Kicking a footy with the boys has always been fun but a little intimidating. Firstly because I identify as extremely uncoordinated but also because I identify as a woman. And the guys I watched on the field and my television were always, well, guys.
Most Saturday nights in Winter I would be seated in front of the television with my dad and his friends and their boys and my mum, because she is the biggest footy fan of us all, and we’d watch the Adelaide Crows win (if it was the late ‘90s) and lose (if it was any other year).
It was my childhood but never my future. Because I could never see myself in the game. But now there is finally a photo changing all that. The photo is the one of Carlton’s AFLW star Tayla Harris kicking for a goal in last weekend’s game. It’s some sort of angular perfection but it’s brilliant because her right leg is so high. Higher than you see in the men’s game because Tayla Harris is flexible and plays to her strengths. I once did a lot of ballet, so it made me smile. I could do what she just did, very, very poorly.
We all know the old trope ‘you can’t be it, if you can’t see it’ is an old trope because it’s true. That’s why this photo is so important. But on Tuesday, young girls around the country were denied the opportunity to see Tayla Harris’ epic kick, to believe they could do it one day because it was taken down by the Seven Network.
The Seven Network removed the photo from its social media feeds because it had been bombarded with vile and misogynistic comments, some inciting sexual violence. However, the decision to delete the image was criticised by sports stars across the country, from AFLW player Darcy Vescio to Olympic cyclist Anna Meares. The resounding reaction was they were bowing down to trolls. So much so, Seven put the photo back up and apologised.
Main Image Credit: Getty/Michael Wilson
As she sat in the media storm this morning, Tayla Harris felt “empowered” and a little “warm inside”, after the AFL community backed her following the backlash. She also posted the photo again with the caption: “Here’s a pic of me at work…. Think about this before your derogatory comments, animals.” Boom.
“A lot of people [have] got on board including Patrick Dangerfield and other high-profile people [who] posted the photo and said ‘let’s share this rather than deleting it and letting them win essentially’,” she told RSN Radio.
“I kind of saw that and felt a bit warm inside, it felt great. Obviously the AFL community got around me and that was awesome, but it isn’t about me now, it’s about a way bigger picture.”
And she’s right. This picture is not just important in inspiring and encouraging young girls into the game. This picture is important because it’s finally made the nation and the game itself realise the attacks women face are real, and gendered, and far harsher than attacks against men. Trolling is, on the whole, gendered. Women do face more vile, derogatory comments which often incite sexual violence. This isn’t usually the case for men.
This picture has made the country wake up because women don’t just play the game differently. They have to deal with fame and recognition differently. Good men and women are speaking up to protect female athletes who should be celebrated instead of vilified when they kick a goal. The ball is now in the court of the powers that be – from the media to the game itself – to do their part. Because these female athletes, who are finding their feet on the public stage as well as the field, sadly require extra levels of protection to go to work. And the answer isn’t in pressing delete.
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