On a clear and sunny day early in 2018, a message is written in the sky: AFLW, it says.
At a Catholic all-boys school in Melbourne, a group of mates in year 11 notice the vapour writing.
One bursts out: “What a waste of time.”
There are already two clear camps, each with a clear set of beliefs. One decides that women’s sport isn’t worth investing time or money into. The other values equal opportunity, knows that sport is an avenue to challenging the status quo and levelling the playing field.
Two years on, there is still a big divide, highlighted when The Age published a dismissive review of the return of Super Netball, giving it a lacklustre 2½ stars.
Comparing it to “a glamour sport” that was “once just for schoolgirls and workplace bonding”, the condescending critique drew outrage and condemnation from across the country.
Among them was Australian netball legend Sharelle McMahon, who Tweeted that it was disrespectful and infuriating.
Herald Sun Journalist Eliza Sewell has been covering sport over a a decade that has seen massive strides in the legitimacy of women’s sport.
“As sports have become more professional the reporting has become more critical,” Sewell says. “This is a positive thing. Women’s sport is seen as less of a novelty now.”
Despite the improvements, Sewell notes that the sexist attitudes in Australian culture are hindering equality and progress, which is reflected through poor funding and lack of respect.
“There’s a general, underlying bias against women in society and it’s reflected in sport,” she says. “The stories we write about female athletes … do not receive the same number of views as other stories.
“There’s a lot of talk about supporting women, but when COVID-19 hit, some of the first people to lose their jobs were involved in women’s programs.”
In 2015, the gap between coverage of men’s and women’s sport was stark – 81.1 per cent of air time went to men, compared to 7.4 per cent for women.
Sewell believes equitable coverage is the best way to combat sexism.
“We should report sport as sport. That’s the greatest respect we can show athletes,” she says.
Jordan Cransberg, a training partner in the Melbourne Vixens squad, says she has seen first-hand the gender disparities in sport.
“A lot of girls experience that prejudice that stops them wanting to participate,” she says. “The thought is that men are better at sport.”
Cransberg says funding is a significant issue for women’s sports, as it did not have the same viewership and fanbase as men’s sport.
Having coming from a successful grassroots program, Cransberg is a firm believer in investing in youth programs, which in turn leads to growth and stronger skills.
“AFLW is doing this really well – less of a focus on viewership and focusing on closing that gap and giving women a greater opportunity to play sport and develop,” she says.
“That is a huge part of making the sport better,” she said.
As for challenging societal expectations for women, Cransberg says she wants to see action taken in schools, setting a precedent for younger generations.
“Cultural bias is down to educating people and making people aware of different values,” Cransberg says.