There has been much excitement and buzz around the AFLW the past week, and for all the right reasons. The finals kicked off at Arden Street on Saturday when North Melbourne hosted embattled Fremantle in the first of the qualifiers. In something of an upset, the Dockers’ 38-point win hinted at their true potential when blessed with a full composite, with outstanding performances by captain Hayley Miller, and W champion, Kiara Bowers, who is virtually unstoppable when fully fit. The win sets up an exciting preliminary-final battle against minor premiers Adelaide, who will be rearing to go after a two-week break.
In other positive news, Essendon announced Natalie Wood would be senior coach for their AFLW team, joining Bec Goddard at Hawthorn as the second of only two female senior coaches currently in that role across the competition. Wood is a highly regarded figure in women’s footy, and her appointment is testament to exceptional talent and hard work. The decision has been universally applauded.
These are the topics which should be dominating the sporting conversation right now. However, the media has instead been consumed with the fallout from a video of a prominent Fox Sports journalist, Tom Morris, allegedly using sexist and homophobic slurs in a WhatsApp chat to describe a female colleague. Morris was swiftly sacked by Fox following an investigation and has since publicly apologised.
Given these developments, it is tempting for some to assume this was a one-off, that it is time to move on. Those people are not likely to be women in sports media. Or, I would wager, women anywhere.
Because here is the thing: while the public show of support for Tom Morris over his stoush with Luke Beveridge was resounding and prolific by the media across the board, the response by those same journalists in support of their female colleague has been depressingly but predictably limited almost entirely to women.
This is not our first rodeo. Seven years ago another female journalist, Caroline Wilson, was the victim of a humiliating and misogynistic attack by colleague, Eddie McGuire, also in absentia, also without provocation, and also without suffering critique or judgment until it was called out by a group of women, with the support of a handful of standout allies. Not surprisingly, many of those same men have been among the minority to use their platforms to call out the appalling treatment of a female colleague this time, too. Among them are Andy Maher, Andrew Stafford, Francis Awaritefe, Richard Hinds, Brandon Jack and Craig Foster. These are all men who have received abuse and criticism for sticking their necks out, much like the women they have been supporting. Which might also tell us why there have been so few of them.
We can take heart from Fox Sports’ swift and decisive sanctions in 2022. Similarly, there has been a noted increase in the number of women working in sports media (although, importantly, this does not address the lack of diversity along racial, cultural, gender, sexuality or disability lines). There has been the embracing of excellent programs, such as Change the Game and Making the Call, which are creating sports media opportunities for the many over-qualified but under-supported women struggling to break in.
However, there is a long way to go. And the work to change culture should not be left to women alone, a point eloquently made by Kelli Underwood, in what was effectively a call to action from her missing colleagues.
But let’s not kid ourselves that this is an issue unique to sports media, or even the media more broadly. Pick a male-dominated institution or industry and women are being told – sometimes discretely, sometimes quietly, sometimes overtly – that we are not welcome. And the message, one way or another, is largely coming from men. A recent global report into sexist attitudes reminded us that Australian men hold the most sexist attitudes in the western world. When we add in race, disability, sexuality and gender queerness, the numbers explode. This is not just an issue of fairness, either. According to Our Watch, ‘violence against women arises in the social context of gender inequality, and that this violence has distinct gendered drivers’.
Fairness and equality are reasonable and rightful goals. The many other dangers which arise when society is not equal, fair or just, remind us that these goals are not just nice to have but are, in fact, urgent.
Reactions among women in sports media this week have ranged from shock, anger, hurt and frustration to sheer exhaustion. What is different is there is a sense that this is a moment in time we will not let pass. Not without a fight.
Women in sports media are exhausted. But so are women everywhere. We’re sick of carrying the emotional and psychological load of having to fight for the right to feel safe – at work, at home, at the football, at our political institutions – a right that most men can take for granted. It is well beyond time for men to speak up – before these conversations become media fodder. It is time for men to step up and shoulder the load because, quite frankly, it is their problem as much as it is ours.