The Female Rugby Player: Stereotyped
Over the past three years, some variation of the following conversation has occurred countless times:
Person: “Do you play any sports?”
Me: “Yeah. I play rugby!”
Person: “You play rugby?”
Such a statement suggests that there is a “type” of woman who plays rugby, and that I, for some reason, don’t comply with the proposed image.
I’m 5’8’’, Asian, and I obsessively organize sugar packets at restaurants. I enjoy imbibing Woo Woos from garbage pails, wearing mid-calves, and bro-ing out. I also like drinking tea, drawing portraits, and shopping for dresses.
Overwhelmingly I have found rugby to be the most welcoming sport I have ever played. It’s a global family, one that promotes international understanding and healthy competition. In its very composition, the sport embraces the diversity of human beings, celebrating the powerful prop, the commanding eight-man, and the speedy wing. You can be big and strong, short and fast, or as tall and lanky as Sasquatch – rugby has a place for you.
Given that the sport demands a heterogeneous group of athletes, it seems impossible that there should be a “type,” associated with the game, yet when I sat down with a few rugby friends, we devised the following list of stereotypes in less than thirty seconds.
- Super butch
To me, it seems that the majority of these stereotypes are intimately linked with the general perception of rugby as a “gay” sport. Much in the same way that field hockey or softball are typed as havens of homosexuality, rugby has come to be associated with lesbianism. Stereotyping the entire sport as “dyke-y,” involves age-old assumptions about ladies who like ladies – that all lesbians have short hair, that they are unattractive, that men spurned them. These stereotypes then leak over to the sport itself.
After playing rugby both in the ‘Cac and abroad, I will attest to the attractiveness of women’s rugby players. We run, lift, throw, push, and kick our way through 80-minute matches and we’re proud of it. Sometimes we make noises in the scrum, walk around with multicolored bruises, and make a ruckus in the dining hall, but we are no less beautiful than any random sample of ‘Cac students.
As a sport, rugby is steeped in traditions from initiation rites to lewd songs. Often teams will throw “socials,” or parties, after matches. During my time abroad, such socials included drinking and, consequently, drunken merriment. In a gesture of respect, teams bought each other man-of-the-match pints and celebrated their own players’ on-field achievements.
In the ‘Cac, rugby socials are parties in dormitories and off-campus houses, sadly often excluding the opponent because of the distance between schools. In the post-game euphoria, drinking is common, but while alcohol is an undeniable part of rugby culture, it is not a deal breaker. We have team members that abstain completely, some that balk at the word “shot,” and others that embrace Rubinoff with gusto. Your ability to down jungle juice is no use on the pitch and bears no relevance over your involvement with the sport itself. If “drunkard” is the stereotype, then women’s rugby allows for a full spectrum of tolerances and tastes.
It’s commonly held that stereotypes are based in truth, and assumptions about women rugby players are no different. Are there women who play rugby that comply with the purported image? Sure. We have our fair share of lesbians. We have large, muscular players, and feminists that are too-often conflated with man-haters. Some of us do enjoy imbibing alcohol and being rowdy.
While these people exist, as any stereotype does, we also have scrumhalves who are 4’11’’, fullbacks who lead community service trips, and more straight girls than anyone outside of the rugby community imagines.
As a rugby player I accept that the set of stereotypes exists. I know that I will endure surprised looks, that my parents will continually suggest I try field hockey or netball, and that I will have always have bruised legs in season. I accept these truths, but I strive to change them.
When someone acts surprised, I smile and talk more about my team. Recently my mother admitted she was glad I had played rugby abroad. I bought a lot of arnica cream, so I’ll have to update you on the bruises in a few weeks.
For now though, I relish the opportunity to wear my rugby gear in public and swagger around the world, announcing that this is what one woman rugger looks like.
*The author plays for the Amherst College Women’s Rugby Football Club and joined the King’s College, London team while abroad. The article reflects her experiences with the two clubs.