Mansplaining is one of my favourite terms to have blessed 21st century culture: a uniquely succinct and catchy way to characterise the frustratingly condescending explanations made by some men to women. For many women it’s an unfortunate reality to happen across; for female rugby players and supporters, it’s an inescapable truism of nearly every day.
Now Mansplaining – as convenient a term as it is – is at points too broad and unfair a term to be bandied about. Indeed, this must not be taken as a misandristic rant aimed at dismantling the male sex and discouraging their sometimes-genuine attempts to be helpful. Instead, I want to highlight the frequent underestimation of women in certain areas of sport. All too often there appears a patronising and belittling need to explain to women who engage in traditionally male-dominated sports the point of the game. Be it in a discussion about the sport, in a bar or clubhouse watching a game or even pitch-side seeing it live, there seems to be a need to explain to women in the area aspects of the game: how the scoring system works, what a scrum is, what throwing a ball means. Though for a beginner (most of) these explanations may be the result of valid questions, for a player or long time supporter, these are unwarranted and awkward episodes.
For anyone skilled enough to fend off these Mansplanations and succeed in explaining that they are, in fact, players of the sport, they must face The Test. Who won the 1995 World Cup and what was the final score? Who captained the English side in the 1907 Six Nations? Can you name the starting Lions team in the second test against New Zealand in the 1977 tour?* No? Clearly not a real fan then, are you. Because, naturally, to qualify as someone with an interest in rugby, you must have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every game ever played. There seems rather a widespread disbelief that women can hold an interest in or have an understanding of rugby, or indeed any sport with typically a male dominance.
I see it whenever I wear a rugby related shirt out in public. I see it when I, a woman, take my younger brother, a boy, to a match and begin to explain aspects of the game he doesn’t fully understand yet. At last year's London Double Header I was fortunate enough to sit behind a group of guys and listen to their lengthy lecture on how women couldn’t play rugby (though I was proud to note that my eleven year old brother was as offended as I was by the commentary). I encountered it most recently watching the Lions tour earlier this year. Sat at a table alone, a group of men walked in and stood in front of me, blocking my view of the screen. When I politely asked them to move because I couldn’t see, they seemed confused. “Oh? You mean the rugby?” No, my mistake, I had gotten up early to sit in a pub alone at 8am before an eight-hour shift at work without realising it was rugby on. How silly of me.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t profess to know every tiny detail about the game. I’ve only been playing for two years, and I’ve much still to learn from both men AND women who have played for longer and better than I have. But I grew up with a rugby family background – both my dad and my uncle are also members of the Back Row Club (greatness clearly runs in the genes) and I have vague memories of a rugby ball being thrown at (definitely not to) me from an early age. Though I didn’t gain a greater knowledge of the sport until a later age, to assume that because of my gender that I do not understand nor can be a fan of the sport is simply unfair.
As most convincingly demonstrated by women across the globe this summer, female rugby players of great ability are in growing abundance, with the Women’s Rugby World Cup reaching unprecedented levels of coverage and viewership. And yet we witnessed the RFU choosing not to renew the England Women’s team contracts after the end of the World Cup, cutting the 15s game and focusing on 7s instead. Though this season also sees the introduction of a women’s Super League in England, the progress of and support for women’s rugby seems intermittent. With such a sporadic attitude to the sport on a professional level, is it any wonder that there is little belief in the existence of female players at a lower level or in a spectating context?
Now it would be entirely unfair to suggest that all men are Mansplainers waiting for an unsuspecting female rugby fan to stumble across their path in order to explain and condescend to their hearts' extent. Indeed, there are a huge number of men – both in professional and casual settings – that seek to promote and support the female game. But it’s important that this continues and that everyone – across all genders, ages and backgrounds – recognises the effort and skill of women in all arenas of sport. And realise that maybe if they’re sat by themselves watching a match in full stash, they might just have an inkling of what’s going on.
1) South Africa 15-12 New Zealand
2) A trick question: it was the Home Nations Championship at this point, with no French or Italian teams, and there was no consistent English captain.
3) Irvine, J. J. Williams, Fenwick, McGeechan, G. Evans, Bennett (c), B. Williams, Cotton, Wheeler, Price, Beaumont, Brown, Cobner, Quinnell, Duggan
Let’s not pretend we weren’t all wondering what the answers were. Thank the old gods and the new for the internet. Go forth and impress the next Mansplainer you meet with your newfound wisdom.