Blergh. The headline "Equalities Minister criticised for suggesting women take up ‘feminine’ sports" sounds preeeeeetty bad. Like, really awfully bad. Like, 1971-bad. Women face enough discrimination in sports as it is without emphasizing absurd gendered dichotomies that activists have just finally begun to unravel. Just DON'T. BAD.
On the upside, UK Minister for Sport and Equalities Helen Grant didn't say that women should stick to exclusively "feminine" sports like ballet and cheerleading; she just said that those options should be available to women and girls who are interested in them. Which is, on its face, a fairly reasonable suggestion—a suggestion rooted in personal agency and choice. What isn't reasonable, however, is to imply that certain sports are more "girly" than others, that girls would logically find those sports more attractive, and couching the whole thing in terms like "gymnastics and ballet would leave women looking 'absolutely radiant.'" That's pretty much as anti-helpful as it gets. I played sports for the majority of my life, and "looking radiant" was never the end goal (unless by "radiant" she means "ULTIMATE STEAMING LOBSTER-WOMAN").
"We really need to take a step back and actually ask women what they want and give it to them," she said. "That can be whether it's a Zumba class or a game of Rounders after they've dropped the kids off.
"That's the approach we need to take – what works for them."
"It's having a good spread on offer," the minister said. "For example some girls may well not like doing very traditional hockey, tennis or athletics, others might, so for those who don't want to, how about considering maybe gym, ballet, cheerleading?
"It's not just schools, it's clubs, it's being innovative. Actually looking at our women and our girls and asking, what do they want?"
"You don't have to feel unfeminine," Mrs Grant stressed. "There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating."
I'm happy to believe that Grant (herself a former judo champion) didn't mean any harm here and probably thought she was being helpful and egalitarian. But gender essentialism like this is more common than not and it's important that blunders continue to be called out as such.
Grant responded to her critics on Twitter.
Yes, that point is fine. Thank you. It's important for women and men to be able to pursue whatever physical activities make them happy—whether those fit some arbitrary gender expectations or not.
Image via Andresr/Shutterstock.