This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
OK
Dublin: 16 °C Monday 22 April, 2019
Advertisement

Open Letter: It's time to stamp out sexism in sports journalism

As a freelance journalist covering rugby, I have seen how we are still a long way off from achieving gender equality.

Kate Rowan

DEAR SPORTS MEN and men in the sports media,

You get asked to support charities and good causes causes all the time. You supported #IceBucketChallenge to raise funds for a fantastic cause in Motor Neurone Disease. The plight of children in Syria will also be highlighted with #WakeUpCall selfies.

These are perhaps more deserving and pressing than what I am asking you to consider. However, this does not require money, just the tiniest bit of action.

This action will make the world a better place for your mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, daughters, nieces, your female colleagues and friends.

Three weeks ago the actress Emma Watson in her role as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, launched #HeforShe to ask men to support gender equality. Lots of male celebrities added their voice to the cause.

This struck a chord with me because working as a freelance journalist covering rugby; I have seen how we are still a long way off from achieving gender equality. Having the support and encouragement of a few male colleagues a long the way has been the difference between me continuing on this path or giving up.

What advice would I give to other women? 

I love sports writing and I feel extremely privileged to have a view of the rugby world that most fans would be envious of. Yet if a girl asked my advice about embarking on a career in sports writing, I would try to push her towards working in the broadcast side or away into another industry all together.

Why?

Bum pinched. Crotch grabbed. Boob squeezed. Called a slut. Called a prude.

These are just some of the unpleasant experiences I have had as a sports writer. All of this has happened since 2011.

I had been warned.

Before heading off on my first overseas tour to cover the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, I was very green and very eager to learn.

Through a friend of a friend, I made contact with a well-established journalist. Once I had outlined my plan to try to carve a career for myself writing sports features, his words were, “If you were my daughter I would beg you not to.”

I was expecting him to elaborate on poor working conditions in journalism since the recession.

No.

Sexism in the workplace was the reason why this journalist would not like his daughter to embark on a career in the media.

At the time, though I was grateful, I considered this advice was a little antiquated. I was a big girl. I could handle a little bit of sexism.

Sexism takes many forms

Looking back, this foolhardiness was probably a good thing, because if I knew four years ago what I know now I am not sure if I would have been so keen to work in sports journalism.

Sexism takes many forms. From my experience, if you are a woman at a press conference or in a stadium and if you are anywhere in the vicinity of the tea and coffee making facilities, the likelihood is you are going to mistaken for catering staff. In the early days, this incensed me. Now, I just consider it the small the stuff that has to be shrugged off.

Then there is the being spoken to in a patronising manner. This still makes me angry. Examples include: “Aren’t you a great girl coming to all the matches on your own!” and my favourite, “From the way you talk in that girlish voice, you wouldn’t think you could write well but I was surprised when I read one of your articles how much you know about rugby.”

Then comes the nasty stuff. Groping and sexual innuendo.

This behaviour became consistent; I was coming to the stage about two years ago where I was considering giving up on sports writing. However, I was not going to walk away from a childhood dream.

Now may be a good time to ask, if the sexism was that bad, should you not have reported it?

Who could I complain to? It had been suggested that I get in touch with the sexists’ editors or some of the public relations people who ran these events.

There was no way I was going to make any formal complaints. How could I? People would think I was a wimp. They would think I was an attention-seeker or not cut out for a competitive, fast-paced working environment.

Looking back on those thoughts, I was wrong.

I decided to make a stand 

You are not a coward to complain if, when you are trying to go about your business at work, and a man grabs at you inappropriately or someone whispers “get out of the way, slut” under their breath so as not to attract attention.

In November 2012, I decided to make a stand and wrote an article about the sexism I had experienced. It was published in the Irish Independent online and despite a bit of infantile trolling from those keyboard warriors who have the super power of anonymity, it was fairly well-received.

After that, even though it was not said implicitly, I noticed that I was getting better treatment. Being open does work.

Still, even after that I have had my bum pinched and been at the end of lewd comments.

I have spoken to women who work in the environment and some have experienced similar while others I have spoken to have not. Regardless of whether or not you have had these negative experiences, no woman should have to feel intimidated or degraded in the work place.

Recently there has been much debate about how much coverage women’s sport gets. If there is an endemic culture of sexism in certain quarters of the sports media, then how is women’s sport going to garner more column inches?

So, that is why I am asking you the sports men, the news makers and the journalists, the news breakers to tweet #HeforShe or even better consider what it may be like to walk in the shoes of your female counterparts.

My wish is that in our supposedly enlightened times, I will never have to write another piece highlighting sexism in the workplace. Is that too much to ask?

Pardon the sporting cliché, at the end of the day, we all love sport, so should my being a woman make any difference?

Kate Rowan is a freelance sports journalist based in Dublin, specialising in writing features. Kate has travelled widely covering rugby including the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and the 2013 British and Irish Lions Tour of Australia. She regularly wrote rugby features for the Irish Independent and has worked extensively writing for governing bodies including IRB and IRFU. Kate’s rugby blog “Scrumptious” can be found at www.katerowan.com and tweets as @KateLouiseRowan

Emma Watson: Feminism has become an unpopular word – but it’s for men, too

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article
  •  

About the author:

Kate Rowan

Read next:

COMMENTS (80)