I recently came across a thought-provoking article on femininity and sport written by pioneering athlete, author and professional speaker, Mariah Burton Nelson, who has been writing and speaking about women, sports and success since 1980.
In her article entitled I won. I’m Sorry she asks: “How can you win, if you’re female? Can you just do it? No. You have to play the femininity game. Femininity by definition is not large, not imposing, not competitive.
"Feminine women are not ruthless, not aggressive, not victorious. It’s not feminine to have a killer instinct, to want with all your heart and soul to win — neither tennis matches nor elected office nor feminist victories such as abortion rights. It’s not feminine to know exactly what you want, then go for it."
She continues: “Femininity is about appearing beautiful and vulnerable and small. It’s about winning male approval.”
The article was first published back in 2001, and boy, am I glad I didn’t read it at the time when I made my cricket broadcasting debut back in 2003. It would have done more harm than good.
You see, for a long time, femininity was not an issue for me. As a child growing up with two brothers, I was a typical tomboy, building tree-houses, playing soccer and cricket, and racing go-karts.
In my teens I was too busy striving to become a cricket commentator to consider the role of femininity in my life.
In the latter part of 2002, I received a call from SABC Sport, offering me the opportunity to host the 2003 ICC Cricket World Cup.
Rewind to two months before that, when I had shaved my head, just for the sake of it… Now I looked like a marine, and I was about to make my debut on national television!
To complicate things even further, just weeks before cricket’s greatest showpiece, I was given a double-breasted blue blazer to wear on TV.
I put it on, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. I looked like a cross between Dustin Hoffman and Spike Lee! Who was I? Who was I trying to be?
I knew I had to find my own identity in the male dominated world of cricket. But how? Then it hit me, it was time to celebrate my femininity! And so began an incredible journey of self-discovery.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, if I had chosen to ignore my femininity, it probably would have been easier.
In the world of cricket, people were already cringing that a “chick” was going to be hosting the World Cup.
The problem was that in order to celebrate my femininity, I had to first find it in me. And what made the situation worse; I had to do all this learning while on live TV.
Off camera, I spent hours and hours learning how to look my best, sound my best, feel my best, and be my best.
During that time I learned so much about myself, and although it was challenging and at times so exceptionally frustrating that I almost quit, it has paid off in more ways than one.
Three years after starting my quest to find my feminine self, I am enjoying celebrating being a woman while working in a man’s world. In fact, I’ve realised that I am more successful now, as I embrace my femininity.
It’s tough being a woman in sport, because there aren’t rules for us. I made up my own rules, and discarded existing rules those that didn’t work for me.
For me, celebrating femininity is about appreciating the joy of being born a woman. It’s been a great awakening for me and has resulted in the launch of gsport…for Girls!
It’s not about fighting for equality with men; it’s about finding the greatness within ourselves. The rest will come…
Looking back at the article by Maria Burton Nelson, where she argues that feminine women aren’t ruthless, I’d like to disagree.
At the age of 14, when I announced to my family that I wanted to become South Africa’s first female cricket commentator, they tried to persuade me to change my mind, because they were afraid I wouldn’t handle the pressure.
At the age of 25, I achieved my dream, not by conforming, but by breaking all the rules, and stereotypical attitudes that women can’t handle it in a man’s world.
I take heart from this quote by American basketball player, Rebecca Lobo, when she says: "There’s nothing masculine about being competitive.
"There’s nothing masculine about trying to be the best at everything you do, nor is there anything wrong with it. I don’t know why a female athlete has to defend her femininity, just because she chooses to play sports.”
Other Quotes on Femininity:
I’m comfortable with my femininity, and I don’t try to change what I look like just because I’m reporting on football at the end of the night.
Lisa Guerrero – American sport broadcaster
My femininity is always something I’ve tried to preserve in this dog-eat-dog world.
Margaret Smith Court – Australian tennis legend
When I put the shot, it’s feminine, because I’m female. Athletic motion doesn’t have a gender.
Maren Seidler – US shot put champion