If you haven’t seen Sport England’s campaign, This Girl Can, where have you been?! Now almost a week old, it is the comments on YouTube and national newspaper editorial that has been more revealing than anything else…
Since we launched Fitbitch over five years ago, we have been championing women in sport, encouraging those who have come to us to get fit and to lose weight to focus on a goal, whether a 5km Parkrun, a triathlon, obstacle race or even a marathon.
Niney-five percent of those who start with us say; ‘Oh, I’m not one of those sporty women,’ or ‘I’ve always been rubbish at sport,’ I can’t run/bike,’ and variations on that theme. An equal number admit that one of the major draws of Fitbitch is the fact that it means they can exercise in the morning when no one can see them because they feel so self conscious.
Of course, this is not every woman’s experience. Me? I’ve never had a problem with playing sport, even going up against the opposite sex. Sweat, jiggle, grimace? I don’t care because I’m so used to playing sport it is as natural a part of my make-up as playing football is for many men.
But I am in a minority. And hopefully not for long.
Over two thirds of the women who start with us have gone on to ‘compete’ (sharp intake of breath, can we say that women like to compete?!) in a huge range of events and loved it.
So, we salute Sport England’s campaign for hopefully encouraging lots of more women to do the same. With their campaign, they have tapped into how most women in the UK feel when it comes to sport and exercise in general. To show them that women of all shapes and sizes can play sport and enjoy it, is inspiring. And sport truly does have the incredible ability to empower.
Yet, the extent to which there is a disconnect between this reality for women and men has been highlighted in the comments on the Youtube video right through to national newspaper editorial.
Two days ago, The Times columnist Kevin Maher had this to say.
‘The genuine ideological crisis at the heart of this campaign is the suggestion that sport will offer you a gateway out of yourself and transform you wholly as a person. This is simply not true. Sport is good, I play sport. But I am still me when I play it.’
This is because playing sport is a given for men. From the school playground, right the way through to adulthood, playing sport is just another form of socialising, like going to the pub. For the majority of men, they are so used to the transformative effect of sport and exercise they no longer even register it.
But for so many women, who may have stopped exercising, let alone playing any form of sport when they were girls, the power of sport to transform how they feel about their body, confidence, and self worth is huge.
Sport and exercise is truly liberating. And the fact that so many men can’t even understand the need for this campaign speaks volumes.