Sean McPartlin Blog - It's Different For Girls
Sean McPartlin - Cricket Scotland Blogger Sean McPartlin's latest blog praises the endeavors and efforts of Scotland women's team, the Wildcats.
I think for a male blogger to write about female sport requires an attitude somewhere between bravery and foolishness. At the end of each tentatively written paragraph there lies, waiting in the darkness, a shadowy figure equipped with a big club on which is written either ‘patronising’ or ‘ignorant’.
The time has come to be brave, or foolish, and write a few words in praise of the women cricketers of the Scottish Wildcats.
As a depute headteacher in High School for many years, my remit was support for pupils. Within that area, two topics particularly exercised me. One was the promotion of sport and wellbeing in cooperation with the PE Department, and the other was gender equality – especially in terms of opportunities for girls and raising boys’ academic attainment. As I’m sport daft and a supporter of fairplay and justice, these were natural areas of interest, and where they collided, as in girls’ participation in PE, my aims and efforts were re-doubled.
For boys, a lack of interest in sport can be a disadvantage at school, and may lead to bullying – another situation which needs awareness and careful handling. However, for girls, the whole sport thing can be much more complicated than the testosterone-charged locking of horns in which adolescent boys indulge.
Before I became involved in promoting PE in school, I suppose I assumed that the line of girls who had ‘forgotten their kit’ were simply not interested in sport and games – a common misconception. However, the day I got a group of girls together in class and asked them the reasons for their non-participation my eyes were opened.
The majority of them liked sport – or at least understood the benefits of exercise. The reason for their non-participation was context. They suggested that, while the talented sportswomen amongst them could stand up to the boys in the class – particularly when more skillful than them, those who felt they had less ability thought they were often ridiculed or ignored by the ‘alpha males’. Some felt the agenda and atmosphere was irredeemably ‘male’ and made them uncomfortable. Nearly all had concerns about body image, how they felt they were expected to look, and the idea, for both genders, of needing to ‘be cool’. They conceded that there were boys who had these problems too, but suggested ‘guys just get on with it’; the girls, they thought, were more reflective and hesitant.
None of these hindrances were the girls’ fault, and as a school we had to take action. We listened to the girls and tried to meet their needs. We consulted on sportswear, made sure changing areas provided privacy, and were clean and well equipped, including effective hairdryers – for both genders, and looked at the provision overall. We widened the sports on offer and extended choices, leading to the availability of more single sex groups and traditionally ‘female sports’; Girls’ fitness routines were introduced, zumba made an appearance, and women’s football was established. Sportswomen ‘Champions for Sport’ were invited in to school to work with pupils and to provide role models to offset the mainstream media bias; we introduced ‘Dance’, again for both sexes, up to Higher examination level, and provided school dance hoodies and sports gear to raise the subject’s profile. Girls were encouraged to choose Sports Leadership courses in senior school and participate in coaching at our primary schools. Cooperation with local gyms and fitness centres gave girls another entry route to sport and activities, and school publications promoted the successes of the girls’ sports teams on a regular basis. It was a long, focused and committed campaign, based on school and PE department’s hard working determination to remove as many barriers as possible.
I know, therefore, from that experience, how difficult it can be sometimes for girls to commit to, and succeed, in sport – and especially a sport, like cricket, which is traditionally seen as male. I recognize, too, that this is not the case for all girls. Some – through encouragement at school, club level, or through family tradition – will see sport as a natural part of their lives – but not all are so lucky.
Thankfully, women’s sport in general is starting to receive more attention and respect, and the women’s game is being rightfully, if belatedly, treated as part of mainstream cricket, but there are still attitudes out there best described as neanderthal.
So, when I hear of Wildcats travelling the length of the country to train in the dark of winter, and I recognize the struggle to balance study, work, and cricket commitments; when I note the lack of mainstream media recognition for their efforts, and the comparative lack of publicity and resources, I take great pride in the individual and collective efforts they make to represent their country, and to promote cricket for women in Scotland. The men make many sacrifices too, but the women are starting from a different position, and often face indifference, or even hostility.
Most of all, when I see their teamwork, their joy in playing, and their commitment to being the best they can be, all without access to glory or fame,, I remember why I fell in love with cricket.
Have a great year, Wildcats!