Have you ever labelled a sport ‘male’ or ‘female’? Considered men as the more ‘sporty’ gender? Been put off a sport because it’s too ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’?
Whilst today’s sporting world is becoming progressively more inclusive, gender stereotypes still exist in the industry and continue to affect representations of athletes in the media as well as the wages they are paid.
Coming together to discuss some of these issues, Olympic silver medalist Cath Bishop and Reading Women’s Football Club members Fara Williams and Kelly Chambers will sit on the panel of a Women in Sport event taking place this Thursday, March 5th in UoR’s Henley Business School.
And bringing a student’s perspective to the panel, captain of UoR’s Netball 1st Team and final year French and International Relations student Alice Kirkup will join the athletes in answering questions about success, barriers and gender equality.
Commenting on her involvement in the event- which takes place annually in memory of Edith Morley, the first female professor of UoR and any British University- Alice said: “I feel honored to be part of such an important talk. It’s surreal that I’ve been chosen to speak alongside these women and coming from an all female club, I’m excited to represent my team.
“The panel is really strong and it’s great that different sports are being represented; football, rowing and netball.”
Having been involved in netball at secondary school, Alice joined UoR with a passion for the sport and has been involved in the netball team since her first year. During this time Alice has occupied the roles of vice-president and captain of the team, whilst also playing for a local club in Reading.
She said: “When I began University I was split between joining the hockey or netball club. I obviously would have loved to play both competitively, but with match days being on a Wednesday, it would have meant they’d clash.”
Alice added: “I am, however, part of the University’s mixed hockey club and a member of the campus gym.”
And despite taking part in sport for personal enjoyment, Alice describes the many other benefits that participating in a university club has had for her. She said: “Regularly doing a sport is not only good for your physical and mental health, helped by the endorphins that exercise produces, but the team work, confidence and social skills you gain are invaluable.
“As captain of the netball team, I strongly encourage members to come along to every session.
“I occasionally have teammates who message me saying they don’t feel up to coming to training that day, but I usually respond by telling them to come as it will make them feel better and give them a chance to refresh.”
Alice also described the responsibilities she has as captain and how the role is a step up from her involvement in the club previously. She said: “As captain I am in charge of leading people on the court. I have to work out where our competitors stand in the league as well as which strategies we need to use to win the game.
“Being captain is a difficult commitment, but I find it adds structure to my routine and I really enjoy doing it.
“Netball is something I’d like to carry on doing after University. It’s very different from my career goal of humanitarian work, but it’s something I love doing and I therefore don’t want to let go.”
And having witnessed an improvement in the University’s support of female sport participation since her first year at the institution, Alice reflects on some of the barriers she has had to face and how she uses her role as captain to encourage more students to take up sport.
She said: “In the netball industry you face barriers including having to look a certain way, be a particular height and face the stick that comes with the sport. At the University of Reading we try to avoid these stereotypes by encouraging people from various backgrounds to join our society and use taster sessions and freshers’ fayres as a way of driving this.
“Yes, trials to join the netball team can be tough, but we allocate Sundays to social training which anyone can join regardless of commitment or ability. We do this as we want to give students the choice between joining the club for fun or the competitive aspect.
“The key thing I encourage in members is a mutual respect for each other.”
Alice also noted that there isn’t a male netball team at the University and that netball is often perceived as a feminine sport. She said: “Some people don’t think netball is difficult or worthwhile enough to do which is why it’s seen as a sport stereotypically done by women.”
Thursday’s event- which will mark International Women’s Day- aims to inspire students to overcome hurdles and challenges in their sporting endeavours, personal lives and careers.
Commenting on what International Women’s Day means to her, Alice said: “I don’t think women get enough praise. Everyday we should celebrate women and the amazing things they do and achieve, but International Women’s Day is a fantastic way to encourage this.”
She added: “I’d encourage students to come along to the event as not only will they hear from women from various backgrounds and sports, but I think we often take for granted and forget that there are people who aren’t as privileged as us.
“There’s still a long way to go for gender equality in sport but events like this really help to get the conversation flowing.”
The Edith Morley Lecture will take place this Thursday, March 5th at 7pm at the Henley Business School, Whiteknights Campus. All are welcome to attend and admission is free but booking is advisable.
For more information and to register to attend visit https://www.reading.ac.uk/15/about/newsandevents/Events/Event834758.aspx.