Guest post: “All women and girls should be able to experience the joy, fulfilment, and lifelong benefits of sport”

(338 Posts)

MNHQ have commented on this thread.

JuliaMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 09-Jun-21 17:07:36

Earlier this year, Women in Sport released first a report on the impact of the pandemic on teenage girls' sports and exercise and later launched a campaign on the menopause and sports. We asked CEO Stephanie Hilborne to tell us more about these issues and Women in Sport more widely:

"When someone says the word "sport" what’s the first thing you think of?

For me, it is gazing longingly out of the window at the netball courts during French class. But our charity Women in Sport knows that for many women the opposite is true. "Sport" brings back horrible memories of school. Whether it was being forced to wear “gym knickers” or a leotard when you were on a period or never getting picked for the team because you weren’t “sporty”.

And yet the word sport means “being carried away from stress and responsibility”. It’s about having fun. I don’t know many women who would reject the idea of less responsibility and more freedom.

Now think about exercise. What do you first think about when someone says the word “exercise”? Many women we talk to wince because they think they should be doing more of it. For others, serious exercise conjures up pain and suffering. But when we actually get around to going out for a brisk walk or even a run, we feel great. Our bodies release endorphins when we exercise, which is the healthiest way to get high.

Women in Sport has been looking into the lives of teenage girls and women during the last year and finding out how lockdown has affected women’s experiences of, and views on, exercise and sport. Before the pandemic, Sport England statistics showed that the gap was closing but women were still slightly less active than men overall.

The biggest gender gap was in team sport – with 25% fewer girls than boys involved in teams and paltry opportunities for girls at school. That’s why the closure of schools affected boys’ sports the worst.

Why should we care about team sport? Because being in joint endeavour, in a team, trying to win while having fun brings lifelong benefits. If more girls had positive experiences of team sport at school, more women would enter the workplace and wider society trained to lead, to take risks, and to be resilient if they lose.

So, what did we find out about girls in lockdown? During the pandemic, the Government put exercise front and centre as one of the few ways we were able to leave our homes. This opportunity has released some girls into new worlds. We talked to teenage girls going for walks outside with friends for the first time, and 82% of girls said they would put more effort into being active when life returned to normal. Teenage girls we spoke to recognised the value of exercise for their physical and mental health, some for the very first time. They may not know that research shows a positive impact of outdoor sport on body image, but they are feeling it.

Then we spoke to the women. We know that women have borne the brunt of pandemic redundancies and that home-schooling has exposed ongoing stereotypes and gender inequalities in the home. The women we spoke to were time deprived. 32% of women said they could not prioritise exercise during lockdown as they had too much to do for others. But on the positive side, the crisis has led people to reappraise. People have been resetting their priorities and there is more motivation to exercise than there used to be. 85% of women in our research said they would either put more effort into being fit and active or would keep up being active after lockdown.

Our recent new research into women around the menopause showed that this too can prompt reappraisal. So, the double whammy of an unprecedented pandemic and an unprecedented change in hormones seems to be triggering a bit of a revolution amongst midlife women.

One of the most fascinating insights we gleaned even before the pandemic was how much teenage girls cherished time alone with their mum or mother figures in their lives. They saw such relationships as ‘safe spaces’ without fear of judgement. Lockdown has exaggerated this feeling and girls have appreciated time being active outside, in nature, in a safe context without toxic commentary from peers.

Last year we launched our #TimeTogether campaign based on our understanding that midlife women and teenage girls both face unique physical challenges and pressures, and that they want to support one another. Women and girls also know they ought to be more active, but many find it hard to act on that. So, we’re inspiring women and girls to team up, to get active and have fun together outside. As we go back to some normality post lockdown, this special relationship may well help overcome shared concerns about loss of fitness or being in large groups.

The pandemic has led to a growing intolerance of inequality, whether racial, economic, or gender inequality. At Women in Sport, we’ve been intolerant of this for a long time. We know that less wealthy women from certain diverse backgrounds are the least active of all. How wrong is this, that society is denying these girls and women joy and health?

The pandemic exposed underlying inequalities in society across the board, and elite sport was no exception. In August 2020 a BBC survey of elite British sportswomen showed 86% earnt less than £30k from sport, and 60% less than £10k and one in five believed they may have to give up their sport due to the crisis to focus on having a normal job. At the same time women’s sport all but disappeared from our screens. The women’s football Euros were pushed back to 2022 to make way for the men’s Euros to be played in 2021. The Women’s Six Nations was never completed, the 2020 Netball Super League, Football Women’s Super League and Championship were all cancelled. In contrast, the top three tiers of men’s football continued their 2019-20 season; the men’s Premiership Rugby 2019-20 season restarted in August, the men’s Six Nations was completed.

So it is hardly surprising that half as many girls as boys dreamt about reaching the top of sport (30% cf 60%) in a survey we ran with Sports Direct in March 2021. We should not be denying our girls the chance to dream.

