International women’s day is a day to ruminate what it means to be a woman. It is a day to critically reflect upon the current status of women around the world, but also a day to celebrate all that women are. We are mother’s, sisters, doctors, lawyers, lovers, fighters and everything else in the whole spectrum of being present in today’s world.
We are also athletes, and I believe in the transformative power of women’s athletics. Nothing affirmed this belief like the women’s rugby team at the Zona Rural where I lived and worked last year. I would like to dedicate this post to the deepest feminist experience I had in Brazil – my women’s rugby team.
Below is a news report on the sport and our teams (my very first TV appearance here in Petrolina) and also the text (translated from Portuguese to English) from a poster I’ve presented in two national conferences about rugby and feminism.
Happy International Women’s Day– now get out and play.
Women’s Rugby and Feminism: Four Feminist Theories at Work, Combating Oppression at the Federal Institute in Petrolina’s Rural Zone
The women’s rugby team commenced at the Zona Rural in March 2011 (the same time as the male team) and has been vibrantly active since, competing twice since its inception and practicing weekly. Due to the high level of contact and aggressive nature of the sport, women’s rugby provides for a fascinating intersection of feminism and athletics. Using the four main feminist theories described by Professor Elizabeth Hackett of Agnes Scott College, this section details how Rugby Feminino at the Zona Rural illustrates women´s liberation and empowerment in action.
Humanist (Same theory)
The female team is humanist in the sense that there is woman’s team, just as there is a men’s team, with the same resources, practice time, balls, competitions, etc. The equality between the two teams is empowering as it shows that the women’s team, and its young female players, are as equally important as the men’s team. They are equally as strong, skilled, athletic and able.
Gynocentric (Difference Theory)
It is important that there is a women’s rugby team separate from the male team. As rugby is a sport involving high levels of physical contact and tackling, the differences of height and weight between men and women require that they compete separately. In accordance with the gynocentric approach, the female team at the Zona Rural values women’s athletic contributions while affirming separate but equal athletic qualities between men and women.
Besides occasional male coaching or refereeing, the women’s rugby team at the Zona Rural is matriarchal. With the exception of minor guidance, the Women’s team is largely self-administered: warm-up, stretching, practices and practice matches are largely self-run, providing invaluable leadership opportunities and offering an alternate, radical model to the patriarchal society at large.
Moreover, rugby involves tackling, scrums and overall physical intensity that are not gender stereotypical.
What words or images come to mind when you think of rugby? And what words or images come to mind when you think of women? Most likely, for rugby you thought of the words and images associated with “violent, bruising, intense, strong, sweat, hard-core, etc.” For female maybe you thought of “delicate, sweet, beautiful, gentle, pink, etc.” and the images associated with those words. Thus Rugby is also a classic example of neo-classical feminist thought, the mere fact of women playing rugby completely defies these stereotypical images.
A major outcome of this apparent conflict is that on an individual level, the female players learn that they are in control of how they want to be defined. They are the masters of their identity and nobody can tell them what they are. They are empowered by learning that to be a woman, to be who they are, means what they want it to mean. In a society that is constantly telling women that they are weak and sensitive, they are actively proving that, as women, they are strong, courageous, powerful, athletic and capable. The women’s rugby team is breaking gender stereotypes on campus and in the community of Petrolina, playing in inter-campus games, appearing on local news Channel 4 and now internationally to those reading these words!