Guest Post · rugby · team sports

University + Sport = Excellence in Women (Guest Post)

by Marie Helene Laforest


In my experience at McGill University 3 things happened:

1- Women usually go to school for a good academic programme that will lead to a good job. And then they look at what sport they might play.

2- The lack of funding in women’s sports and the lack of professional jobs in women’s sports means that there are strong incentives to spend all one’s time in the classroom rather than training for any kind of sports.

3- Girls and guys have to fight the same battle. At McGill the men’s volleyball team was cut because there was a lack of funding, performance and general interest. Same battle, different circumstances.

What everyone needs to do, regardless of gender, is to stop whining and start acting. Period.

This is why after 4 years of whining I decided that it didn’t work and I should start acting.

Here is my solution: An award that will honour the social justice fights of my grand parents (both McGill alumni) and will help my rugby team.

Please donate. Merci beaucoup!!!

Marie-Helene Laforest received her BEd from McGill University, is now a PE Teacher, and played rugby for SABRFC and McGill.

Aikido · rugby

Cyclocross, Aikido, and other athletic bruises


I think my family doctor must have a note in my file about the violent, contact sports in my life. I often arrive there with bruises and I’m nervous about reassuring her that I’m not a victim of domestic violence. It’s the Aikido bruises that are the worst in this respect because they look like signs of resisting struggle, thumb and finger grip marks on my hands, wrists, and forearms. But she’s good at remembering how active I am and we often chat a bit about martial arts.

Indeed, I can identify which pin or which control caused with bruise.

Today's Aikido bruise

In Aikido there’s no kicking and even the striking is primarily a distraction. It goes like this: I strike. You put up your arms to block my strike and I say thank you for the gift of your wrist and elbow. I now have an elbow to lock and a wrist to which I can do very mean things.

Aikido strikes aren’t actually meant to hurt. They are really all shock and awe designed to take your attention away from your joints. There are lots of  locks and pins, and often they leave marks.

Lately there are new sporty bruises from riding my cyclocross bike. I’ve come off on the grass a few times but it’s the running mounts and dismounts that are the worst for bruises.

When I was playing soccer it was my shins that were pretty much permanently bruised, despite shin pads.

I think about bruises as part of my identity as an active person, involved in contact sports. See my post on aikido and non sexual physical intimacy. But certainly the contrast between bruises and the norms of ladylike behavior are part of what put some women off sports, especially those that involve contact. Clearly not me, since I list rugby and roller derby as the two sports I would have played if I’d discovered them earlier.

How about you? Do play a sport that involves lots of bruises? Love it, hate it, or just live with it? 


advertising · athletes · body image · charity · rugby

Naked rugby? I prefer prom dress rugby personally…


I hate it when women’s sports raise funds by selling naked calendars. Okay, “hate” is too strong. I’m annoyed. It makes me grumpy. There’s a photo of a cute dog accompanying this post because I didn’t want to include one from the calendar!

The calendars bug me a lot and it’s not that I’m a prude. Nor do I think they’re in bad taste, whatever that means. I get that sexy photo shoots can be fun and even that we can admire and appreciate athletes’ bodies while at the same time respecting them as athletes.

I’m not an anti sex, second wave feminist. Really, I’m not. *Insert foot stomp here.*

I’ve even bought a couple of these racy fundraising calendars in the past, not for sports teams but one for burn victims featuring semi naked fire fighters (of course) and the other was the best sex bloggers of 2012.

Since I don’t actually use paper calendars I don’t think I hung either of them up but I’m digressing.

I object though when sports teams do it because it seems they ought to have better options. I guess I can’t have my wish which is that athletics be one area of life where women’s performance counts for more than our appearance.

It’s especially problematic in sports that run up against traditional feminine norms, like rugby, because one suspects that the women are doing it in part to persuade the public that they can play their sport and be sexy too.

Prom dress rugby takes the clash between sport and femininity and has fun wth it. Read about why I like prom dress rugby more than lingerie football

I started to think about these issues thanks to Charlene Weaving, a Western kinesiology graduate student, now faculty member at St. FX University, who wrote her doctoral thesis about the sexualization of female athletes and about women athletes posing nude. I learned a lot serving on her thesis committee.

It’s not new news, this naked Canadian women’s rugby calendar. It’s a 2013 calendar after all and we’re more than halfway through the year. But the images from the calendar came up first in an image search for women’s rugby in Canada when I was looking for a photo to accompany my blog post on Canadian women’s rugby. That bothers me too.

Here’s a quote from Metro News writing about the calendars: “It’s a softer side to all the rucking and mauling.Members of Canada’s national women’s rugby team have bared all in a calendar aimed at promoting positive body images and raising a little cash ahead of the reintroduction of the sport into the Summer Olympics in 2016.”

And here’s more from another news story about the calendars:

“Every woman on this team works so hard at being physically fit and eating properly,” Barbara Mervin, a flanker on the squad and spearhead of the calendar initiative, said in a news release. “It is a reward to have these pictures taken so we can see our bodies in a beautiful light. ”The calendar features tasteful black and white photos. It follows a long-established trend in fundraising amongst teams from a variety of sports.In fact, this is the fourth time Canada’s rugby women have stripped down for a calendar. They did it for the first time in 2004.The team has tried traditional fundraising in the past, from selling chocolate bars and T-shirts to searching for sponsors, but found this the most effective.”

That’s what bothers me. That this is the most effective fundraiser.

