Why Australia's conversation around AFLW needs to change

Melissa Buttigieg
News Reporter

The third AFLW season kicks off this weekend but the heartbreaking comments about women having no place in footy have already begun.

With the professional game growing in skill level and spectator support from year to year and encouraging many young girls to take up the sport, it’s difficult to comprehend many Australians, particularly men, berating women players for not being up to the standard of the AFL.

Some say they would rather watch children kick a ball around than support professional women’s footy, or claim the low-scoring games are boring. Other comments are too vile to repeat.

Ellie Blackburn of the Bulldogs is tackled by Leah Kaslar of the Lions during the AFLW 2018 Grand Final. Pic: Getty

The professional athletes are forced to work day jobs to support themselves because AFLW brings home nowhere near the cash their male counterparts earn.

They really deserve more credit for that: working full-time, training two or three nights a week, promoting the game through the media then travelling the country to play.

The women have had just three years of professional training and development, after being forced to stop playing the game they love when they became teenagers thanks to a backwards system.

The men have had more than 120 years to develop, supported by a culture that encouraged them as boys to play the sport.

Moana Hope and Mick Malthouse clashed over his thoughts on women’s football last September. Source: Getty

I’ve overheard educated men say they refuse to watch women play footy because the low-scoring game is boring, and the skill level is not up to scratch.

One bloke on Facebook wrote: “The women’s AFL players should be fined for bringing the game of Aussie rules into disrepute. Not a good spectacle at all. Boring.”

Another commented: “Watching AFLW is as boring as watching a soccer game….eventually someone will score but it will almost always be when you get up to get another drink or go to the loo!”

One of the negative comments on Facebook about women’s AFL. Source: Facebook

Last September the then Magpie Moana Hope made headlines for storming out of an event after former AFL coach and player Mick Malthouse reportedly told a room of 50 children the sport was a “man’s game” and the rules should be modified for the women’s safety.

Hope vented her frustrations to Instagram, proudly stating: “I love OUR game and I will never, ever let anyone tell me or any girl that we don’t belong or deserve to pull this jumper on at this level. We are one.”

How speaking negativity of women’s footy hurts girls

A female friend last week told me she outshined many boys on her footy team at age 10, but was forced to quit her favourite thing because of the negativity from men much older than her.

“I had no choice but to give up my biggest dream because of how closed minded, arrogant men viewed us,” she told me.

“I always think if I was given a chance and was surrounded by kind, accepting people in my local sporting community I could have been playing AFLW today.”

Now aged 26, she urged Australians to change the conversation and cut women some slack.

“Men, you have no idea what it’s like to be told you can’t do your favourite thing any more,” she said.

“You have no idea what it’s like to fight for acceptance for 100 years, finally be accepted and have most of the country tearing down your success.

“You have no idea what it’s like to have a career in football and only get paid minimum wage, so you have to work a full-time job just to get by.”

I can only hope the sentiment will change now that women and girls have at least been given the opportunity to play the sport.

Perhaps in 20 years, AFLW athletes will no longer need to hold jobs outside the sport to support themselves and can dedicate more of their time to footy.

Will they be given the respect they deserve by then? Australia can only hope.

The AFLW season runs from February 2 to March 25.