By Phoebe Cannard-Higgins

Image: From 'The Theatre of Sport', By Richard Lewer.

Image: From 'The Theatre of Sport', By Richard Lewer.

For one year I decided to become a Geelong supporter, like my friend Ella. Although I was terrible at playing the game myself (in what, anxiety inducing, direction would the ball bounce?) this did not hinder my overall enthusiasm for the game. This led to receiving a red leather ball for my eleventh birthday. My Dad hurling it at me, ‘Don’t catch like a girl.’ Me hurling it back, ‘I am a fucking girl.’ 

Traditionally AFL has been considered a male sport. A muddy, contact sport. A sport typically associated with middle class notions of masculinity. Because of this, to ‘catch like a girl’ is not only an insult, because girls are pretty, timid, afraid of getting dirty and terrible at AFL. It is also a way in which social and cultural structures that enforce normative gender roles are strengthened. 

However, in 2017, we will see the introduction of the first Women’s AFL league. A league that represents a change in cultural and social attitudes towards women, because it shatters preconceived notions of femininity and prescribed gender roles. 

The clubs competing in the eight-week season, running from February to March are Adelaide, Brisbane Lions, Carlton, Collingwood, Fremantle, Greater Western, Sydney, Melbourne and Western Bulldogs. 

Although the Women’s AFL league is a movement towards equality, the reality for the female players will be vastly different to that of their male counterparts. Unlike the men, the women in the league will not be considered full-time professional athletes but part-time athletes. Unlike the men, the women will have to pay for their own health insurance.

The AFL website says training and match requirements will be scheduled around the women’s work and study requirements where possible. The players will also be offered opportunities to work in other areas of the AFL, to gain more income. 

To date, information suggests that the matches will not be broadcast on TV (let’s hope this changes), but you will be able to view the broadcast from the AFL website and the AFL Live app. 

The players will receive between $5000-$25,000 salaries, most players however on $5000, with reportedly just two players receiving the $25,000. This is likely to increase year after year, as the game becomes better established and receives more sponsors. The average salary for a Men’s AFL league player was $300,000 in 2015. 

Pay-gap disparities aside, the start of the women’s league is representative of the changing attitudes towards women in sport and women in general, and is a step in the direction of making phrases like ‘Don’t catch like a girl,’ redundant.