October 4, 2014

Why I am a cricket-feminist

Women need to hold more top positions in administration, and sexism at all levels must be tackled

Women's cricket is progressing fast under the ECB, but at the ICC level, not a single woman sits on its board © Getty Images

In early August, I was approached during a women's county match and taken to task about one of the descriptions in my Cordon profile. No, it wasn't a dispute about Michael Clarke. The person in question was querying the fact that both my Cordon profile and my personal blog refer to me as a "feminist". He is a keen supporter of women's cricket. Yet he wondered, is the word "feminist" off-putting to some cricket fans? Might the "feminist" label actually be counter-productive to my aim of winning people over to this wonderful sport?

I have thought long and hard about this conversation, and especially about the fact that those who read my Cordon pieces might, perhaps, have those same questions; or worse, that people might overlook my writing entirely, simply because I am openly a "feminist". I feel, therefore, compelled to explain why I describe myself in such terms.

So here it is - my defence of feminism, or: Why I am a cricket-feminist.

"Feminist" is without doubt a loaded term. As the actor Emma Watson pointed out in a recent speech at the United Nations, feminism "has too often become synonymous with man-hating". Many women are not keen to associate themselves with such a term. And yet the official definition of feminism is: "The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities". (Men can be feminists too, by the way.)

Being a cricket-feminist, then, means believing several things: That women are as entitled to participate in and to enjoy cricket, in a safe, unthreatening environment as men. That cricket should be equally accessible to women and girls as it is to men and boys, at every level: club, county/state, international. And that women's cricket is just as worth watching, just as entertaining, indeed just as "good", as its male counterpart.

All of these tenets are fundamental to my sense of the world, of fairness, and of myself. Being a cricket-feminist is part of who I am.

But do we need feminism now? We are living in an era in which England Women have professional contracts, and Australia are going the same way; indeed almost all the major cricketing nations have a contracts system in place for their players. There is a reasonably full women's international calendar, and unprecedented levels of media coverage. At grass-roots level the game is growing all the time: the ECB estimates that over the last ten years there has been an increase of 650% in the number of clubs in England and Wales offering cricket for women and girls. Women have more cricketing opportunities, in 2014, than ever before, and the situation continues, seemingly, to improve.

This mirrors the changes, more broadly, that have taken place in many societies over the last century, with the onset of legal, economic and political rights for women: the right to vote; the ability to earn equal pay for equal work; an escape from dependent marriage. Women are closer to equality than ever before - thanks largely to feminist activism.

This is all well and good, but women have not made equal progress in all arenas, and there are some institutions that, as far as gender equality is concerned, remain unprogressively male-dominated. Sport is clearly one of them. And cricket is as culpable as any other sport. How many women currently sit on the ICC board? A big fat zero.

When a blog refers to itself as an "England cricket blog", what this generally means is "an England men's cricket blog". And when ordinary cricket fans say "cricket", almost without exception what they really mean is "men's cricket"

There are other problems, too. An excellent article, which partly inspired this piece, was recently written by Middlesex county cricketer Izzy Westbury on this precise subject. The lack of coverage on Sky of England's internationals this summer; the scheduling clash between this year's Cowdrey Lecture and an England-South Africa T20; the Twitter abuse that greeted the news that Meg Lanning is to commentate on Channel Nine's cricket coverage in the upcoming season - all are still everyday occurrences in a sport that remains, if you look closely enough, riddled with sexism.

Yes, we do need feminism.

I noted two incidents that took place within a few days of each other, back in July, on different sides of the globe. One was a remark Chris Gayle made, ahead of a CPL match, in which he was asked at a press conference by a female journalist: "How does the pitch feel so far in terms of the training and the weather?" Gayle responded: "Well, I haven't touched yours yet so I don't know how it feels." As a female cricket journalist, I know how humiliated I would feel if any cricketer refused to take my question seriously because I was a woman.

The second incident took place in Pakistan, the culmination of an ongoing series of events that began when, back in 2013, five young cricketers from the Multan Cricket Club in Pakistan alleged that they were facing sexual harassment. They stated that the club chairman and one of the club selectors had demanded sexual favours in return for a place on the team. The incident was investigated, but seemingly half-heartedly, with a two-member Pakistan Cricket Board inquiry committee interviewing only three of the cricketers, who subsequently revoked their allegations. All five women were then banned from playing for six months, and were left facing a defamation suit brought by club chairman Maulvi Sultan.

In the face of this, the youngest of them, allrounder Haleema Rafiq, swallowed a lethal dose of toilet-cleaning acid. She was just 17 years old.

Feminism is partly about recognising that the problems described above - the lack of women in positions of power in cricket; a seemingly "casual" remark to a female journalist by a top male cricketer; and the suicide of a young female cricketer in Pakistan - are related issues, not isolated incidents. They stem from the fact that for hundreds of years, cricket has been a "man's game", run by men, deemed suitable only for men. I am a cricket historian; I know more than most about the history of this sport. And while there is a glorious history behind it, there is a sad truth, too: cricket at its roots is an institution built on male power and dominance. It is changing, yes; but that history has left deep scars, and they will take a long time to heal.