We want to redefine the relationship that many girls and women have with sport and exercise. This should be about fun, and we have a right to fun at every time in our lives. Yes, we could be drawing joy from sport, even as teenagers when everywhere you look people are commenting on your appearance; and even in mid-life when that pressure cooker of responsibility means our own needs come last. We want the legacy of the pandemic to be a break down in negative gender stereotypes and the emergence of a new normal in which all women and girls can experience the joy, fulfilment, and lifelong benefits of sport."

Stephanie joined Women in Sport in October 2019 from The Wildlife Trusts, after working in nature conservation for over 20 years. Stephanie understands the impact that an active lifestyle can have on wellbeing and long-term health, and believes strongly in the power of sport to empower women. During her career she has been instrumental in changing opinions and behaviour and as CEO of Women in Sport is leading the charity in its mission to give every woman and girl the opportunity to take part in sport and inspire her to do so. You can find her on twitter here @stephhilborne

EDIT: Stephanie will be coming back onto the thread at 11am on Thursday 17th June to answer your questions.

OP’s posts: |
Sometimesfraught82 Wed 09-Jun-21 17:52:49

I’m afraid the Op is far far too long for my small brain

Chrysanthemum5 Wed 09-Jun-21 17:53:14

Stephanie - this all sounds good, I think you've researched this thoroughly and I wish you every success with it. I know from my own experience, and from having a daughter and nieces that girls often get sidelined in sports, or find it hard to maintain motivation when boys' sport gets more time and money.

Can I ask what are your thoughts on transgender women and girls in sport? Should they be allowed to compete against women and girls?

Sometimesfraught82 Wed 09-Jun-21 17:53:30

I would urge you to make it much more succinct to really get attention

ArseInTheCoOpWindow Wed 09-Jun-21 18:05:34

But l hate sport. All of it. Listening to it, having it on tv, and doing it. I loathe everything about it....

Londonmummy66 Wed 09-Jun-21 18:06:08

The only way you'll get the vast majority of women to think kindly on sport is to sack most of the PE teachers and start again with nicer ones.

Sometimesfraught82 Wed 09-Jun-21 18:06:51

I love sport
And when I finally waded through the OP, much of it didn’t resonate or tally with my experience as a woman

Advertisement

LateAtTate Wed 09-Jun-21 18:18:50

What’s with the obsession with fast paced, team based sports (hockey, football, basketball)? Only people of a certain personality (men and women )play this. More men in it not because they luuuurve it but because of fathers’ obsessions with seeing their sons play.

What about pole dance, table tennis, badminton..? What about individual sports?

I hated sports because teamwork sucked. Now discovered pole dance and it’s amazing. I’m also probably more fit than 99% of casual football players

LateAtTate Wed 09-Jun-21 18:20:46

Also not to mention martial arts!

murbblurb Wed 09-Jun-21 18:36:56

I also see only the organised bullying that is 'team' games. Who cares if football is on telly, it is just as boring regardless of the genitalia of the players. And spectator sport doesn't count anyway.

More non team games, things that don't involve running about or throwing balls.

Mwnci123 Wed 09-Jun-21 18:58:16

Interesting post, thank you. How do you envisage promoting sport/ exercise for women and girls, given the many barriers and problems you've highlighted?

I'm glad you mentioned the limited sporting opportunities at school. I missed team sports a lot when I moved up to secondary school, having had a really keen PE teacher in primary but next to nothing after that. I often wonder whether my eating and body image problems in adolescence would have been ameliorated by more sport.

Aroundtheworldin80moves Wed 09-Jun-21 19:05:47

I'm quite impressed with cricket this summer... The Hundred tournament... Men's and woman's games aged on same day, same pitch, ticket covers both. My DDs are looking forward to seeing a Woman's game this summer (and for children the women's afternoon game is at a better time than the men's evening game!)

lottiegarbanzo Wed 09-Jun-21 20:40:00

Hello Stephanie,

You're from an organisation called Women in Sport; you've defined sport for us, could you define 'woman' please?

Could you then go on to say a little bit about the implications of your, and other, definitions of that word, for the prospects of girls and women in sport, at all levels?

Thank you.

lottiegarbanzo Wed 09-Jun-21 21:15:50

What I get from your article, is that the girls and women you surveyed about lockdown, said they valued exercise and fitness, citing walking as an example of an activity they'd enjoyed. They saw exercise as a social activity; with their friends, their mothers or daughters. Girls were less badly affected by lockdown than boys, because they're not so rigidly invested in team sports but take a more informal, flexible, adaptable approach to exercise.

You say that girls should do more team sport, to equip them for the workplace, then highlight the stark inequalities between male and female top-level team sports.

I would like to suggest that, rather than women trying to become more like men, in order to fit into workplaces, employment and career structures that are still designed primarily to suit men; those workplaces and the professional bodies that define career structures, could learn a thing or two from the more informal, social, flexible and adaptable approach to fitness and exercise, modelled during lockdown by women and girls.

Who was more resilient, in terms of maintaining their fitness? More enterprising, in seizing the opportunities offered by lockdown, to develop new ways to be fit and healthy? More inventive, in squeezing something of value into less promising pockets of time? Women and girls.

