Rugby league is in a powerful position to help change stereotypes of not just women in league but indeed women in sport.
There is a negative and out-dated belief that a woman's role in sport is inferior, that we are simply excitable fans, offering support at the footy ground or at home, only pushed to the front when poured in slinky gowns for annual awards night.
In honour of celebrating Women in League Round I'd like to debunk stereotypical gender myths and level up the playing field for the ladies.
As a woman who loves and works in rugby league, these are the questions I'm often asked:
How did you get into rugby league?
Just like most fans, I began watching it as a child. We were, and remain, a rugby league mad family. Mum and dad were from New South Wales but as a precocious only child born in the Sunshine State, I took great delight in parading around in my maroon jumper. State of Origin was a sacred time of year in our house. Game 1, 2 and 3, plus Good Friday, were the only times we were allowed takeaway fish and chips.
Does it hurt when women get hit in a tackle?
Yes, you bet it does, just like it hurts everyone. Female rugby league players can hit with text book tackling technique and with the ferocity of a cranky Nigel Plum. And, I know what you're thinking … no we don't need special 'boob protectors'. Just an ordinary sports bra will do. Women in league get the same injuries as the men in league - shoulders, collar bones, knees and ankles.
Do you hang out inside locker rooms?
No. I'm not one of the boys, nor do I want to be one. The media wait outside the rooms for players to come out and comment on their game, injury or week ahead. I've spent a fair bit of time waiting outside the dressing sheds and I can only assume what goes on in there involves a lot of giggling and copious amounts of Deep Heat.
Do the players treat you differently?
Each player has a different approach to the media. Some are friendly while others prefer to keep a distance. I have never considered my gender to be an advantage or disadvantage when dealing with rugby league players.
Do you even like sport?
Yes, Australia is a sports mad country. Historical sporting moments are weaved into our nation's social fabric. We are traditionally a country of athletic overachievers. 13 sportsmen and women including Fraser, Goolagong-Cawley, Border, Waugh and Freeman have been honoured as Australian of the Year, based on their athletic contributions to the community. What's not to love?
The NRL has the capacity to challenge gender roles in our game and in sport in general. At times, high-profile sportsmen are sadly associated with allegations of domestic or sexual violence and harassment of women. This is never acceptable. The NRL has, and continues to, make significant efforts to educate and influence boys and men on developing positive attitudes towards women and to achieve gender equality.
The United Nations has said participation in sport enables girls and women to increase their self-confidence and self-esteem. It also enhances freedom of expression while honing skills in negotiation, management and decision making. But the UN isn't telling us ladies anything we don't already know!
Women continue to enjoy the game. We play, we referee, we report, we cheer, we learn, we support but most importantly we love. We are ladies who love rugby league. Celebrate with us!