Are Women ‘accessories’ to men’s sport?

According to Melbourne ABC talkback host Jon
Faine
we’re finishing the AFL season where
we started with an emphasis on treating women as sex objects.

This is Grand Final week in Melbourne. The week of weeks for the season in
the home of the AFL. The city goes mad. It’s called Finals Fever.

The week traditionally kicks off with a gala event – the Brownlow
Medal
presentation. The core function of this night is to count the votes
for each player for each round of the home and away matches until all the votes
have been tallied and a winer chosen. In itself a fairly ho-hum affair for all
but the most ardent footy supporter. I can remember eagerly listening to the
round by round count on the wireless as a ten year old – hoping one of my favourite
players from my team would win. I think I only did it once back in those days.

However, over the years, the night has turned into much more than that. For
those that get to attend, it is the fashion night of the year with the red carpet
rolled out for the guests, with most attention on the players and their partners.
This year they even erected a grandstand alongside the red carpet for the crowds
that just want to catch a glimpse of these "celebraties" arriving.

For the girlfriends, wives, mothers and daughters – for most of the year,
the game’s forgotten people – it is a chance to share in the glamour
of it all. The fashion has become as important as the award. The fashion writers
judged Rebecca
Twigley’s
"backless and almost frontless dress" the "Brownlow
of fashion".

Faine, by all accounts a serious and thoughtfull journalist, took up the issue
as his opening piece the following morning declaring the event a "skin
fest" and sending the wrong message about the how AFL players view women.
It’s a well used phrase, he said, that the players’ partners are referred to
as their "handbags" – serving no useful purpose than to look pretty.
The player with the most glamorous partner wearing the most daring outfit gets
the most attention. Faine’s arrgument is that the women are there just to make
their men look good. The wrong message he says when the year started off with
several players being accused of sexual misconduct.

At first I agreed with him. I had watched the last part of the event on TV
and how the cameras had lingered on Twigley. I wondered if she really felt comfortable
in that dress or whether it was something she felt pressured to do. The first
few callers responding to Faine didn’t surprise me. A woman agreeing with most
of his analysis but questioning whether he was suggesting that women who wore
sexy outfits were responsible for unwanted sexual advances. A man suggesting
we were all being a bit precious.

Then a caller who surprised me. Faine’s colleague, Drive presenter
Virginia
Trioli
(also author of Generation
f: Sex, power, and the young feminist
). Trioli disagreed with Faine. She
noted that "no-one is dressing these women. They are dressing themselves.
These are beautiful strong women. There is a big difference between ‘sexy’ and
‘sexual’."

It made me think. In fact I thought about it all day. In the end, I think I
agree more with Trioli that with Faine. These women are all free to
dress as they like. The pressure to be daring is more likely to come from other
women than from their male partners. If I was a woman, I would like to wear
something stunning.

I’m sure many of the men who were there see this and think "woman = sex".
Particularly the younger, macho male players. But in one sense that’s their
problem. That’s for them to understand that women have the right to look sexy
without that being a free invitation for them to sexually abuse them.

It is our (men’s) problem. It’s up to us to deal with it. And deal with it
we must.

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