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Being a good egg
Or at least not a rotten one shouldn't be too much to ask.
Last week, James Haskell said some rubbish things to the lovely Simi Pam after she politely tried to remind people that women exist. You might not know who James is because honestly in Aotearoa, why would you? But picture a guy at the clubrooms who is chanting “Saturday is for the boys!” in his chinos splattered with beer. That’s the vibe.
He has since… apologised? Sort of but then quickly backtracked with an interview where he rails against “toxic femininity” in true DARVO fashion.
But whatever, this to my mind raises something I am sure we are going to see more frequently over the next few years as women’s rugby and women’s sports in general, steps more fully into her power.
Media platforms are having to pivot quickly to capitalise on the growing audience for women’s sport. However, having not invested in this space, they are casting the net wide for commentators and pundits. A common move to “legitimise” coverage is to bring a prominent men’s personality into the women’s space. And that’s where we will likely find ourselves set up for disappointment.
The whole “women are quite good actually” revelation is just so incredibly patronising. Can we please stop setting up current and former players to do it. It's like calling someone articulate, which just betrays your prejudices and the fact that you actually didn’t expect them to possess any talent at all.
I’m not for one second suggesting that men can’t be allies and or fans of the women’s game but if the first time a rugby bloke mentions women is in a paid gig, you’ve probably picked the wrong one. There are many of us, for which telling women’s stories is an immense privilege and the ultimate goal of our careers. So I don’t need airtime given to anyone who thinks they are doing us a favour just by being there.
I’ve seen conversations in the wake of this asking how to be a good ally? And in response some women seek to lay out the blueprint. Spoiler alert team, there is no checklist you can tick off on your way to securing your gold plated ally status. In fact, you shouldn’t seek to self identify as an ally, that’s a gift only the group you are looking to support can give you. By giving yourself the title, you’ve broken rule one: you’ve centred yourself in the conversation.
The only advice I can give you is on how to be a good egg and not cause unnecessary harm. I try to do with varying rates of success. So strap in and prepare yourself for some discomfort because that’s where the learning begins.
Firstly, recognise the privilege it is for you to opt in to conversation. That you can walk around in life and never have to think about the types of challenges this group faces is lucky. That you can have been oblivious to their experience speaks to how the world has been set up for your success and not theirs. You are the main character by design not your innate talent.
Next, recognise the privilege it is to be educated. The main reason the women’s rugby community took offence, was that Simi Pam didn’t call anyone out, she called them in. She gave them a gift which said “I think you are worth the time to educate. I think you were clumsy in your actions but I think you have the potential to do better.”. So for that gift to be thrown back in her face, that’s the insult.
It’s embarrassing when you get things wrong. I know, I’ve done it. My brain usually likes to remind me of the greatest hits of these mistakes just before I go to bed. Privilege is so insidious because it is invisible to those that possess it. And so it’s a constant active practice to hold sight of those experiences on our periphery, of the structures and stereotypes we are perpetuating.
The true test is generally not in the support the we offer but in our reaction when we make mistakes. It’s easy to learn the team chant and become a cheerleader but it can be harder to own our flaws. Particularly if our shortcomings have caused harm to someone or something we care about. When I stumbled recently, I had to remind myself to sit in the discomfort and not look for ways to offload. What I eventually realised is for me, it was actually a feeling of disappointment in myself that I wasn’t yet entirely safe for my friend. That ideas I thought I had rooted out were still there limiting my thinking.
So if you want to be someone people can rely on, humble yourself. Open yourself up to the lessons life and others can offer and then pass that knowledge on to people like you. Centre yourself only as an enthusiastic student and follow that curiosity. Always ask why things are the way they are and ask yourself whose voice you’re not hearing. Seek those voices out, listen and amplify them to others. Just like prejudice, your support may not be visible to all but it only needs to be felt by those that experience it.
Lastly, to my women’s rugby sisters, in particular, those like me. The best way for us to teach others how to support us is to live our example. The reality is for me, a university educated, white, cis woman who lives in a liberal city, sport is one of the few places I face overt sexism. I could stop playing rugby next season and likely stop experiencing the worst of that prejudice. I have the luxury to opt out.
That is not the case for some of our team mates, they shoulder an intersectionality of bullshit. Many of the issues laid out in the Black Ferns Culture and Environment review were players' experiences of racism. There is an incoming policy review on trans athletes participation. We have to be willing to stand beside our team mates in the same way we want our men to stand beside us. We need to humble ourselves and learn more, then educate each other. We need to be good eggs.