Playing like a girl: It’s time sporting banter caught up with 2017

Zakaia Cvitanovich Roar Rookie

By , Zakaia Cvitanovich is a Roar Rookie

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    I’m expecting a backlash to this article, but it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a while (mainly as a result of reading social media comments) and I believe it’s something that should be discussed.

    So here’s the thing, as an ardent All Blacks supporter, I watch all the games, read all the news (pre and post match) and participate in lively debate. I like the banter as much as I like the analysis.

    But here’s what confuses me… we live in an era where some sections of society are protected from derogatory slurs, and rightly so, but why isn’t this applied to all sections of society?

    In 2017, racial slurs are no longer tolerated… and thank God for that. It’s sad that we ever lived in a world where they were commonplace, however, history can’t be undone. What we can do is ensure the future is a place of zero tolerance. So racial slurs are no longer acceptable, and that’s absolutely, 100 per cent, the way it should be.

    In America, the NFL is “taking a ‘zero tolerance’ stance against hate speech by extending existing rules about ‘unsportsmanlike conduct’ to certain words and phrases” to ensure this behaviour doesn’t occur on the field.

    In New Zealand last year, a player was suspended for 46 weeks after making racist remarks. As Susan Devoy says, “Racism has no place on our rugby fields.”

    Peni Manumanuniliwa, said that all he wanted was for something to be done about “racial abuse on the playing field” not just for himself, but “for every player in New Zealand.” He moved to Southbridge in 2007 and has had racial slurs aimed at him constantly: “It’s really tough when you are playing rugby and they call you these kind of things.”

    Tim Gilkison, Canterbury Rugby’s general manager, said, “This sort of racial abuse is simply unacceptable, either in rugby or in society in general. We are committed to doing anything in our power to stamp out this sort of behaviour in our game, but we can only act when we receive a complaint.” I applaud Canterbury Rugby for taking the matter seriously – hopefully a 46-week ban will be a deterrent for others.

    It’s 2017 and homophobic slurs are no longer tolerated, and once again, thank God for that. Typing ‘homophobic slurs in rugby’ into a search engine brings up article after article of players apologizing for using them, or rather by players being caught using them and then apologizing.

    Last year Michael Allardice admitted making comments which he claimed were said “in jest.” In his public apology he said he was “deeply embarrassed and ashamed of the hurt [he had] caused.” This incident didn’t have the same result as the Canterbury incident. Which might be a reflection on how the club views it; Andrew Flexman, Chiefs CEO, called it “a regrettable incident.”

    After a study found that “that more gay young Kiwi men hide their sexuality on the playing field than anywhere else in the world”, Steve Tew said the findings gave “a very clear message that rugby and other sports have an issue, particularly around homophobia.”

    Maybe New Zealand rugby needs a trailblazer like David Pocock, someone not scared to stand up for his convictions.

    In 2015 Pocock caused a ruckus during a Brumbies-Waratahs match for insisting Craig Joubert address homophobic slurs from a Waratahs forward.

    Pocock said, “As players, we’ve said the Brumbies aren’t going to tolerate any homophobic slurs, I just made that clear to the referee that it’s unacceptable. You can be the toughest man in the world, but it’s got nothing to do with using that sort of language.”

    Earlier this year Tawera Kerr-Barlow admitted guilt for using gay slurs, but signed up with a campaign for gay awareness “in a bid to stop homophobia in New Zealand sport.” He’s witnessed homophobia in top-level rugby but didn’t believes that the slurs carried “any intent to harm”, but conceded that that “carelessness is exactly what we have to change.”

    He thinks “people are becoming more accepting but as a culture I think we still have a long way to go.” So he started challenging himself and his teammates to stop: “We pull each other up on it now.”

    NZR has shown its commitment to stamping out this kind of thing by commissioning the Respect and Responsibility Review, which was a good first step.

    The report states that “Sporting organisations, schools and teams need to adopt a zero tolerance for players and fans who engage in homophobic behaviour,” which is all very well and good, but it’s how they deal with future complaints that will be the real test.

    So 2017 is an era where racial and homophobic slurs are no longer tolerated and if they do occur, are dealt with severely. I haven’t seen it occurring often on social media but when it does, people are instantly called out for it. What is great to see.

    However, while it most certainly is 2017, why do gender slurs continue to made and more importantly, are apparently tolerated? When I’ve called people out for this I’ve been told to “chill out” and “not to get my knickers in a twist.”

    So herein lies my confusion… how can some sections of society be protected (and once again, let me make it exceedingly clear, I think that’s rightly so), but not women?

    Why is it ok to call a male rugby player a ‘girl’ on social media if they played poorly? Now let’s look at that… if you play a great game of rugby you’re a ‘genius’ or ‘star’, but if you’re rubbish, you’re a ‘girl’.

    They don’t use the word ‘woman’, because that would connote some sort of equality. Usage of the word ‘girl’ in this way implies absolute inferiority. It insinuates that whatever the player did, was wrong, weak or just not up to standard.

    But let me ask you this… what kind of ‘girl’ is a lesser male rugby player? Because after watching WRugby World Cup 2017, I’m just not too sure. To me, those ‘girls’ possessed skills that would make a lot of rugby players sit up and take notice.

    I’m sure there are men out there who would like the same skill set as Selica Winiata or Portia Woodman. So are these the ‘girls’ the name-callers are talking about?

    As much as I detest the old adage “Throws like a girl”, even I must admit that the scientific research does in fact lend credence to it. In studies conducted by Jerry Thomas of “overhand ball throwing across different cultures have found that pre-pubescent girls throw 51 to 69 percent of the distance that boys do, at 51 to 78 percent of the velocity.”

    However, he concluded that “there doesn’t appear to be a muscular or structural reason for the difference” in throwing, instead citing neurological and evolution as contributing factors.

    Dr Janet Hyde’s research shows that the perceived differences between men and women are just that, perceived. She examined social, psychological, communication and physical traits, skills and behaviours and found that theres a “very large difference in only two skills: throwing velocity and throwing distance.”

    However, even the scientific research shows that females can be taught to “throw more like boys.” Regardless of the science, the phrase is meant as an insult.

    To those who don’t think words matter… in America the phrase ‘throws like a girl’ has been “used to help explain why male athletes, especially football players, were involved in so many assaults against women. Having been trained (like most American boys) to dread the accusation of doing anything “like a girl,” athletes were said to grow into the assumption that women were valueless, and natural prey.”

    So guess what… words do matter. And the fact that racial and homophobic slurs are no longer acceptable show this.

    The gender divide will never disappear if we continue to allow language that demeans or belittles women, or their contribution.

    And before you assume anything about me based on this article, I don’t despise men or only wear flat-soled shoes (just to terminate any brewing stereotypes!).

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