The treatment of Imperial Women’s Rugby shouldn’t surprise you

‘Deeply ingrained misogyny’? Sounds about right

The news of Imperial College’s inquiry into the ‘deeply ingrained misogyny’ surrounding university culture has come after members of Imperial Women’s Rugby reported being on the receiving end of sexist abuse from drunk men.

The girls were playing to an empty stadium, overhearing Imperial’s sports staff saying “I don’t care how those fat girls get home” after their successful Varsity campaign in 2015.

Imperial WRFC and UCLUWRFC in a picture of rugby-based harmony

Imperial WRFC and UCLUWRFC in a picture of rugby-based harmony

However, when I read the news, we weren’t all that shocked by it. Angry, yes. Disgusted, yes. Shocked? Not really. See, pretty much every woman who’s played rugby has been on the receiving end of this kind of bullshit.

University College London Union Women’s Rugby are no strangers to this treatment. In my first year in the club our Varsity match against King’s College London kicked off 10 minutes early to a crowd of about 50 people. Most couldn’t be bothered to turn up until the men’s game started. Thankfully last year we drew a huge crowd, but I somehow feel as if that was more because of the cut price booze than any real desire to watch 46 talented women knock seven bells out of each other.

Whether it’s the constant comparisons to the men’s squad, the fact that we are always the warm up act for the boys, or just generally being told that it’s not a “girls’ sport” (sorry, I didn’t realise chasing an egg shaped ball round a field had a gender), our constant denigration is frankly disheartening. There isn’t a single person out there who shouldn’t feel awful for Imperial Women’s Rugby, because there are very few things worse than playing to an empty stadium because nobody could be bothered to come and watch you play your socks off.

Don't come for me until you can compete with my neck injuries

Don’t come for me until you can compete with my neck injuries

Why is it that men’s rugby are the sporting behemoths of nearly every university but a women’s squad is more often than not seen as a joke? It’s not like we’re any less committed or talented because we happen to lack a penis, though you’d think that was the case.

No, I couldn’t beat one of the first team backs in a man-on-man ruck, but that’s less because of my skill level and more due to the fact that he’s got 25kg on me and I’m only barely 5’5″. Why do people feel the need to try to not offend me by guessing that I play on the wing and then quickly qualifying that I “don’t look like a front row player” when I tell them I play hooker? If anything, most of us would be more offended that you tried to qualify our interest in the sport with the fact that we’re attractive because apparently we’d be totally disregarded if we weren’t.

Ultimately this is an issue of respect.

Things are getting better. The turnout for women’s matches is improving, and 90 per cent of the rugby boys I meet are mostly excited to talk about absolutely filthy tackles and the many uses of Deep Heat with me. However, the constant, pervasive sexism that we face really is proof that we have a long, long way to go until we’re on a level playing field with the men.