On weird Australian sports
Before I arrived in Australia, I’m not sure I’d even heard of footy (Australian Rules Football) or netball. But here in Melborne, both are very popular (I hear that footy isn’t quite as popular outside of Victoria), and I’ve gotten myself to a couple Hilda’s games over the last few weeks. A tiny bit of background for anyone who, like me, has spent their life in an American sports bubble: to the uneducated American spectator, footy looks like a strange, chaotic football-soccer hybrid. There are 36 players on the field at once — 18 from each side — and goalposts on either end of the field. The object is to kick the ball through the other side’s goalposts. Legal forms of passing include kicking and “handballing” (basically, punching the ball); you can’t just throw it, and you can only run with the ball for 15 meters before bouncing it, touching it to the ground, or passing. And, to quote Wikipedia, “possession of the ball is in dispute at all times.” In other words, everyone’s constantly tackling everyone and trying to steal the ball. AND NOBODY IS WEARING ANY PROTECTIVE GEAR. And I’m pretty sure the only “illegal” way to tackle is by holding. And there are no offsides rules. So basically, this game looks like a MESS.
Now let’s compare to netball. To put it simply, footy is the men’s sport, and netball is the women’s sport. Netball is played on a lined court, with goal rings at either end. The object, of course, is to shoot the ball through the other team’s goal ring — but you can only shoot from inside the goal circle. You can only hold the ball for three seconds; then, you need to pass or shoot. There are seven players per team (on the court) and everyone is assigned a position, which restricts her to a particular part of the court. THE PLAYER’S POSITION IS WRITTEN ON HER JERSEY, so there’s no confusion. Contact is only allowed if it doesn’t interfere with play.
I’ve spent the last week writing a paper about gender performativity via language use: the notion that gender categories do not exist until the moment of an utterance, at which point the speaker brings his/her gender “into being.” In other words, gender categories are constructed, not preexisting. You’re not tied to a gender, and your gender isn’t tied to you, but instead you construct your gender when you choose to use particular language.
After all of my research, I SHOULD be pretty sensitive to gender stereotypes, and careful about generalizing gender, or about suggesting that any gender characteristics are innate, preexisting, or predetermined.
That being said…the football/netball comparison seems brilliantly and hilariously typical of the male/female dichotomy. The men’s sport is, from an outsider’s perspective, chaotic and disorganized. There are no offside rules or lines on the field; go where you want, whenever you want, and pass the ball however you want to pass the ball, with the exception of the SIMPLEST and MOST OBVIOUS method — throwing. Grab the ball from whoever, whenever. If you don’t have the ball and you want it, just steal it, using violence if necessary. And don’t wear a helmet, or any protective gear. Because that would just get in the way. And you wouldn’t look so tough. (A friend on the Hilda’s team was concussed during last week’s game, and told me afterwards that “that’s just footy.”)
For the women’s sport, the court is clearly marked and so are the players. Everyone has a position, and everyone knows exactly where they’re supposed to stand at all times. And just in case there’s any confusion, everyone’s position is written on their top, clearly spelled out for all to see. If you want the ball, you have to earn it — you can’t just tackle your opponent, or steal the ball out of her hands, because frankly that would be rude. You can’t interfere with someone else while they’re shooting; that wouldn’t be fair, either. And there is one way to pass the ball. You can’t just shoot from wherever; there’s a place for shooting, and you can’t have too many women in the goal circle at once, because that would be a little too messy.
I think we all know which game I’d prefer…