This will be today’s ONLY post because I feel it is an important one and I’d like to call on all of our readers to help the Philadelphia Women’s team by e-mailing, calling, writing the editors of the Philadelphia Weekly newspaper. Read on for the details …
And pass this on … let’s see just how loud we can be, huh? (And note, Blogger has a scheduled outage today at 12:30 p.m. Pacific Time, so this may be down for a bit … hopefully not too long. But I’ll leave it up top through tomorrow!)
In the comments to my personal venting post yesterday about dealing with a unprofessional television reporter in my career, Kate Pope from the Philly Women shared a recent article that was published about their team. An upsetting article in addition to factual errors …
Interesting that you were having such a bad day with the media, because Philadelphia Women’s Rugby did too… A weekly paper in Philly printed an article about PWRFC that perpetuated, oh, every single stereotype that has ever been associated with rugby. Here’s a link to the article: http://www.philadelphiaweekly.com/view.php?id=13386
And below is the text of a letter our club president is sending in response. As rugby gains prominence on the national scene, it pays to remember how easily we’re misunderstood.
I’ll paste the complete article below and then the Philly Women’s letter.
Kate also points out an important point – “it pays to remember how easily we’re misunderstood”. I always talk about it here, but I can’t scream it from the rooftops enough. The media and the general public have preconceived stereotypes about our sport, especially women’s rugby. You can never be too careful or too positive or too detailed when promoting our sport in a positive manner. Make sure that if you’re explaing our sport to someone, you explain all aspects of the sport. This goes for every part of the game, including off the field at socials, etc.
If you’re talking about an injury, also mention that recent studies have shown it’s safer than football and ice hockey and that proper and safe playing techniques, such as tackling, are part of every practice.
Case in point, and according to Kate, this reporter had her angle and filled in quotes from the Philly Women to further that angle, whether it was fully contextual or not. The headline alone is offensive.
Football Is for Pussies
Women’s rugby makes nonsense of gender stereotypes.
by Emily Guendelsberger
“I’ve come in with black eyes. I’ve come in with my legs bruised up. I’ve come in with a broken hand. Everybody’s all, like, ‘What happened to you?’”
Patti Hagel—tall, blond and wearing dangly earrings—grins happily while recounting the story of her wounds and her co-workers’ horrified reactions.
There are a few constants among rugby-playing women: 1) a story ending with a horrific-sounding injury, 2) a willingness to show off the scars from said injury, and 3) a huge smile while showing and telling.
There’s no crying in rugby, people.
Hagel plays lock (a defensive position) in the Philadelphia Women’s Rugby Football Club (PWRFC), which just returned from a weekend in South Carolina competing in the Division I national semifinals. At the semifinals, also known as the Sweet Sixteen, Philadelphia lost their first game against top-seeded Berkeley but came out victorious in a grueling match with the Austin Valkyries, an upset that’ll move them up in the rankings for next year’s tournament.
Hagel has no visible injuries at the moment, but says this season the team has had quite a few, including one broken hip.
What draws sane women to play a sport more brutal than football and without any protection besides a mouthguard?
For some it’s pure love of the game. For others it’s the familial team atmosphere and crazy parties. And for still others it’s a way to break out of gender roles that stigmatize women for being aggressive or confrontational.
“There’s so much emphasis on being nice all the time,” says Kristin Aliberto, a PWRFC prop (another defensive position) whose formidable frame sports pristine hose. She always wears them with skirts to cover the cleat scars that she got on her calves in a rough game a couple years ago. “To have all that emotion, all that aggression out there and to not have to feel bad for it? It’s a great feeling.”
Alison Duncan, a short woman with a boyish haircut who plays hooker (no, it’s a serious position) for PWRFC, agrees that knowing she can actually take someone down, which few women in America ever get the chance to do, gives her confidence both on and off the field.
