The gaslighting of women’s sport: I thought it was finally over?

Sarah Leach Columnist

By Sarah Leach, Sarah Leach is a Roar Expert

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    2017 might be remembered as the year that women’s sport has finally broken through.

    The changes are clear and obvious – the televised AFLW competition, a new national netball competition and bonanza broadcast deal with higher audience figures than ever, women’s cricket on TV, the Matildas doing well, our women’s rugby sevens side are killing it, and even the V8 supercars have taken note by injecting female talent to the competition after realising the marketing and role-model value.

    I could go on, but I’m interested in one point: has the gaslighting of women’s sport, that has seemingly filtrated Australia, finally lifted? With incidents like Steve O’Keefe’s recent drunken incident involving female cricketer, it makes me wonder.

    The term ‘gaslighting’ refers to when someone manipulates you into questioning and second-guessing your reality. It derives from a 1944 movie and has been thrown around in the US since Donald Trump was elected, in the context that Americans believe the President and current administration is gaslighting them.

    Flashing back to 2012, News Limited reporters Phil Rothfield and Darren Hadland named Black Caviar as Australia’s sportswoman of the year, and this sparked plenty of offence. Little wonder. According to them, Australia’s golden girl Sally Pearson was pipped to the post by a horse. Disgraceful.

    Black Caviar wins an historic race at Derby Day Randwick. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

    This tongue in cheek review of the year in sport that vomited up on the sports pages was labelled misogyny at its finest and has certainly been a contributing factor to the underlying attitude towards women’s sport and sportswomen in Australian culture over the years.

    It makes me think: have Australians been gaslighted to believe women’s sport and women playing sport isn’t really worthy or watchable? Is it really going to take another whole generation to clear us of this negativity?

    One would hope not.

    In my netball playing days, at one point I juggled a full-time job working for the ARL with training and games, in which I was told to focus more on “where I was getting my bread and butter” rather than playing netball.

    While I fulfilled all my working duties for the company and when training and games were outside of working hours, it was more the attitude that really got me down. I was disappointed, and clearly in an unsupportive environment.

    For me, I loved playing netball at the highest level and am grateful for all the netballers gone before us that have helped build the game to where it is now. Playing competitive netball in 2017 is now a genuine paid career thanks to the new broadcast rights deal, and players can now be renumerated for the time and effort they invest into it. It’s a huge achievement and it feels great.

    Thankfully, I grew up being able to watch my role models play on the ABC and was inspired. Cricket legend Belinda Clark, however, forged her formidable path off the back of her 1970s childhood.

    “I played many sports and my first heroes were tennis players, anywhere from McEnroe to Navratilova, Evert-Lloyd, that era, Boris Becker. And then the Australian cricketers in the late 70s, so Kim Hughes, Greg Chappell, Kev Lavesael, those sorts of people,” Clark said.

    “I had no understanding that a role model should be male or female, I just enjoyed all of them and I didn’t really see any barriers there. I didn’t really understand that there was an Australian Cricket team at the time, but that didn’t stop me playing cricket or wanting to emulate my heroes in the backyard.”

    The broadcast and media coverage of women’s cricket in Australia is now brilliant, and it’s a viable product. Women like Ellyse Perry and Meg Lanning are shining examples for young girls and grassroots cricketers to look up to and be able to say, “Okay, there’s an avenue for me to do this professionally.”

    Ellyse Perry batting Sydney Sixers WBBL

    Clark, who holds the women’s record one-day score of 229 and represented Australia from 1991 to 2005, and captained from 1994, also said, “I take great pride in the fact that we’ve reached this point. It’s been a lot of hard work for a lot of people.

    “From an overarching perspective, I think it’s terrific we’re in this position.”

    Clark is a trailblazer for women’s sport. She magically combined her player and captain duties with that of chief executive of Women’s Cricket Australia, and today she is one of Cricket Australia’s top administrators, working as the senior manager of team performance.

    The AFL should also be congratulated. The women playing in the top tier AFL competition, the rights for which broadcasters have paid for, are the same girls that were exposed to the game in primary school, when the Auskick program kicked off.

    If girls and women can keep fit and enjoy playing AFL, then that’s fantastic. If they can make a paid career out of it, even better.

    Steve O’Keefe’s recent misbehaviour might have signalled a big step back, but there’s little doubt women’s sport in Australia has taken two steps forward.

    Sarah Leach
    Sarah Leach

    Sarah Leach is a former netballer who played at a national level in both Australia and the UK. She is currently a broadcast journalist and creative producer based in London, as well as a lover of all sports and giving high-fives to the ladies dominating on the big stage. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • April 20th 2017 @ 5:00am
      Matt Jones said | April 20th 2017 @ 5:00am | ! Report

      flashing back to 2012, News Limited reporters Phil Rothfield and Darren Hadland named Black Caviar as Australia’s sportswoman of the year,

      putting any substance to a comment by Rothfield is poor reason for an argument. Plus BC was so dominant if he was male they would have done the same thing

      • April 20th 2017 @ 10:02am
        Andy said | April 20th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        Yeah was that really seen as misogny by anyone other than people with an axe to grind? I doubt there would be many top 100 or 50 lists of sporting moments that didnt include a couple of horse races and any that dont include Secretariats triple crown are just down right wrong.

