Sport and sexism: why Cambridge needs to lift its game

TERESA BARON argues that sexism in Cambridge is a problem waiting to be exposed

Blues Cambridge Feminism football misogyny Rugby sexism Sport

Since the Korfball kerfuffle (try saying that 10 times fast) back in January, the question of whether there is sexism in Cambridge sport has gone been largely ignored by people.

Thing is, it’s come out in the meantime that a lot of female students share the feeling that their sports aren’t taken as seriously as the men’s equivalent, by Cambridge sporting institutions or by their fellow students.

Helen Lambert, a rugby Blue, thinks that though the women now have the support of the rugby men’s squad and the committee, there is sexism university-wide with regards to sports.

She says: “There are still things which annoy you. For example, one of the girls was asked when wearing her Blues blazer: ‘is that your boyfriend’s blazer?'”

Lambert also isn’t too happy with the response she gets when she tells people she plays rugby, either: “The reaction is normally something along the lines of ‘you’re too pretty to play rugby’, which people seem to think is a compliment.”

'Nuff said.

‘Nuff said.

Hattie Read feels that women’s football is “still regarded as a bit of a joke and therefore easily pushed aside in favour of the ‘real thing’- the men’s game”. This comes after the Selwyn-Robinson women’s football team have been told, on several occasions, to move from the pitch they had booked in advance to a pitch “of lower quality and size” so that the men’s game could take place on the better pitch.

CULNC Captain Emily Coulter hasn’t encountered this kind of blatant sexism, but thinks there may be a problem with people’s general attitude to women’s sport: “people might not respect the level of athleticism it requires, and see us as girls running around in dresses, but it does require a lot of power.”

The idea that men’s sport is – in Read’s words – the “real thing” seems to be reinforced by the fact that many Cambridge sports clubs, instead of just opening their doors to women, kept the original name of the club for men, and “added on” a women’s version as a separate club – for example, we have CUBC and CUWBC, CUCC and CUWCC.

While this seems trivial, it has tended to contribute to women’s clubs being overlooked, or seen as less serious or genuine.

Having separate clubs has also meant discrepancies in areas like funding and sponsorship. Ella Barnard, a lightweight rowing Half-Blue, says that the women’s squad has struggled to have its voice heard in the past: “having just the one club would just mean that the squads would be on more of an even level, though by no means necessarily equal still.”

Look at all those people sportsing - in spite of their feminine fragility.

Look at all those people sportsing – in spite of their feminine fragility.

So let’s ask: why do some sports still have separate clubs, instead of simply opening the club to both sexes – as the university Athletics, Cycling and Karate clubs have done, among others?

Some sports are making the move for unity already. Barnard explains: “we now share land training facilities with the men and soon we will have a new boathouse we are co-building  with them … Things are moving in the right direction, which is encouraging.”

Similarly positive, Helen Lambert thinks that after the 2013 merging of the the university’s rugby clubs, “the rugby club has come leaps and bounds in terms of equality”.

The men and women are now part of the same sponsorship deal, pay the same subs and will all be playing their Varsity matches at Twickenham from December 2015.

I bet you they're all wearing their girlfriends' kits.

I bet you they’re all wearing their girlfriends’ kits.

CUWCC Captain Chloe Allison is also hopeful for the future: “in the past, links between the men’s and women’s clubs have been non-existent. With hard work this is slowly changing.”

For the first time, women Blues are now represented on the honours boards in Fenner’s pavilion, alongside the many male Blues in the club’s history.

However, the women of CUWCC are only awarded Half-Blues for playing in Varsity, and not the full Blues that male cricketers automatically receive. The criteria for earning a full Blue, for women, are “so strict as to make this almost impossible”.

And while the women’s club is now more involved in plans for this year’s Varsity T20 – which will be played in Cambridge at the beginning of May Week, this won’t stop “the women’s match being somewhat of an add-on, in the morning, whilst the entertainment is still being set up”.

“There is no one on the senior committee directly responsible for the women,” Allison says. “The majority of the senior committee hold the view that women simply play for fun and, whilst it is nice to be seen to have a women’s club, the majority of their attention and funds should be concentrated on the men because they take their cricket more seriously. This is certainly not the case. The women train more often and in a more structured way than the men.”

Sexism is still a problem in Cambridge sport – and even if it’s on the way out, it’s at an inconsistent pace and it needs a lot of work.