Breaking the mould: taking a hammer to sexism in sport

By Heath Chamerski | 22 Mar 17
Flying Cloud image via Flickr

Breaking the Mould: Taking a Hammer to Sexism in Sport | Angela Pippos
Review by Heath Chamerski

Breaking the MouldThere’s barely a chapter in Breaking the Mould: Taking a Hammer to Sexism in Sport that won’t make the reader angry. Trailblazing sports journalist Angela Pippos shines a light on the rampant sexism and double standards that extend to women’s sport, on both Australian and global stages, and discusses the changing face of women’s sport in the 21st century. It is an exceptional piece of writing.

Pippos is frank in her assessment of the sporting world, labelling it “an overtly masculine empire that needs a radical makeover to get with the times”. For decades, female athletes have had to put up with a lack of media attention for their accomplishments, poor TV coverage of their events and a general level of disrespect for their on-field endeavours. Then there’s the matter of the pitiful pay that many sportswomen receive if compared to the salary caps of their male counterparts.

But the tide is turning. The recent spectacular launch of the AFL Women’s League, as well as the huge success of the Women’s Big Bash and the new Super Netball league of late, augurs well, in that hopefully the only place future female athletes encounter such unfair treatment will be while reading the shocking stories of years gone by detailed in Breaking the Mould, and not in their own sporting careers.

Pippos’ passion and love for sport is evident from page one. She cleverly threads her own sporting pursuits, in the backyard and on the netball court, as well as her experiences in sports journalism, throughout the book. Pippos is not afraid to call out sexism and the shocking treatment female sports journalists endure, in what is still a very blokey profession. Some truly shocking tales of the vile behaviour she has endured over the course of her career are recounted . While it makes for uncomfortable reading, Pippos forces readers to face up to the uglier side of what is seen as a glamourous industry and calls out the troubling misogyny in the industry for what it is.

One of the best aspects of Breaking the Mould is the breadth of Pippos’ coverage. While Pippos has primarily covered AFL in her media career, she contrasts and compares the various trajectories of sportswomen in many different sports, highlighting the meteoric rise of Ronda Rousey in the world of UFC and the lessons others sporting organisations could learn from her success. A few years after UFC president Dana White declared that women would never fight in his championship, Rousey rose to become the biggest name in the sport and one of the biggest stars on the planet, proving how quickly things can change if female athletes are given the chance to prove themselves on the world stage.

Conversely, soccer is discussed in a less flattering light. The achievements of Australia’s women’s soccer team, The Matildas, on the world stage nevertheless saw them receive a fraction of the media coverage than that of the less-successful men’s team.

The chapter entitled The Dark Underbelly is perhaps the most disturbing segment of the book. It details sordid off-field AFL scandals of the past and how the shocking behaviour of certain players and the toxic culture of certain football teams has bred a disrespect towards women. This has only made their struggle to be treated as equals on the field of play all the more difficult.

The research that underpins this work is impressive. An incredible amount of data backs up the topics discussed, including wages, TV ratings, and the disparity in prize money that various sporting organisations still see as somehow fair. It also makes a strong case for why the sporting arena is such an important and vital part of the feminist movement. Because Breaking the Mould is about so much more than sport, this book will appeal to a larger demographic than just sports-loving readers.

Breaking the Mould is a truly eye-opening and timely book, a superbly written call to arms for equality, and one that humanises the struggle female athletes face day after day. These stories are often tough to read, but it is important they’re told. The persuasive prose and impassioned tone is sure to challenge and change more than a few viewpoints, and ultimately will go a long way towards helping everyone get on the same playing field.

Breaking the Mould: Taking a Hammer to Sexism in Sport is now available from Affirm Press.