Stephanie Holt on football and gender

4ekrubt8oztpIt’s the Women’s Round and former Meanjin editor and dedicated St Kilda supporter, Stephanie Holt chats with Overland about her gig at The Footy Almanac, the vitality of AFL culture and its mirroring of gender inequality found in society as a whole. Her essay, ‘Football’s Women Problem – Stephanie Holt on sex, lies and the AFL’, is published in Overland’s edition 203.

What led you to write for The Footy Almanac?

I’d crossed paths with the editors, John Harms and Paul Daffey, occasionally over the years – at writers festivals and the like. The first almanac, in 2007, included a marvellous range of writing about the game, well-crafted pieces without the conventional restrictions of the back page, but it was a conspicuously all-male affair – something the editors realised belatedly and were determined to redress. I’d been publishing occasional pieces on football over the years, usually from a quite personal – and necessarily female – perspective, so jumped at their invitation. I was also hoping the discipline of writing would help channel all those anxieties that a footy tragic suffers and inflicts on everyone around them all season!

What led you to write ‘Football’s Women Problem’?

From the very first, I’d found these events compelling and disturbing, and struggled to make sense of them, in part because they tapped into so many aspects of my own experience and beliefs. Was I responding as a footy follower? Saints fan? Feminist? Cultural observer? Media analyst? Mother? My own Saints-crazy, sports-mad daughter was a similar age to Kim Duthie, and like her a star school athlete, school sport captain, VCE student, aspiring journalist – all of which was very confronting. I found it frustrating that so much commentary seemed to be driven by an often quite snobbish and ill-informed disdain for sport, and hypocrisy to those involved, often leading to a kind of ‘throw out the baby with the bathwater’ approach (bad things happen in footy and should be eliminated; therefore, footy is bad and should be …?)


What would it take to bring a philosophy of gender equality to the AFL culture?

Tough question. What gives the culture of footy its vitality is in part its unruliness and the richness and complexity of its history, which allow it to be many things to many people. So talking of a homogeneous AFL culture, much less of imposing a coherent philosophy on it, doesn’t make much sense to me. One of the tough things writing this piece was that we tend to fall back on the trope of ‘respect’ when talking about eliminating sexism, which seems such a dour, even killjoy, kind of word when compared to the exhilarating excesses of sporting fandom. But short of eliminating gender inequality from society as a whole, backing up the AFL policies already in place would be a start.

That said, we’ve seen enormous changes in recent years in the prevalence of women at all levels of the sport and its attendant culture, and I’m hopeful that, like racism in sport, the goalposts are moving all the time – what was once commonplace is becoming rarer, what was once condoned is now frowned on, what may once have drawn a token rebuff now draws public outrage.


What are you up to now?

Aside from riding the rollercoaster of hope and despondency that is the Saints’ 2011 season? I’ve been teaching in RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing program and studying permaculture, but right now I’m preparing to spend a year in the US with my family. Hopefully a chance to recharge the batteries, write, research, read, talk, travel and fish out some of those half-completed projects and ‘one day I should …’ ideas that have accumulated over the years.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Clare Strahan is a two-time novelist with Allen & Unwin publishers, long-ago contributing editor to Overland, and teaches in the RMIT Professional Writing & Editing Associate Degree.

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  1. Pingback: Stephanie Holt Discussion « The Footy Almanac

  2. Stephanie

    I loved the article and i have been conversing (given my reluctance to keep on with facebook and twitter after a long and laborious identity crisis at uni, and now as a teacher with children wanting to know my facebook page address etc) with some people about it… well my only friend out west, a farmer. bless him.

    when i asked him what he thought about the issue, he said ‘she’s a piece of work!’
    ‘well she’s in it for the money.’
    ‘oh. really? hmmm i see it as a display of power by a girl who ‘can’ who has been able to make these comments/photos/blogs/posts/sms/60 mins interviews etc.’
    ‘well wherever you get a group of blokes, this is going to happen.’
    ‘so group sex with a teenager with a load of blokes who believe its part of the team to all have sex with the same girl is just a general happening?’
    ‘it happens. they drink piss. they do stupid stuff.’

    This is after he told me about an Aboriginal bloke who killed his girlfriend (reason unaswered by my friend) and who is now living out bush, sometimes having to steal eggs from some chicken coops on the farms nearby.
    ‘Yeah, he’s pretty smart. A druggo, crazy abo. grew up with the elders, so he’s been out there for years and has bush knowledge.’

    My reaction was sided toward the resistance to the colonial court, so I laughed yet was concerned with why he murdered the girlfriend…

    This takes me to a tricky place, that most of us whom live easily, angered by certain things, must come to the conclusion in adulthood: there is no conclusion. well i know it’s death and taxes.

    not that I’m an adult.

    Probably far from it when I see some of my elders loving the status quo.


    Whether or not our young lady/feminist prodigy/internet addict likes or liked sex with older men or not, whether she is/was blown away by the beauty of men just one fabric width away from being naked in a close-up on the TV, whether or not she is/was trying to make money — she showed us the message via the meduim and the medium via the message.

    She did it in the confident gen Y style that all the teachers worry about. The confidence. The brash and audacious way they are able to. That I am able to.

    This doesn’t mean she will not have lessons to face later. The decisions at 16 are (as I am sure whomever reads this know) are testing, reviving their parents’, rebelling against the powers at be, angry they can’t find a way to do what they want, trying with their might to deal with society etc.

    Is a bloke/boy/young man who is 16, who sexually abuses a child of 6 responsible for his decision? Or is he doing something rebellious? Or natural? What about a bloke who is 26? 36? 46? Is a girl who tries to get the geeky bloke in English to come to the party so she can get him pissed, have sex with her and humiliate him, is she doing something she is aware of?

    I say to year 10, ‘You pay tax if you work at maccas/kfc/subway/woolworths/coles – why can’t you vote? you can register a car and pay the licence fee for the RTA. why can’t you vote?’

    A tricky age. But are we just younger versions of what we were back then? there’s the fate and destiny thing that i asked year 9 to write about last term. Is there choice or fate or both?

    So I reckon that our protagonist from ‘An Education’, Brittany, 60 mins etc. exercised a power that many women and girls have never been able to.

    She did it.
    She took a risk like those who tried to save the national parks/soldiers/whales/forests/refugees who got charged and criminal records. SHE PUT HER LIFE ON THE LINE. Her life legally, socially, and histroically in a world of these big wig blokes of footy in Australia.

    A big deal no?

    She took a risk only most gen Ys have (only ever?) never even thought about.

    Especially when women and girls are so screwed by the media generally. She spoke up within/among the medium. She is breaking the boys’ club. She is redressing the status problem by being a ‘problem’ for the status.

    If man is a victim of social forces, (which I am discussing with year 11,) may those who have been address the injustice – even in the wording.

    Thanks again for the article!

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