“It’s not normal, socially, for a woman to be all about how strong she is, how tough she is, how well she can get up off the ground after being thrown down,” says Duncan. “The women who are attracted to the sport often go against other social mores.”
The most obvious social more Duncan refers to is heterosexuality. Rugby has a reputation, even more so than other women’s sports, as a queer haven, and it’s not unfounded. Estimates from PWRFC players range from half to two-thirds of the team being openly gay. The Penn LGBT center goes so far as to list PWRFC on its resource website along with the Gay Bridge Club and the Philadelphia Area Naked Guys. “There are a few people who are straight, but it’s not a very big number,” says Duncan.
With a fair amount of intra-team dating, things can occasionally get awkward, but everyone agrees it almost never spills onto the field. Several long-term relationships have begun within the team, including one couple that had a commitment ceremony last fall, with bridesmaids dresses in the team colors of claret and sky blue.
In addition, one of only two recognized male-to-female transgender players in the league plays for PWRFC. She’s long since finished with the surgical aspects of the process, and the league follows the 2004 International Olympic Committee ruling that postoperative transgender people who’ve been taking steady hormones for two years (which equalizes the muscle-building properties of testosterone) should be allowed to play as their chosen gender, so she’s eligible to play in all league games.
Some players have taken issue with the league’s decision to play by the IOC’s rules, claiming the ruling, which was reached unanimously by a panel of IOC doctors, is tailored to the Olympics’ more performance-based sports like track and field, rather than full-contact tackling, where players can get seriously injured. But the Philadelphia player, who prefers to remain anonymous, says she rarely gets anything but acceptance from players.
This despite the fact that she’s in a tiny minority. Most transgendered players in women’s rugby are female-to-male.
“If you were to start leveling fingers about people’s perceived genders in this sport, it would be total insanity,” she shrugs. “It’s a slippery, slippery slope.”
Her teammates share her opinion, asserting when you’re out on the field, where you are on the gender sliding scale matters way less than pure and simple physics. “She’s tough to take down,” says Duncan with a pained grin that speaks of experience, “but no harder to take down than any other 6-foot, 200-pound woman, which we have two more of.”
Why do women enthusiastically volunteer to tackle and be tackled, risking serious injury? Everyone cites countless anecdotes of tense games, wild parties, copious beer and camaraderie.
But it all seems to boil down to simply, “Because I love it.” Duncan’s college coach wrote her master’s thesis on the appeal of women’s rugby, and Duncan ticks off the points on her fingers. “She found the basic stuff of togetherness and pride and confidence and … ”
She pauses, frowning. “She found something else too. I can’t remember what it is. Something about living in two worlds—you can be a woman and also be strong.
“Yeah, something like that.”
And here’s the letter from the Philly Women to the Editor of the Philadelphia Weekly newspaper.
To the Editors of the Philadelphia Weekly:
I am writing in response to the article printed today (November 15, 2006) about women’s rugby, titled, “Football is For Pussies”. Aside from being offensive and perpetuating homophobic stereotypes of female athletes, the article was poorly researched and inaccurate on several fronts. The author of the article generalizes information about Philadelphia Women’s Rugby to fit her thesis which appears to be something concerning gender and sexuality or maybe violence in women’s sports – I’m not sure, the article seemed to lack a specific focus. When your reporter contacted the team, she clearly already had her article written, fished for information and quotes that supported what she had already written, and blatantly ignored the concerns and corrections that our team representative presented to her.
Inaccuracies in the article include basic factual misinformation about the sport (there are no “defensive” positions – players in all positions play both offense and defense) and greater social inaccuracies portraying our team as gay. The article specifically calls the team a “queer haven”, saying that two-thirds of the club is gay. We are only a “haven” for athletes, rugby players.
