however, a long way to go. The American example shows that if you provide sufficient support, participation and standards will rise – a case of ‘if you build it, they will come.’ We need the whole Cambridge sporting community to acknowledge this and act on it, removing the discrimination both against women’s sport and within women’s sport which operates in favour of traditionally ‘feminine’ sports like lacrosse or netball.

Mean Girls? – Our dominant lacrosse team

For the moment, talking to many female athletes, one gets the impression that women’s sport in Cambridge is a bit like a few girls’ schools I could mention – cliquey and dominated by lacrosse players.