And yes, men do this too. Since 2010, the male rowers of the University of Warwick Boat Crew have been producing a nude calendar to help raise funds for the club. You can read about it, and see lots of pictures from the calendar, on the website So So Gay. The willingness of straight men, particularly straight male athletes (and yes, not all of the athletes are straight but statistically speaking, most are) to pose nearly nude for other men is new and fascinating. They’re even giving a percentage of their earnings from the calendar to an anti bullying foundation. See Naked rowers battling homophobia.

But that men do this too doesn’t mean it’s okay. How about instead we fund men’s and women’s sports adequately and put nude calendars on the shelf with bake sales and chocolate bars?

And of course nude rugby calendars are a completely different thing than the nude rugby the sport! That started in Dunedin, New Zealand where I recently spent a sabbatical term at the University of Otago philosophy department. You can read more about the nude rugby tradition here. Sadly I didn’t get to watch a game when I was there.

football · Guest Post · rugby · soccer · team sports

In Praise of Physically Aggressive Sports (Guest Post)

I’ll play football today for the first time. One of the women on my soccer team recruited me to play football. Until Sam suggested I write this post, I had not given much thought to my playing “physically aggressive” sports. (She suggested it after I noted that I would love it if she would buy an “Aggressive by Nature, Rugby by Choice” t-shirt for me if she ever found it again on her rugby travels.) When I stopped to think about it, however, I realized that there were all sorts of positive, feminist reasons for my choices of sport. Here are six of them with some commentary that is specific to my own personal experience as a former rugby playing, current soccer and football playing woman.

1. I can be loud; indeed, I am encouraged to be loud.
‘Talking’ on the pitch is a necessity. I am a player who talks constantly on the field of play: who is open, if there is space, when to shoot, the whole vocabulary of positioning and players. I’m confident talking on the field in part because I live and work in a space where my voice is heard, and I would argue that the reverse is just as true.
2. Aggression — in the sense of asserting one’s will, channeling one’s passion, and pursuing one’s aims forcefully — is typically rewarded .
I am on a first name basis with the cliché “work hard, play hard.” I do not want my team sports to be a romp in the park. I have legs that are often bruised (that’s what pantsuits are for, right?) and my osteopath on speed dial. I’m inclined to believe that toughness is a virtue (and I do yoga as often as soccer and football in recognition of this fact about myself).

3. I can take up space.
This is a big one for me, pun intended. I stand a rockin’ 154 cms tall. (That’s almost 5’2” … sounds more impressive in centimetres). I am a physically strong lightweight. I am now accustomed to being one of the smallest, if not the smallest, on any given pitch, and it is now part of my athletic identity that I can take on players who are bigger than me. (Tell me that does not translate into the non-sporting side of my life!) Also, since I might as well be truthful, I like the seeming contradictions of my size and choice of sports. People are genuinely shocked when I reveal I played rugby … unless they know the game, and therefore understand that the position of hooker (typically the smallest player on the field) is rather central to the whole business.

4. I am expected to hold my own and, often, to push back, as a normal part of the game.
I play Masters (+35) recreational soccer and touch football, so contact is not part of either game. But, both sports are physically aggressive, and there is a certain amount of “going toe to toe” in each of them. I like this. I like chasing down opposing players, and I like using my body to defend the ball. I’ve been known to chase down balls that were otherwise lost to possession, just to see if my speed could get me there (although I would never do this if it meant that my team would be compromised in some way). On corner kicks, I am the forward who stands in front of the keeper and does not move. My job is to prevent her from seeing the ball. It is legal for me to be in this position, and she has the option to push me away; I have the ability to get back into a similar position and continue to frustrate her.

5. Failure is an integral part of the game, therefore every game improves my resiliency and ability to bounce back from failures, the big and the small.
You’ll hear my team say “unlucky” frequently. I miss shots. Sometimes the net is wide open and I miss the shot. I flub passes. Sometimes the keeper makes a great save. Sometimes I can’t make the catch. Sometimes I get chased down. Sometimes I juggle the ball in the air and it gets intercepted. And sometimes I score. It’s the same for all of us. We aim for progress, not perfection. Note the active voice: it is a continual process of doing, and doing again, doing, and doing better.

6. I love my girlfriends.
My team sports are filled with other fantastic women who have also made a commitment to their own self-care through exercise and play. They are my role models, confidantes, and teammates. We all get joy from playing. Even if I am running hard for the whole game, getting knocked about, ending up bruised, I still look at the time I spend as self-care just as much as my meditative practice. In fact, when we used to play indoor soccer on Sundays, we’d joke that we went to “Church of Five a Side.” It’s some good therapy, sports.

So, I’ve got my gloves (Youth Medium!), cleats, and jersey ready to go for this afternoon. I’m about as excited as my almost-seven year old is for back to school. I’ll be learning as I go.

Jessica Schagerl is Fit, Feminist, and … well, almost Forty. But what’s a decade among friends? In a week, she’ll also be blogging about the Dirty Girl Run in Buffalo.

rugby · team sports

Canadian women’s rugby


Photo from the blog anthropological fragments

As you know from past posts, I love rugby. My son plays for a local club and this summer and last for the Ontario Junior Blues. You can read about that here: On being a sports parent.

Rugby is the sport I would have played and maybe even been good at if I’d discovered my athletic self earlier in life and if rugby for girls had been an option. Read more about that here: Indoor Soccer, Team Sports, and Childhood Regrets.

And you can also read about why I prefer prom dress rugby to lingerie football, Prom dress rugby and lingerie football: what’s the difference?

So when I got an email asking me to share this promotional video for Canadian women’s rugby, I thought, yes, sure, I’ll post it to the blog.

Here it is. Enjoy!