Tired of the boys’ clubs mentality in AFL, Jack Howes hopes that enhanced female participation will bring the “girls” inside the club and make a difference to the sport in general.

I probably write about AFL too much for this website, which comes from being a Melbourne boy I suppose. There were a couple of things specifically this week that got my attention though.

Following the suspensions of Hawthorn’s Luke Hodge and Jordan Lewis, both considered club leaders, for assorted acts of “thuggery”, their teammate Josh Gibson utterly declined to condemn them. ‘The boys play the game tough’ was the best we got out of him.

‘The boys’ is the great excuser and celebrant of modern professional sport. The boys speaks to the state of arrested development we all sink back to when we watch them run out onto the park. It excuses any manner of sins. After all, they’re just boys and shouldn’t be expected to know any better. Sometimes they go a touch too far, get a bit too tough and get a slap on the wrist. It’s absolutely no different to the juniors, to school.

Give a bloke a whack in the face on the street and you’re looking at a bit of a chat from the po-lice. Do it on the field in front of 50, 000 men, women and children on Friday night and you’re looking at three weeks.

It’s almost been entirely confined to men as well. That one day a week when the boys get to go out and have a bash physically. Test themselves out. Have a run, get a bit rough and give someone a whack if he’s being an absolute dick.

Australia’s a country that’s long prided itself on its toughness. Hard but fair, and quick to have a laugh. And it’s been through sport that this national character has for so long expressed itself.

But for too long the place for women in this scheme has been on the boundaries and in the canteens. Supporting the boys, getting them to their games, remembering the mouthguards, and chopping the oranges for half time. I have no intent on being patronising here. The work so many women do behind the scenes has kept club after club alive, and given any number of stars their chance.

Unfortunately it’s maintained a social hierarchy that makes it hard for women to express themselves physically. Where’s the one day a week for women where they can lay it all on the line, smash the girl next to you, get up and do it all again?

It seems, finally, that we might slowly be moving towards a critical mass regarding female participation in the oval ball codes. Women have long been accepted in individual sports – golf, tennis, athletics, swimming – because these are largely tests of skill and ability. There’s no direct physical confrontation, no chance of harm at the hands of another.

That’s not to deny the success women have had in certain team sports, but none of these has the pull in this country that AFL, NRL and Union do.

And that’s why the Channel Seven decision to broadcast the Western Bulldogs–Melbourne curtain raiser, to be played by women later this year, is such a big deal. By the AFL’s numbers, which should always be treated with a decent pinch of salt, the game is growing for women. In 2014, female participation rose 41 percent, with 193 dedicated teams playing in 27 separate competitions in Victoria alone.

Role models on national television matter. They just do. What a powerful thing to be able to flick on the TV on a Sunday afternoon and know we’ll see girls on the field as well as the boys.

I love the boys, don’t get me wrong, but it’d be nice to have the option to love the girls too.

The athleticism might not be on quite the same level, but the effort, the endeavor, the toughness and the reckless thrill of flouting the rules will remain.

Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll all be reading about a couple of nice young girls, leaders, champions, who just play the game tough?

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