Earlier this week 7AFL took down a post of AFLW Tayla Harris which featured a photograph of her completing a spectacular football* kick. The member of the Australian women’s football league received high praise but then the trolls arrived and it all went down hill from there.
Here’s the photo:
The AFLW was criticized for not responding more quickly to requests for moderation of the negative, crude posts. The organization’s Facebook page faced more criticism for removing the photo. Kaysey Symons writing for The Guardian said:
“While the messaging from the AFL’s official broadcast partner was somewhat admirable in that they acknowledged the harmful nature of the comments, their course of action to erase it, in effect, was even more damaging. Deleting the image, and Harris, from a digital discourse does not silence the haters and the trolls. It silences her. It silences the athletes. It silences everyone whose identity was vilified in those comments.”
Followers of the group responded to the photo’s removal by inserting it in subsequent posts regardless of the content. Finally, the administrators reposted the photo.
Perhaps we should be grateful the AFLW made this misstep because it has become an opportunity to look at the imagery we see of women excelling in sport.
We’ve all seen the fitspo posters in gyms featuring women in skimpy clothing posed provocatively. And when we do see it in media — newspapers, television, and social — it’s almost impossible to see the physicality of women in sport without people imposing a filter with sexual overtones.
The fact is, this is not the first time we’ve seen photos of women in sports which do not meet social expectations for docility and gentility. Nor is it the first time they have been critiqued.
Kaetlyn Osmond, Olympic figure skater faced controversy in 2013 when the Globe and Mail published a photograph on its front page which many readers felt was too revealing and inappropriate.
The Globe and Mail’s public editor Sylvia Stead weighed in on the controversy saying the photo should not have been used. Stead said: The readers and I both thought the photo could be embarrassing to anyone, although Kaetlyn, who is a good sport and a great skater, responded on Twitter that she was happy to be on the front page and said “I really like that picture.”
Stead went on to say that readers “want photos to show our athletes in the best possible light and not to (potentially) embarrass them. And while the news imperative is to show action photos of athletes, there were many other photos of Kaetlyn (such as the one included with this blog post) and the other victorious Canadian skaters that could have shown their strength and grace.”
But let’s go all the way back to the end of the 20th century when the web was still new and burgeoning with potential and concepts like virality and doxing were unknown but flaming on news groups and listservs was still a thing.
Back in 1999, US soccer player Brandi Chastain was captured in celebratory glee taking off her shirt after making the penalty kick which won the team the Women’s World Cup gold medal game. The horror: a woman’s bra was shown on a sports field!
In a BBC story, Chastain recalls the moment: “I whipped off that shirt and I kind of whipped it around in the air over my head and dropped to my knees as a ‘Yes!’ moment that we had done what we set out to do. I had no idea that would be my reaction – it was truly genuine and it was insane and it was a relief and it was joy and it was gratitude all wrapped into one.”
While many male athletes are presented taking off their jerseys, Chastain’s action was seen as abnormal. However, she said “There’s something primal about sport that doesn’t exist anywhere else – when you have a moment like scoring a winning goal in the World Cup championship, you are allowed to release this feeling, this emotion, this response that is not elicited anywhere else.”
I like seeing pictures of women doing their sport well. When I was growing up, the only women we saw sportsing were usually figure skaters or tennis players. Let’s focus on the fact that women are excelling in sport and they are doing physical things which are not in themselves sexual. And if the trolls can’t handle that, then administrators need to step up and moderate comments or not allow them if the result is going to be bigotry and sexism.
*Thanks to one of our commenters below, I have learned that Australian football is not like soccer. It is a high contact sport that shares many similarities with Gaelic football, which is also not like European football/soccer.
— MarthaFitAt55 lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.