Former England cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent has made a bit of a niche for herself as a television and radio pundit.
Today she’s quoted in an article on the BBC website entitled “Sexing up key to boosting profile of women’s sport“.
In it, she says:
“You want women to be attracted to the sport, but sex sells…Some of the biggest barriers for young girls playing sport is the image and being sweaty or a bit masculine, so if you can make the sport more attractive for females to play then you will attract more girls in.”
She then adds:
“You also need females to support women’s sport and you see successful sports like netball, which has a lot of female followers, and women’s tennis which attract female crowds because the players look feminine, but they are very sporty. Women’s cricket also has a good advantage in that we have very feminine looking and good players, but when we started playing we wore the England men’s kit which was very baggy and heavy and didn’t look great.”
Well, sorry, Ebony, but this is just a very short step from Sepp Blatter’s brilliant idea about getting women footballers to play in tighter shorts, or perhaps waving a big banner that says, “WE MIGHT BE GOOD AT SPORT BUT WE’RE NOT ALL LESBIANS, HONEST!”
The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation tweeted the link to Rainford-Brent’s interview, and after receiving what seemed to be a lot of negative responses, asked: “Isn’t there a difference between ‘sexing up’ for men & ensuring kit makes participants feel good?”
Well, perhaps. But this emphasis on ensuring that girls and women can deem themselves to be “feminine” while playing or watching sport is troubling – because that definition of “feminine” is invariably “conventionally sexually attractive to men”.
If Rainsford-Brent was solely making the point that women cricketers needed lighter kit than their male counterparts in order to perform at their best, then yes, absolutely, that’s necessary.
But she’s not. She’s saying it was baggy and it didn’t look good. So it didn’t look good to whom? Presumably when the England team were on the field, they had more important things to worry about than what they looked like. I can only conclude that she’s referring back to her opening quote – yes, you might want women to be attracted to sport, but in the end it’s sex that sells. You need to make your players “feminine-looking” so that men will fancy them (and so that nobody thinks they’re lesbians, of course, because that just isn’t feminine).
The WSFF, for all the good work they do, seem to be asking the wrong questions. It’s not just about encouraging this generation of girls to play and enjoy sport and remove the immediate barriers that they perceive to be holding them back.
It’s about a long-term view. It should be about changing society so that feminine CAN encompass being sporty, being sweaty, and even wearing a baggy shirt.