There are a lot of things that Imperial girls can do, including studying science and engineering, leading clubs and societies, and, presumably, going through adolescence, meaning that by the time we’re at Imperial, we’re probably women, not girls. But one area where we seem to be lacking, according to Sport Imperial, is in our ability to engage in any sporting activities.
At first glance, it’s wonderful that Sport Imperial have taken up the national ‘This Girl Can’ campaign to encourage women in sport. The campaign celebrates women doing sport because it makes them feel good, regardless of their skill level or whether it, god forbid, makes their hair stick to their sweaty forehead. Yes, I still hate that the name reduces women to ‘silly little girls’, but on the whole, it does good work. This campaign is sadly necessary, as so many women are discouraged from sports because all too often exercising is seen as something that a woman can only do in public if she is long, lean, and lithe – after all, you’re embarrassing yourself if your belly jiggles as you finish that 10k run. As well as uplifting women, This Girl Can reminds us that women do sport for reasons that aren’t calorie burning or weight loss.
Unfortunately, in trying to bring this to Imperial, Sport Imperial have seriously misplaced the message.
Two years in a row, they have created a campaign which only perpetrates the idea that women’s sport is inferior to men’s, and does nothing whatsoever to encourage women’s sport.
Following a disastrous 2015 Varsity, where, for the first time, a women’s sport was billed as the headline match, only for the female participants to be refused the perks given to the men, the spectators to be prevented from watching the match, and the players to be subject to sexist abuse as they were stranded at the venue, Sport Imperial needed to get their act together on their attitude towards women’s sport. It was a case of a great intention being horribly diverted because a strong undercurrent of sexism prevented it from being anything other than just a publicity stunt. This has happened again with Imperial Girls Can.
A strong undercurrent of sexism prevented it from being anything other than a publicity stunt
Maybe Imperial Girls Can would be successful at encouraging women into sport if they actually thought to tell women about it. A facebook event shared very sparingly amongst those who already like and engage with the Sport Imperial page is not sufficient advertising. Even for those of us who already take part in Sport Imperial sanctioned activities, whose Wednesday BUCS match was appropriated as part of this event, were barely made aware of what was happening.
And let’s talk about the bright pink advertising, for the few people who saw it. I’m told that the colour was chosen in line with the national campaign (that I’m pretty sure is not entirely pink, but whatever helps you sleep at night, Sport Imperial), but if they’re so obsessed with branding, why go off-brand with a childish font presumably chosen to appeal to our unsophisticated brains? Maybe that’s why they advertised several of the events with images of men – true athletes – to inspire us.
And don’t forget, ladies, that these classes are a great way to burn calories. And burn calories we shall, only taking part in gimmicky sessions like Zombie Zumba and Spooky Spin. Forget sports, Sport Imperial thinks that the only reason women exercise is for their personal fitness, rather than because of a passion for an activity.
Curiously, two years in a row, Imperial Girls Can has also served to create a systematic discrimination on behalf of the Union. Every week, the Union minibuses are overbooked, and they’re allocated to those travelling the furthest distance. With the Imperial Girls Can matches being moved to Heston, the (incrementally) nearest of the sportsgrounds, this means that on the day meant to be celebrating their sport, the women are denied access to a facility that they would have, had Sport Imperial not been throwing this event. This was raised as a problem last year but occurred in exactly the same way on Wednesday, as those forced to participate in this event are clearly only an afterthought in the planning.
I love a free t-shirt and cup of hot chocolate, and it’s great for so many athletic women to get together and be inspired by each other. But we are women already very invested in our sport – we’ve already had to learn not to care about how our sport is perceived. It does nothing to encourage the women who struggle to get into sport, and is patronising at best to those who are. At least this year they dropped the free gift to women’s rugby of non-contact mouthguards. Despite Sport Imperial handling our fixtures, they don’t seem to have got the memo that we play full contact rugby. After all, we’re girls.
It does nothing to encourage the women who struggle to get into sport, and is patronising at best to those who are
Within women’s sports, these sexist attitudes create a hierarchy of what is most entertaining, or ‘worthwhile’ as compared to the men’s game. I’ve heard again and again that women’s rugby should not expect to receive the same treatment as men’s rugby as we simply don’t play to the same level as the men’s first XV. Forget that we train as hard as the men and play exactly the same game, the fact that most of us didn’t have the opportunity to have ten years of training before arriving at university is what we should be judged by.
Imperial Girls Can is just Sport Imperial patting women on the back for the adorable act of attempting to partake in activity, rather than encouraging serious women’s sport. Of course, this is done only with the caveat that they remember that they’re there to entertain, and don’t delude themselves into thinking that their sporting performance is remotely equivalent to the men’s.