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Why we need to change the meaning of the phrase, "For a girl."

Being good at something ‘for a girl’ is equal to that of a man.

Do you remember the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? Something that validated you, and built your confidence? Something like, “You are exceptionally talented. You might be the fastest player I’ve ever seen, with so much potential …”

What is yours? Keep it in your mind. Now add this to it – “For a girl.”

This is one of the most patronising and degrading qualifiers. It deflates and negates whatever precedes it. And yet this is what we hear.

Sport is an integral part of Australian culture. But within our attitudes, there is a stigma for female athletes. Media coverage and focus differs greatly between women’s and men’s sports, and gender comes into play more often than seems necessary.

‘Like a girl’ shouldn’t be an insult.

If you Google ‘female athletes’ one suggestion that appears near the top is ‘wardrobe malfunctions’. This is not where the focus should lie. Athleticism and skill make no such appearance.

If you click on images, an entire search section is committed to showing you the ‘ass-es’ of elite females in sport. Never mind that these women are showcasing the incredible capabilities of the human body, let’s see what they look like from behind.

Related content: Is this the powerful sporting ad Australia needs?

There are women who exceed all expectations in sport. There are women that, even when compared to men, are setting records previously unset. Ellyse Perry is a prime example of the differences between male and female athletic attitude. As one of the most amazing and versatile sports people to emerge from a new generation, Perry has shown unmatched talent in an elite level for two Australian sports. And yet, in attempting to find sponsorship, she has struggled.

Ellyse Perry is unmatched as a sports person.

I have played hockey since I was 14. I was quickly realised as a young talent in the sport, receiving awards for Junior Player of the Year, Best and Fairest (in both junior and senior competitions) and was consistently named as a representative for statewide competitions. I was met with congratulations of course, and recognition for my skills. I was also met with hostility and advice that was definitely not offered to my male counterparts.

“Be careful not to get too muscular.”

“How will you get a boyfriend if you play sport?”

“Why are you training with the boys?”

These are just a sample of the inconceivably inappropriate things I was told and asked. Some were innocent questions from mothers of other girls. Some were coaches’ advice to me. These are the things we are telling young women that excel at something sporty.

Related content: The three word phrase we all need to stop telling our girls.

I attribute a lot of the things I learnt to training among males, as it gave me skills other young girls didn’t possess. I was given the opportunity to be strong and fierce, quick and selfish, and tough. I would not have been given these things among other female teams, particularly as a teenager. Because they are not feminine traits.

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As an adult though it is easier to transcend these norms, women who play sport are still exposed to stereotyping and bias. We are playing a game that we can only lose. Should a female showcase traits in sport that are typically regarded as feminine, they become sexualized and gain focus only for their appearance. Should one embrace traits usually associated with masculinity, they are denounced as ‘destroying femininity’ and disregarding their gender.

Women’s sport is always getting overly sexualised.

In 2012, it was contended by a Turkish columnist that the Olympics was ‘destroying womanhood’. While this was passionately objected to by many, it is built on a base opinion that still exists. It is based on the assumption that women must be archetypally feminine.

Related content: A girl who acts like a girl.

I would ask how easy (or necessary) it is to look ‘pretty’ or ‘dainty’, or any other outrageously inaccessible stereotype, while hurtling through the air, or running at exceptional speed or lifting something heavier than yourself.

Think of the meanest thing anyone has ever said to you. Something that completely stripped you of power and confidence. Something that recognised you only in regards to your limits.

Something like, “You are exceptionally talented. You might be the fastest player I’ve ever seen, you have so much potential …for a girl.”

This post was originally published on Medium, we have full permission from the writer to republish it here.

And in other sporting news this week…

 – Meg Lanning has won a major cricketing award – the Wisden award. The Southern Stars skipper was acknowledged as the inaugral Leading Woman Cricketer in the world. Lanning is the captain of the Southern Stars cricket team and was given the award by the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack. The award has been around for 151 years yet 2015 is the first year that there’s been a designated woman’s award given by the English cricket magazine. Well done to Meg.

 – In sadder news, the Matilda’s midfielder Collette McCallum has announced that she’ll be retiring from her soccer career. This will end her dream to play in a third consecutive FIFA Women’s World Cup. She played her last match against Scotland on Friday. She has just turned 29 and everyone is sad to see her go. Best of luck for the future.

 – Sarah Spacie, from a small QLD town called Gympie will be competing in the FIT Touch World Cup for 2015 as part of the Australian Women’s Open Team. It will be her seventh year competing for Australia and her second year at a World Cup. But this year is extra special because the competition will be held in Coffs Harbour – close to home. The Cup runs from late April until early May.

What sport have you been watching or playing this week?

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