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MP puts foot in it with comment on 'feminine' exercise and the gender gap in sport

February 26th 2014 / 1 comment


Sports and Equalities Minister Helen Grant has called out for closing the gap between women and sports, but caused a storm by suggesting that a Zumba class may be the answer, reports Hanna Ibraheem

In an interview with The Telegraph this week, MP Helen Grant noted that despite the gender gap between the number of men and women in sport falling from around 2.2 million to about 1.8 million it’s still a “pretty big difference”.

She went on to say that we need to get more women into sports and the only way to do this is to ask women what they want, whether it be new facilities or more access to a wider range of sports. So far, so good. But then things took a rather unnecessary turn. Ms Grant said: “We really need to take a step back and actually ask women what they want and give it to them.”

She added: “That can be whether it’s a Zumba class or a game of Rounders after they’ve dropped the kids off.” The whole female gender just got placed into two categories: Zumba lovers and mothers - and this just a day after learning that the number of women in work in Britain has hit a record high.

Digging the hole further, she went on to suggest that women try different sports, like “gym, ballet and cheerleading”. She argued that sport can be feminine and we can still participate in activities while looking “radiant”.

“You don’t have to feel unfeminine,” said Ms Grant. “There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating.”

Anti-sexism campaigners have criticised her views, saying the MP seems more concerned with looks rather than talent. Sadly, her comments seem to show why the gap is there in the first place.

Laura Bate, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, said: "It's really the wrong approach to suggest that the only way for women to get involved in sports is to be girly and feminine. It's actually discouraging for a minister to say this."

"With our great athletes performing fantastically at the Olympics, we still see media outlets focusing on the looks and femininity, which the comments seem to do too."

A spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport also commented: "It is nonsense that the minister suggested women's participation in sport should be based on looks.

“The point is that there is a sport or physical activity out there for all women. For some it will be tennis or football, for others judo or dance. Women decide what they want to do based on their interests and own lives and that choice is up to them."

Encouraging ‘feminine’ sports would only widen the gap and may take the choice of entering ‘masculine’ sports away from young girls.Though worrying about looks is one possible factor that prevents women from feeling confident about taking part in sport, it was an unfortunate one to focus on when commenting on it could in fact enforce the idea of the need to look good even further.

Ms Grant defended herself on her Twitter page, writing: “Was making the point that there is a sport or type of physical activity out there for all women. For some women it will be traditional sports like tennis or football, for others extreme sports like freestyle skiing and for others dance.”

Women more than proved themselves at the 2012 London Olympics, with Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton and Rebecca Adlington becoming household names after their medal success in male-dominated sports. Then there was Nicola Adams who claimed the first ever Olympic women's boxing Gold medal - it was definitely an event for the ladies. Even Sochi saw history this month at the 2014 Winter Olympics when Britain’s Jenny Jones, Lizzy Yarnold and women’s curling team brought home medals. Though these victories have felt somewhat short lived.

When the England women’s cricket team won their Ashes test match against Australia, there wasn’t much hype. Then there was the Twitter incident with Beth Tweddle. And most recently, Rebecca Adlington has had nose surgery after being the victim of continuous taunts and abuse. It is clear that sexism is rife in sports and things need to change. Fast.

In her interview, Ms Grant did agree that behavioural attitudes towards women in sport need to change.

She said: “I think we need to get to the point where women’s sport is looked on and regarded as equal to the men’s game. When we get to that point that’s when we get the balanced coverage.

“To get to that point, we need certainly the media to do more, we need more finance, more businesses getting involved through sponsorship and we needs sports governing bodies and others and schools to be very innovative with ways to get our girls involved.”

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  • Martin Fretwell
  • February 28th 2014

Perhaps Ms Grant might have thought through her comments more carefully as she did initially appear to be as sexist as those she was railing against. When I first read what she said (before she defended herself) I was expecting her to mention sports in high heels would give sportswomen better shaped legs - or something else as equally ridiculous! The key to the equality issue is the audience and the resulting cash. If there's a big enough audience - the cash will follow. She hits the nail on the head regarding education and encouraging girls at school to take a more active interest in all sports as the way to improve female audiences and that's a very long term approach. Martin http://www.theshoeshop.co.uk

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