I love cricket. I spend hours researching, watching, listening, consuming and reporting on it. But sometimes I hate it too.

We absolutely need feminism in cricket.

Perhaps some of you are wondering how all this is relevant to you, as cricket fans. Perhaps you are protesting your innocence in the face of the casual, and institutional, sexism still so often present in cricket. I doubt you are entirely innocent.

At its heart, it comes down to this: The first "C" in ICC has always, since its formation in 1909, stood for "cricket", though what it should really have been called, up until it took control of women's cricket in 2005, was the IMCC - the International Men's Cricket Council. When a male journalist says, "I am a cricket correspondent", he means "I am a men's cricket correspondent." When a blog refers to itself as an "England cricket blog", what this generally means is "an England men's cricket blog". And when ordinary cricket fans say "cricket", almost without exception what they really mean is "men's cricket". In short, men's cricket is the default setting.

Until that changes, we have a problem. Until that changes, I'm going to keep telling the world that I am a feminist. Cricket needs feminism. End of story.

Raf Nicholson is a PhD student, an England supporter, a feminist, and fanatical about women's cricket. @RafNicholson

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on October 7, 2014, 8:05 GMT

    As a man, I was sceptical of reading your article at first, but the issues you highlight and the way you speak have swung me completely. You are 100% correct and there is absolutely no reason why there shouldn't be a female board member at the ICC.

  • Dummy4 on October 6, 2014, 15:26 GMT

    Some of the above comments seem confused about Feminism. Being a 'Feminist' does not mean you don't think that there are issues that affect men. Feminism deals with a specific aspect of the egalitarian ideal, just as anti-racism and gay-rights campaigners deal with others.

    Most Feminists I know are Egalitarians and Humanists as well, but that doesn't make Feminism any less meaningful a word. It is an acknowledgment that there is still a large privilege disparity between genders.

    If you're put off by the term 'Feminism', it's because you don't understand what it means.

  • Kartikeya on October 6, 2014, 5:03 GMT

    @moz Feminism is essential to achieve an egalitarians of the sexes (gender is a separate social construction). In order for equality to be secured it is necessary for the privileges enjoyed by men today to be taken away. That requires activism. Feminism as an attitude, as a temperament and as a practice will remain necessary until men continue to be offended by it.

  • vigi on October 6, 2014, 4:52 GMT

    Strong points put forward in this article, but as much as Women's cricket should be encouraged, the audience should support it. The women's t20 world cup is held in parallel to the men's tourney and that is quite some amazing support for women's cricket. No other top sport does that. The teams play on the same cricket grounds and even share the same podium too. But still, people do not want to watch women's cricket. Why? That question should be answered first, before we go any further. I've seen some very hardcore cricket fans, who are women. I've seen them sobering their lungs out, when their respective teams lose, even more than they do whilst watching The Game of Thrones. But that's men's cricket they watch and even they would sulk a bit when asked to watch a women's game. Sports like Tennis should be looked at as an example and should be used in forming a strategy to get the spectators excited about women's cricket . This happening is will be great for the sport of cricket!!

  • Moz on October 6, 2014, 0:08 GMT

    @Vinay Patel - I have no issue with feminism, but it is solely concerned with women's rights. If, as the author claims, she wants equality for both men and women, the Egalitarianism is what she seeks. It's about being honest.

  • Dummy4 on October 5, 2014, 6:09 GMT

    Excellent article, cricket does need feminism. That said Women's cricket is doing much better than many other major sports. I'm from Australia and there is absolutely no coverage of women's Aussie rules or women's rugby, whereas Women's T20's are broadcast on TV. There's still a long way to go though.

  • Dummy4 on October 5, 2014, 2:41 GMT

    There is little to no demand for women's cricket.

  • Dummy4 on October 4, 2014, 16:15 GMT

    @Moz. and @WheresTheEmpire: just saying "egalitarian" or "humanist" or whatever catch-all term you want to use is not sufficient - as long as there is discrimination that is uniquely faced by women the label "feminist" is necessary because without the label it is easy to ignore sexism against women when attention isn't being paid to it. A useful analogy is telling kids in the playground to "play nice", which is not enough to ensure that they don't bully based on gender, race etc as they are not fully aware of what that entails, so you must go into specifics.

    Not to mention, those identifying simply as humanists and consciously rejecting the feminist label often have views ranging from mildly sexist to explicitly misogynist...while also claiming to be "pro-equality but anti-feminist".

  • Moz on October 4, 2014, 14:51 GMT

    'Feminism' is, whether you like it or not, a loaded word. Stick with 'Egalitarianism' (which is about equality in both definition and practice) and you can't go wrong.

  • Dummy4 on October 4, 2014, 12:36 GMT

    Excellent article. Of course cricket needs feminism. Everything needs feminism.

    And the idea that feminism is about only identifying with a "subgroup", as WheresTheEmpire states, is the sort of thinking which not only betrays a serious lack of education about feminism but also the reason that feminism is vitally important in the first place.

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