It’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.