I love my sport, but I hate the way some people see it. I am not a fat, ugly, man hating, raging lesbian, despite the fact that many assume I simply must be, since I play rugby, and I am a woman. The most recent example of my having to confront this was in the queue on a Wednesday night for a well-known, classy as anything, York establishment. A group of cheerleaders asked me, “what sport are you with?” I answered the same way I answer this question every week, “oh, I’m the social sec for Women’s Rugby”. The cheerleaders looked very confused, which in turn confused me, since I thought I’d given a relatively straight forward answer (this isn’t a dig at cheerleaders by the way, it just happens these girls were of such a persuasion.) They looked me up and down and then said, and I quote verbatim, “but you don’t look like a rugby player, your face is too pretty, and you’re not even fat”. Don’t get me wrong, I am always flattered when someone tells me I’m not fat, even when its tangled among a web of bizarre back handed compliments and rudeness, but this wasn’t the first time someone had repeated outdated, ridiculous stereotypes about my sport to me, and all I could do was turn around a walk away. One of our players had “dyke” shouted at her in the middle of a club when she dared to admit she plays rugby. Ask any member of my team, all of us have had to figure out how to reply to these weird comments about how we look, or our sexual leanings, that people think are compliments. Recently one of us had this gem on Tinder: “I didn’t realise rugby players could be fit!?”
So much about these outdated stereotypes irritates me, but what gets me the most is the assumption that female rugby players are fat, unfit or “not fit”, or overweight. How demeaning is it to tell someone who plays at the highest university level of their sport that you’d simply presumed they’d be fat. By assuming we’re all fat, you’re telling us that you think our sport doesn’t require any real fitness; doesn’t require any strength or effort. The UYWRUFC 1st XV trains for a minimum of eight hours a week together. We do two strength and conditioning sessions in a gym every week, amongst everything else. I see the girls I play with more often in a week than I see my lecturers. These stereotypes disrespect our sport and the amount of training, effort and determination that goes into it. But beyond this, the beautiful thing about rugby, and our club, is that we are incredibly inclusive. Rugby is a sport that can include people of all shapes and sizes, it has a role for everyone; from small speedy backs who run rings round people, to strong forwards who smash people to bits. Some girls are bigger than others, because they have to be to perform in their position to the best of their ability. We are all proud of our bodies, because they are the bodies of sportswomen. We train hard so that they are strong and powerful. We use them to win matches. No, not just win matches, smash matches. Recently we won 111-0.
What is even more ridiculous than the previous stereotype is that regarding sexuality. I find it hard to write about this without laughing out loud, because it is just truly unbelievable that people can link a sport to a sexuality and think that’s OK. What is it about Women’s Rugby that makes people think we’re gay? Is it because it’s a contact sport? Trust me, the type of contact we have with each other could not be further from sexual… we smash each other’s faces in. I’ve never heard of anyone having their sexual epiphany whilst knocking another player to the ground. Quite frankly it’s disgusting that some people think it’s okay to put such sexual connotations on a group of athletes playing their sport. I can’t think of any other sport in which people simply assume the members’ sexuality based on their participation. More importantly, the way people approach the assumption that we are all gay is often horribly homophobic, like we should be ashamed of ourselves for playing what I’ve had people tell me is a “gay” sport. Our club is so proud of the fact that we support the LGBTQ community and welcome anyone of any sexuality. We’re not all gay, some of us are, and some of us are even bisexual too. But even if we were all lesbians, why would you have an issue with that? A player’s sexuality does not change her playing ability. One more thing, playing women’s rugby does not immediately mean you must hate men who play rugby. Please stop pitting us against each other. Despite popular belief, we are not raging man haters. We share with them a love of the game, and an appreciation for how hard it is. Indeed, a lot of us love men very much. But again, that does not affect the way we play, when we win 110-0.
I realise that not everyone in society truly does believe in these stereotypes, indeed I’m thankful that a lot of you don’t. But it is truly horrifying how many people do, and how many people think it’s okay to voice their horrible views, often to our faces. It saddens me how many stories members of the team tell about being confronted about how we look or who we love. So, even if you don’t share these views, I think it’s important that you know they exist. Women’s rugby players can be skinny, they can be curvy too, and pretty, or stunning. They can be gay too, or bisexual, or as straight as an arrow; but we’re all sportswomen who train as hard as we can to be the best we can be at the game we love. Women’s rugby players are not one thing, we’re all different people who love playing the same sport, and we want you to judge us on our sporting prowess and nothing more. If you still hold some outdated assumptions about us, please, come and watch us play. Did I mention that we recently won 111-0?