Miss Rugby League

Two major events happened this week: International Women’s Day and kick off of the 2015 NRL season. As a feminist who’s a rugby league supporter (or maybe it’s a rugby league supporter who’s a feminist), I celebrate both. The former involves maintaining the lady rage and the latter is a solo trip to the pub for a gin & tonic and wings.

I’ve been a rugby league supporter for 20 years (certainly longer than I’ve been a feminist or at least known I was). Rugby league is part of who I am, what I’m passionate about, it’s part of my daily life, so I look forward to season kick off like a kid on Christmas Eve. I stand by the truism that there are two parts to a year: footy season and off season, which is an excruciating wait until the footy season starts again, and so the annual cycle goes. To the uninitiated, I really can’t explain why I love it so much, “but you’re just watching a bunch of boofheads bashing each other every week” is a common rebuttal. Fine, if you want to simplify it like that, but to me it’s so much more.

It’s tribal. It evokes a range of intensely felt emotions in a 90 minute period that I don’t think anything else in the world can: pride, passion, jubilation, anticipation, disappointment, anger, relief and panic. I’ve felt nerves to the point of almost vomiting before a State of Origin game, been laughed at by housemates as they’ve heard me hysterically scream – valid and accurate – instruction to the television, had a panic attack in the final moments of my team’s 2010 semi-final game, and quietly wept when they went on to comprehensively win the premiership that same year, and last year I collapsed onto the floor in tears when NSW finally won an Origin game for the first time in 10 years. I love being a rugby league supporter, I’m proud to be a rugby league supporter and I will always be one.

Champions 2010: St George Illawarra Dragons
Champions 2010: St George Illawarra Dragons

Though what comes with the game day excitement, friendly banter, pre-game analysis and tipping competitions is the never ending stupidity of some players. It seems that in the last 10 years, every pre-season is met with an exclusive news story of a player or playing group getting in trouble (or worse) for anything from pissing in public, drink driving, driving without a license, illicit drug possession or dealing, dodgy involvement or knowledge of systematic salary cap rorts, drug taking of the performance enhancing kind, punch ups, shitting in a hotel corridor, glassing/attacking a girlfriend or sexual assault.

“But boys will be boys”

“He’s 24 years old, he’s just a kid who’s made a mistake”

“They’ve got too much time and money on their hands”

“They’re public targets from fans with camera phones”

“But we have excellent education programs in place”

Actually no, they’re being disgusting humans and I will never defend that kind of pathetic, idiotic and abhorrent behaviour. It’s hard to stand by rugby league when these kind of incidents continue to happen. And even harder when I’m an equally passionate feminist (ok, so I’ve never collapsed to the ground in tears in the name of feminism, I express my passion in different ways!)

“How can you be a feminist and a rugby league supporter? Isn’t that impossible?” I’m often asked, “it’s not impossible, I can and I am” is my slightly offended response. Yet considering this apparent oxymoron, I can see the confusion. Along with the annual pre-season Men Behaving Badly nightmare, the NRL is an overwhelmingly male dominated work environment. There is a long way to go to break down the entrenched boys’ club culture and see increased, genuine female representation. The pink jerseys for the tokenistic Women in League round, a couple of women in board positions, women’s Origin curtain raisers, just two (brilliant) female journalists in Yvonne Sampson and Erin Molan… it’s not enough. As a feminist, a woman, and a rugby league fan, on this International Women’s Day, I demand more. I demand the NRL to #MakeItHappen

#MakeItHappen #IWD2015
#MakeItHappen #IWD2015

As a feminist it’s my belief in my right to choose what I want do, and as a rugby league supporter it’s my right to stand by what I love. On this International Women’s Day, I will celebrate both events by writing this article as I watch the Sunday game.

Happy International Women’s Day and bring on season 2015!

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