You have to live under a rock to have not seen that today is International Women’s Day. With all the incredible positivity we’ve seen in the media around women’s sport, #thisgirlcan, and specifically women’s rugby today, I wanted to reflect on my personal experiences of how far we’ve come, and how far we have to go. There are some specific moments that came to mind:
- After playing for well over a year, the moment that we found out that whilst we’d been taking it in turns to take our muddy team kit home to wash, the men’s team had theirs taken to the laundrette and expensed to the club.
- A 19 year old turning up to training, clearly having done the basics of rugby before. When pressed, told us that she’d played as a child but had to stop as there was no provision for girls at her club after the age of 13.
- An extensive discussion on the WhatsApp group about where to find ladies’ rugby boots because in the sports shops they just go straight from juniors to men’s – and there’s a size gap in the middle that isn’t catered to.
- When the new kit arrived and since the shorts are designed for men they don’t actually go over our hips. Luckily the cut is designed so there’s a baggy bit where your penis is though…
- One of our star finds of the season, an 18 year old who joined the club when she had some exposure to rugby at school, telling me that she came down to the club because she wanted to do sport at school but rugby was stopped for girls after a certain level.
- Addressing the frustrations of some of the men’s coaches and players when we express a wish to share changing room and pitch facilities on the vastly preferential day of Saturday rather than Sunday, on one weekend in the season.
Streatham-Croydon RFC has existed in various forms since 1871. That’s a lot of men’s history. We were fortunate to have had the influence of a terrific coach and founder in the form of Georgie Cook, and financial and administrative support from Grace Gibson, at our conception 3 years ago. In a short space of time we have had female representation on the main club committee in the form of multiple club secretaries, the club treasurer, and various other committee positions.
The women have stepped up and carved out a space for themselves where there was not a perceived gap to be filled. Our faces may not yet be on the walls, our names may not yet be carved on wooden boards dating back 250 years, but they are on our social media, on the bottom of emails, and seen on a daily basis in the club that we love, for a sport that we love. The majority of the men in our club are very supportive and offer us a great deal that many women’s teams do not have the luxury of, and we are grateful for everything they do for us and with us to help our team flourish and develop.
I am regularly told to pick my battles when it comes to small points that differentiate us from the men. I insist that since we are the Ladies 1st XV, the men are now the Men’s 1st XV (not, as they were before, simply the 1st XV). I don’t like being called a girl, instead of a woman; I am not a child. I don’t like being told that there are too many social events that include the ladies’ team now, and that there’s too much ladies content on the shared social media channels. I want to see better kit for women, rugby taught in schools, ladies’ captains’ boards in the clubhouse, sanitary bins in the toilets at rugby clubs, equal sharing of pitch space, resources etc.
These points seem insignificant in themselves. The fact that we’re at the stage where we’re having these discussions means that many battles have been hard won by women – and men – before us who have forged a path for us to follow. However, the war is not over and I will not pick my battles. I will fight every single one, no matter how exhausting or pointless it seems, for the women and girls who come after me.