I know I’m getting on, and I’m prepared to concede that I probably suffer from male privilege as well, but there is something about women’s football which gets right up my back pocket. Perhaps its the silence of today’s cowed males at the invasion of what, until recently, had been their sacred business of football — AFL, as it is known in heathen precincts where rugby and soccer prevail. Now the gates of gender exclusion that once protected this time-honoured sanctuary of maleness have been torn down in the cause of gender equality. The last undisputed province of the heterosexual male has fallen.
The leagues and competitions were built around towns and suburbs that looked upon their local teams as something akin to armies, the Saturday games revered as holy crusades against the detested foes representing the next town or suburb. Each man would be pushed to the limit, twice a week while training together in the rain, like soldiers mastering the essence of pain and sacrifice. After the game, bruised and battered in the leaky tin-roofed change rooms of a thousand ovals, they would bind their strains and anoint wounds with iodine and liniment in rituals of repair that would be instantly familiar to any hero fresh from combat before the walls of Troy.
The football club would be open for drinks and male conversation after training and all afternoon on Saturday. The games always started at ten past two, and there were teams that every man feared to play. The single-gendered nature of the game was never pondered, other than it being the happy duty of wives and mothers and sisters to demonstrate their fealty with sandwiches and washing and mild adulation. They were Penelopes waiting on the boundary line for their Ulysses to return from war and re-join in collar and tie or fluoro gear the humdrum plod of day-to-day civilian life.
The footy club was a place where men talked to men about stuff they could talk about with nobody else. If the local copper was a member, things could be worked out. If you needed guidance or insight, there would be a lawyer, accountant, plumber, landscaper or whatever to share the needed wisdom with those pledged to the same team colours. Footy clubs kept their secrets from the women, just as the CWA, the tennis and softball clubs kept secrets the men never knew. I remember arriving as a teacher, the newly arrived outsider, in various isolated communities and being taken in, as if to a family, when I joined the football club. They trusted you more after seeing how you played the game.
There is something to be said for male- and female-only spaces, where gender and equality are not the filters which need to be forever defined and negotiated. Places like footy clubs as we have always known them, where men supported men in ways and in regard to matters no woman could ever genuinely grasp. There was a separate equality there, too, as I imagine much the same intimacy applies in the conclaves of women.
I have tried twice to watch women’s football on TV and found myself each time reminded of the under-fourteen B’s. Very low scores, with some teams only able to record a single goal in the course of an entire match. They go in hard though, as if they have something to prove. Yes, they go in hard, with many players seemingly determined to look like blokes as well. So many tattoos and so much short-cropped hair! It strikes me that there is a definite element of ‘out-bloking the blokes’ in women’s football and, implicit in that, a feminist third finger in the air to assert that women have been too long oppressed and now it is the sisters’ right to bask in the spotlight and adulation. Trouble is, that expected reverence is undeserved. “A woman’s preaching is like a dog walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all,” was Samuel Johnson’s appraisal of female parsons. He might just as easily have been talking about women and football.
Yet despite the shortfall in the quality of play, the feminist agenda asserts itself. Before even one AFL women’s football game had been played, there was much whining about gendered inequality and how male players, who can fill the MCG to overflowing, receive much higher pay than women’s teams that can’t and never will. But should we be surprised? Not really. Women have planted their latest flag and are brandishing the colonisation of Aussie Rules as yet another victory over men. Strip away the feminist rhetoric and the fact remains that women’s football is an ugly, fouth-rate thing.
We males, the defeated, salute you, much as we shake sportsmanlike hands with those who have bested us in the course of four hard-fought quarters. But speaking for myself I make this promise out of respect for the game’s honorable and uncomplicated past: I will never again watch another women’s football game.