Why do you consider me less of a woman because I play rugby?

Sexism in rugby has got to stop

The drill on a night out: “You’re too pretty to play rugby!” I awkwardly shuffle to the end of the bar. “Oi, why are you being a bitch, I was only paying you a compliment.”

Oh, I do apologise. I’m sorry for not swooning dramatically over your misguided attempt at a pick up line. For me, this kind of “compliment” is akin to a slap in the face, the backwards assumption of how when a woman plays a contact sport she loses all sense of what it is to be “female.”

Granted, I may not look too hot with my oversized gum shield and mud splattered face, but why should this make me feel any less of a woman? Playing rugby makes me feel empowered, allowing me to showcase my strength and power. Why must these qualities be considered as solely “masculine”?

There’s this misconception of feminism being some kind of null word, and how we as women have achieved all we can achieve. After all as a drunk guy in Pryzm once told me: “why are you moaning, you girls get to play a man’s sport, you’ve got what you wanted.”

This in itself is explicit evidence of the harsh reality – in the eyes of so many, to play rugby is to take away the essence of our womanhood. The truth of the matter is, sexism is embedded in our sports culture: from the lack of presence of women’s sport in the media, and as our club captain Claire Murray noticed when shopping for rugby kit, you can’t buy skins without dick pieces in them.

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As a third year Sussex rugby player I’ve experienced my fair share of sexism during my time at university, as have – disgustingly – the majority of our girls. Often the abuse comes from the side-lines, as our prop Carmel Leak was subjected to during varsity last year while taking line outs : “you’re a fucking slag “you don’t know what you’re doing,” “you’re too fat to play.”

Shockingly, even officials themselves make scathing remarks, with a ref once telling our captain Katie Wadeson “I don’t usually ref women’s games, they get too moany and bitchy.” It seems ludicrous for us to be treated in an unequal manner by those officiating our games.

Often those closest to us fall prey to the misconceptions surrounding women’s rugby, although their intentions may not be hurtful.  “Isn’t rugby a man’s sport?” “You’re too small to play rugby – you’ll get all bashed and broken.”

The fact of the matter is, just like the men, we don’t shy away from the prospect of bruises and scars. This isn’t at all to suggest we glorify injuries, but when we do get a knock to the face, or a shiner on our eye from putting our all into a game, we wear it with pride.

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For a lot of people this remark will hit home the hardest, and is the one I’ve grown most sick of hearing: “You play rugby? So you’re a lesbian?”

This is the kind of sweeping and inappropriate generalisation which makes me want to punch myself in the face.

First of all: How does taking part in a sporting activity have any kind of correlation with my sexual orientation? Answer: It doesn’t.

Second of all: How dare you give the notion of homosexuality any kind of negative connotation? We have girls who are out and proud, we have those who swing both ways, and those who have unhealthy obsessions with Gerard Butler (ahem). We are all strong, beautiful women, who share a passion and dedication to rugby and to each other.

It’s ridiculous how for new girls signing up to rugby there is such a risk of being stereotyped, jeered at, and people simply not taking you seriously.

Nevertheless, every year we see more and more girls breaking through the ranks, and saying raising a middle finger to traditional gender conformity to play the sport they love.

Of course, not all hope is lost. Our England women’s teams have been absolutely smashing it this year, having finally been given status as professionals. On a personal level, for all the spiteful comments I receive there are those individuals who break the mould.

From job interviewers who respect my commitment to rugby as a sign of strength and drive, to the old chap on my bus a few weeks ago who noticed my kit and told me: “Go on girl! It’s about time our girls got playing rugby. Go and smash’em.”

Being part of Sussex rugby has changed my life. We represent girls of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds. We respect each other for who we are as part of our team, and for our passion for the game.

Before I came to Sussex appearances were everything. Like too many women, I cared far too much what people thought of me and was afraid to express my true-self. I believe being part of a group of such inspirational girls, in a sport where you throw everything into the game, has allowed me to grow as a person.

I hope more and more girls gain equal inspiration from getting involved in sport at university, and there will come a time when women’s sport gets the absolute recognition and respect it deserves.
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