        • Columnist

          April 20th 2017 @ 5:16pm
          Sarah Leach said | April 20th 2017 @ 5:16pm | ! Report

          Black Caviar was deserving of accolades – as a racehorse – however, the point here is that she is a horse, rather than a human sportswoman which caused an uproar from women in sport and female athletes at the time. A bit of a kick in the face

          • April 21st 2017 @ 4:16pm
            Andy said | April 21st 2017 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

            But it wasnt seen as a kick in the face to human athletes when Secretariat appears in pretty much every top 100 greatest sports moments.

            • Roar Guru

              April 21st 2017 @ 4:38pm
              Paul D said | April 21st 2017 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

              Either you’re being deliberately obtuse or you’re really stupid

    • April 20th 2017 @ 9:15am
      Rossy said | April 20th 2017 @ 9:15am | ! Report

      Are we finally getting some kind of insinuation as to what was actually in Steve O’Keefes comments at that now infamous function? Was is misogynistic comments? what exactly was in the insults?

      The code of silence around the whole thing has been bizarre, it’s been more secretive than the nuclear codes.

      In my view, it almost makes it worse as everyone just assumes its SO BAD that it couldn’t possibly be uttered, like the Voldermort of cricket!

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2017 @ 10:41am
        Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 10:41am | ! Report

        He made some derogatory remarks about Rachael Haynes, a female NSW cricketer. I have not been able to find out for sure but I gather from what I have read that she has a girlfriend and I think O’Keefe might have made some sexually suggestive remarks about him getting with the two of them

        Apparently it was that bad he’s lucky his contract wasn’t terminated full stop.

    • April 20th 2017 @ 7:31pm
      70s Mo said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:31pm | ! Report

      I’m still none the wiser as to what gas-lighting means

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2017 @ 7:33pm
        Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:33pm | ! Report

        It’s from a play called Gaslight from the 1930’s – a controlling husband tries to psychologically manipulate his wife into questioning her sanity & perception by secretly dimming the gas lights inside the home and then telling her she’s imagining things when she asks him if he noticed it too

        In this context I think the author has used to illustrate the men who want to demean and diminish women’s sport and seem threatened by its very existence. There was plenty of them roaming the AFL board during the inaugural AFLW season

    • April 20th 2017 @ 7:57pm
      Chui said | April 20th 2017 @ 7:57pm | ! Report

      Honest question Sarah.

      Do you actually know what O’Keefe said?

      I only ask because you’ve used it as a big step backwards when the general public is unable to determine the severity of the crime.

      It’s hard to see how it adds weight to an argument.

      As for using something Rothfield had to do with? Funny, at the time I thought it was wrong, but I honestly can’t say I know anyone whose attitudes were shaped by it.

      I get that you’re rightly peeved by attitudes to women’s sport, but drawing a long bow doesn’t help anything.

      • Roar Guru

        April 20th 2017 @ 11:21pm
        Paul D said | April 20th 2017 @ 11:21pm | ! Report

        Neil Breen from channel 9 said O’Keefe made sexual remarks to Rachael Haynes and her (female) partner that weren’t of a homophobic nature.

        From that I think you can take it as given he’s said something along the lines of he wanted to jump into bed with the two of them.

      • Columnist

        April 21st 2017 @ 12:01am
        Sarah Leach said | April 21st 2017 @ 12:01am | ! Report

        Thanks Chui!

        You make some good points. The honest answer is – I don’t know exactly what O’Keefe said, I don’t feel I need to know the details – in fact I may be better off being spared. The fact that it has turned up in the headlines at all, and that he’s copped a massive fine/punishment is good enough for me to know that what he said really shouldn’t have been said. Any athlete on the job should really know better… the female(s) need not be subjected to it.
        I read “O’Keefe made several offensive comments, but it was a slur directed at a fellow Cricket NSW female cricketer that incensed many, especially as cricket has led the way in embracing and professionalising the women’s game”.
        And for Rothfield and his comments – I’m not suggesting this one incident has alone shaped people’s attitudes, but rather, an example that’s put fuel on the fire

        • April 21st 2017 @ 9:03am
          Chui said | April 21st 2017 @ 9:03am | ! Report

          Hi Sarah,

          Thanks for the reply. I see your points.

          The grade club from my area of Sydney has announced the formation of a Women’s academy starting next season, with an eye to entering a grade side.

          The team is Manly. SOK’s team.

          There is hope 🙂

          • Columnist

            April 21st 2017 @ 11:56pm
            Sarah Leach said | April 21st 2017 @ 11:56pm | ! Report

            Hey Chui!

            That’s great news! SOK may even come in and lend a hand and/or show his support! here’s hoping 🙂

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