Wen you laugh togetha

From Elizabeth Humphrys and Jackie Lynch. This article initially appeared on Overland Journal.  

Even the AFLW (Women’s Australian Football League) has happened and we could not be happier about it if that pleasure can be expressed in joyous weeping. There’s something quaint and precious about this beginning — the big grins on the players’ faces as they run out, the excitement of the lovers, along with also the homegrown, back-to-basics, good-old-days sensation of walking into a suburban footy ground to stand on the terraces and observe the match. It’s not just the women players’ presence. In the opening season we’ve observed female subject umpires officiating matches, commentators, and been introduced to a lot of girls sports reporters and watched Bec Goddard coaching Adelaide. Media coverage has also concentrated on women involved with AFL administration, a lot of whom have pursued the contest of a women away from the spotlight for several years. The AFLW has attracted thousands of supporters, and corporate sponsorship and TV rights prices are in evolution.

The joy has also come around the mainstream media from the women’s league’s impact. So frequently stories about girls in the media are concentrated on these as victims, or as objects of desire (or even undesirability, as the case may be). Women have campaigned for changes to the manner in which violence against women is documented, which focuses on girls as items not subjects of this story. ‘BODY IN THE BUSH’ cried the front of the Herald-Sun, sensationalising the barbarous murder of Karen Ristevski and making her absent at the policy. The sight of women as athletes, so as individuals with lives that are complicated, is refreshing to say the very least. Women discussed and presented in ways usually reserved just to fan posters to advertising for men, from match reports have been observed by the AFLW’s policy.

All these girls are discussed since the heroes of their own lives. For example, the current Holden ads featuring Moana Hope ‘unscripted’, where she discusses growing up at a working family of 14. We view Hope one of the leading footballers, but as a woman living a life filled with challenges and beauty, as well as perspectives on issues. ‘ I run full time to a traffic management company,’ says Hope, and ‘that I love my job since it puts food on the desk and that I take care of my family. If I don’t do the job [my sister] does not eat.’ She presses on the point that stereotypes have to be challenged — and not only for women. ‘We are not out there to be models, we’re out there to be footballers, ”’ says Hope, adding that, ‘when a male wants to be a ballerina, he could be a ballerina.’

There has also become the matter-of-fact coverage of the AFLW players’ Husbands and Partners, HAPS rather than WAGS, together with Adelaide co-captain Erin Phillips’ spouse featured together with the male partners of players. There’s no doubt that control and homophobia is rooted to police gendered roles. That players are ‘out’ in it challenges thoughts about women’s identities and the AFLW is not revolutionary, but it is brave and experiences. This comes in the aftermath of the first Pride around, organised by St Kilda this past year of the AFL.

However, as the AFLW is professionalised, along with the players (and deservedly) get the thought of functioning in a lucrative business, will the women’s game lose something of what has been discovered in this first season? Channel 7 executives are over the moon at the TV ratings and, as shown by a report by Caroline Wilson, every match is worth roughly a million dollars in advertising revenue. On the other hand, the competition began with a pay structure, and also the season’s success just underlines how badly the players ‘ are being manipulated. Even with corporate sponsors clamouring to sign players up, pay prices will only increase in 2018. Even in the middle of the success of this season the prioritisation of the pre-season contest of these men has led in some timeslots for the AFLW. And, like a number of commentators have pointed out, the proportion of Indigenous players at the AFLW’s first year is significantly less than could have been anticipated.

There are causes for optimism. Danny McGinlay, the comedian behind the text on the Western lands’ banners, created a beauty that day the Dogs men’s team played a ‘Men could play this game? Good on ya boys to giving it a try. Before the match starts but get off the ground!’ Surely any club that can countenance this kind of irony, along with aid for the team of their women, will struggle hard to create an equal playing field in all respects. In Carlton’s season launch, the Outer Sanctum reported that players from both women’s and men’s team were declared together when their number was called. Along with the AFL accounts that at the previous three years women’s and girls’ teams are formed across the country.

Perhaps the thing for everybody is that girls and women are observing what their bodies can do, and also partaking in a effort of working.

As fans know, the AFLW has not been around ‘our’ team. This opening season’s joy and misery appears to have become more significant than whether the players ‘ are ‘yours’ or maybe not. As she sings the song with all the Dees Mel Hickey beaming. Erin Phillips, mobbed after kicking ‘that’ goal in Adelaide’s come-from-behind win against the Blues. Along with the irrepressible, instantly iconic Darcy Vescio, that reels off feminist Instagram one-liners while leading the contest’s goalkicking. These are moments and we’ve got players that are absolutely rapt to be there — in and enthused love with the game. And we have fallen in love too, not the least of cult figure Sarah ‘Tex’ Perkins.

As Vescio put it quite simply at an recent interview:

It’s a fairly lovely time to participate in the game — the reality we get to have the inception and how it’s received by the public … I feel really lucky to be here, but that I suppose the women that get to be involved 20 years down the track will probably be luckier. The players deserve to be heroes, and all the little girls around enjoying now deserve to have role models.

Hear, hear, Darcy Vee.

The AFLW grand final is this   weekend, and we know it’ll be just colorful (which there might be a little more joyous weeping from both of us).

Photo credit: Darcy Vescio along with her lovers wearing t-shirts made by Erica Boucher, with words in Darcy’s Instagram article: ‘Wen you laugh togetha cos you understand ur gonna crush the patriarchy’. Funds raised were given to the Woomeras.