The truth is, we are a group of intelligent, strong, independent athletes who fight every day against homophobic stereotypes thrown our way because we are competitive athletes. As a club we welcome anyone who wants to play rugby. Sexuality is not an indicator of success in rugby or a qualification for membership in our club. As president of the club, I can’t tell you what percentage of the team is gay. I have no idea. I can tell you that 100% my teammates are athletes who sacrifice a great deal of time, money, and emotion to play a sport that very few people outside of the rugby community understand. Articles like the one you printed today only undermine our image as serious athletes and reinforce misconceptions about women in sports – making it harder for us to find support in the community.
If your reporter had made an effort to understand women’s rugby and our team, we could have given her many ideas for her article that would have more accurately reflected our team and our sport. We are the only Division 1 team in the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Union and we field a competitive senior side as well as a developmental side in competition against teams from across the country. She could have written an article about the numerous players on our team who train and play on select-side teams representing our region and our country in national and international level competition. In fact, one of our teammates was selected to play on the national team and represent Philadelphia and the United States in the Women’s Rugby World Cup this past August.
An article that had been adequately researched would have not have painted a picture of rugby as a brutal, violent sport played without protective equipment. Rugby is a very physical sport, but not violent. A little research would have told your reporter that there are more serious injuries in football, hockey, and gymnastics than in rugby. Does rugby include hard hits, yes, but we spend a lot of time training and perfecting our technique in order to minimize injuries. No one likes to get hurt.
If she wanted to write about diversity, our team and the rugby community at large boast a huge diversity of players – racially, economically, and professionally. We have players who are republicans, democrats, libertarians, conservative Christians, and liberal social activists. On our team we have players who are doctors, lawyer, teachers, engineers, businesswomen, students, artists, personal trainers – the list is as endless and interesting as the women it is comprised of. The one thing that we all have in common (and the one point that your article got right) is that we all love rugby. Why not write an article about an incredible sport that brings together strong, talented, intelligent women from all walks of life and unites them with a common goal of competition?
Or she could have written about our continuing struggle to increase awareness and acceptance of this sport that we all love. Many of our members volunteer as coaches for local high school and collegiate programs (painting us as a bunch of violent
bull-dykes has really helped our efforts in developing youth rugby, thanks). We serve on committees for our local governing board, the Eastern Pennsylvania Rugby Board, and as referees. Every fall we host the largest women’s rugby tournament on the east coast, Pumpkinfest. In the spring we host a skills clinic for collegiate players.
If the goal of the reporter and the Philadelphia Weekly was to use homophobia to further marginalize women’s rugby, our team, and a group of amazing athletes – congratulations, you just set us back a decade. Prejudice and fear perpetuated by homophobic, misogynistic ignorance is something we struggle against every day. Many talented female athletes are never able to realize their potential because they are driven out of sports by fear of being viewed as queer – those of us who stick it out fight every day to overcome thos stereotypes.
Philadelphia Women’s Rugby is a haven for all female athletes who are misunderstood, misrepresented, and mischaracterized. Our team is not a forum for gender expression or sexuality. We are a competitive team that wants to be acknowledged for our strength and hardwork, and the success we’ve had in competition, not harrassed about our sexuality.
If you want to write an article about women’s rugby, or about our team, let me know. However, please don’t manipulate our team image to fit your perceived idea of women in sports.
Philadelphia Women’s Rugby Football Club
Ginger left a comment that you can contact the editor with information at this page. I would recommend that if you write an e-mail, you include the following identifying information and addresses:
Article: Football Is For Pussies
Reporter: Emily Guendelsberger (no e-mail available for Emily)
Editor – Tim Whitaker – email@example.com
Letters to the Editor – firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Editor – Sara Kelly – email@example.com
Senior Editor – Liz Spikol – firstname.lastname@example.org
And feel free to copy/paste anything you write in here in the comments.
And Kate and Ginger, I would recommend that your team publish your letter and a link on your web site and keep it there for future use under media or something. This article was online and will now be archived, so this could have farther reaching presence than we realize.
Thanks for passing this on. And everyone, please help out and speak out.