Surely it is the world of work that needs to learn and benefit from the skills, enterprise and resilience of women?

Attictroll Wed 09-Jun-21 21:24:31

lottiegarbanzo

What I get from your article, is that the girls and women you surveyed about lockdown, said they valued exercise and fitness, citing walking as an example of an activity they'd enjoyed. They saw exercise as a social activity; with their friends, their mothers or daughters. Girls were less badly affected by lockdown than boys, because they're not so rigidly invested in team sports but take a more informal, flexible, adaptable approach to exercise.

You say that girls should do more team sport, to equip them for the workplace, then highlight the stark inequalities between male and female top-level team sports.

I would like to suggest that, rather than women trying to become more like men, in order to fit into workplaces, employment and career structures that are still designed primarily to suit men; those workplaces and the professional bodies that define career structures, could learn a thing or two from the more informal, social, flexible and adaptable approach to fitness and exercise, modelled during lockdown by women and girls.

Who was more resilient, in terms of maintaining their fitness? More enterprising, in seizing the opportunities offered by lockdown, to develop new ways to be fit and healthy? More inventive, in squeezing something of value into less promising pockets of time? Women and girls.

Surely it is the world of work that needs to learn and benefit from the skills, enterprise and resilience of women?


This
Once I waded through the un inspiring post and remembered how much I hated, doing, watching or hearing about sport I got frustrated at how sport is promoted to make us more like men. I hate the way sport dominates tv in a way female interest aren't! I exercise frequently, I have tried many sports and cheer my son on but have not found one I like!

Wearywithteens Wed 09-Jun-21 21:51:03

PE (ie. competitive sport) was the bane of my school life and made me utterly miserable (despite being an active outdoorsy little girl). It blighted my life because I didn’t comprehend the need to competitively chase a stupid ball.

When I was given a choice to do dance as a PE option in my very last year, I realised what a complete waste those years had been for all the non-competitive kids, fat kids, weak kids etc and how we’d been cruelly robbed of the opportunity for exercise and fun. I would rather have walked for an hour than be forced to play netball with red-mist-eyed teammates.

I applaud your initiative but you must first recognise the need for activity that chimes with many young girls, not the naturally ‘sporty’ ones. And you’ll have to address, sooner or later, for your own credibility, the pernicious erosion of female sport on the gender identity arena.

Grellbunt Wed 09-Jun-21 22:49:24

I hated sports because the PE teachers never actually taught us the rules. Just chucked us onto the netball or hockey pitch and told us to start playing! I hadn't a clue how and found it embarrassing and very stressful to then be shouted at for doing things wrong. So make sure that has changed.

Also, make sure all girls who need them have access to sports bras. It's not healthy to run with boobs bouncing around but again no PE teacher cared a jot.

Grellbunt Wed 09-Jun-21 22:51:24

I now do martial arts kickboxing type stuff. That and dance - taught properly of course - would have immeasurably improved my teenage years. Team sports are not for everyone.

ChateauMargaux Wed 09-Jun-21 22:53:59

Do you think that having male bodied women in female sport will affect how natal women and girls feel about participation?

CookieMonsterMunch Wed 09-Jun-21 22:56:38

The British gymnastics abuse scandal would suggest that sport for girls needs a lot more attention to ensure it’s a safe and empowering space. At the moment there’s not even an independent ombudsman to take complaints to and ensure that abusers are removed from a sport. I think you should be working to ensure sport is safe for children first.

Grellbunt Wed 09-Jun-21 23:00:06

Please campaign for girls' school uniforms to involve shorts rather than compulsory skirts to permit more ease of movement without issues surrounding the visibility of undergarments.

ChateauMargaux Wed 09-Jun-21 23:02:36

How do you feel about the gender pay gap in sport? Is one man really worth 1,693 women??

"Neymar will earn £32.9m from PSG for the 2017-18 season purely for his playing contract, without taking into account millions more he receives in commercial deals.

His salary is almost exactly the same as 1,693 female players in France, Germany, England, the US, Sweden, Australia and Mexico combined"

www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/football/2017/nov/26/football-gender-pay-gap-worse-than-in-politics-medicine-and-space

ChateauMargaux Wed 09-Jun-21 23:03:47

These were not just any female players but the top female players from these countries.

ludothedog Wed 09-Jun-21 23:13:50

I agree that part of the problem is getting women and girls to take part in sport like men and boys do. I hated team sports and competitiveness and so does my daughter. She loves to dance however and so do I. Sport and excersise need to be about fun rather than a sweaty unpleasant chore.

Also, I'm knackered. I work full time and am on my own with DD. I have no energy at the end of the day for sports and weekends.

Grellbunt Wed 09-Jun-21 23:20:21

CookieMonsterMunch

The British gymnastics abuse scandal would suggest that sport for girls needs a lot more attention to ensure it’s a safe and empowering space. At the moment there’s not even an independent ombudsman to take complaints to and ensure that abusers are removed from a sport. I think you should be working to ensure sport is safe for children first.

Very important point. Well said .

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in