My daughter wasn’t allowed to play cricket with the boys

Cover of book The Gender Agenda
The Gender Agenda

James Millar, one half of Twitter account Gender Diary, writes for Lifting Limits about his now 11 year-old’s experience of playing cricket, and how to challenge sexism in sport in order to ensure continued participation of girls.

Gender Diary tweet about their daughter and son and how people treat them differently. Their book, The Gender Agenda, collects the first few years of their experience as parents documenting everyday sexism in childhood. As James MIllar writes, participation in sport can often be affected by gendered expectations of those around us, in schools and in society.

My daughter wasn’t allowed to play cricket with the boys

My daughter took a wicket with her first ball bowled of the cricket season. And with the delight, and slight surprise on her face, she and I and my partner all knew that the days and weeks of low-level persuasion, encouragement and cajoling had been worth it. We’d come down on the right side of that line that every parent knows – ­between pushing your child to do sport and putting them off.

But just a few weeks after that impressive start my daughter, now in her final year of primary school, chose to miss her first game of the season at the club she plays for because she just didn’t want to play.

The two girls selected sat on the sidelines throughout, keeping score.

What had gone wrong? She’d been put off by something that happened at school. Having played for a local cricket club for the last three years, she fancied her chances at the school try outs. Sure enough, she was picked for a forthcoming cup competition. Twelve kids travelled to the tournament – 10 boys, two girls. The 10 boys played four games. The two girls selected sat on the sidelines throughout, keeping score.

“This is a textbook case. If I had to write a scene to illustrate the barriers girls face I would’ve predicted this. Kids tend to drop out of sport when they hit puberty but that effect is more pronounced among girls.”

Dr Carrie Dunn

The optics, not the intention, were what mattered to us.

When I heard about this my blood boiled. Via our @GenderDiary Twitter account, my partner and I are good at encouraging others to challenge sexism when it looks this clear-cut. Now it was our turn. An angry email and a hastily convened meeting with the PE teacher ensued. He insisted that the girls were going to play in league games later that day but those matches had been cancelled at the last minute. He then pointed to some of the girls from the school who had gone on to great things in sport. But as far as we were concerned he didn’t get it. Whether or not he was actually being sexist or not, he’d taken 12 pupils to the event and excluded only the two girls from the winning cup run. The optics, not the intention, were what mattered to us.

Dr Carrie Dunn is a researcher into women’s sport. She said: “This is a textbook case. If I had to write a scene to illustrate the barriers girls face I would’ve predicted this. Kids tend to drop out of sport when they hit puberty but that effect is more pronounced among girls.”

The Changing the Game for Girls ­report by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation found just 12 per cent of 14-year-old girls reaching the recommended levels of physical activity. Some blamed the choice of sports available in PE, many agreed the teachers focus too much on the highest achievers. Some were discouraged by the attitude of boys towards the perceived abilities of their female counterparts; a factor that will be reinforced by boys seeing girls sitting unpicked for the big matches. Role models matter, whether that’s screening the Women’s World Cup on TV or seeing your classmate on the sidelines just because she’s a girl.

“cricket is a game for me”

Key to the England Cricket Board’s new “Inspiring Generations” strategy is making more folk feel “cricket is a game for me”. But there’s work to be done on that front. We tweeted about our daughter’s experience on our @GenderDiary account to ask if we were overblowing things. The response made it clear we were not.  Typical was the mum who explained her daughter was repeatedly overlooked for her cricket team because they’d “had a girl in the team last year and she wasn’t very good”. When the girl did get into a mixed team the pressure to perform was crippling because she was apparently representing her entire gender. She left the club. Match of the Day commentator Jacqui Oatley told the story of sending her daughter to a holiday sports club where the boys had a kickabout – while her daughter was directed to play alone with a hula hoop.

England World Cup cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent had positive advice. “Remind the girls they have as much right as the boys to play!” she tweeted.

England World Cup cricketer Ebony Rainford-Brent had positive advice. “Remind the girls they have as much right as the boys to play!”

Lydia Greenway is another England legend who set up a Cricket for Girls coaching scheme designed to help girls feel included and valued. Her scheme recognises girls can be self-conscious, that they may learn differently to boys, and that they may have limited knowledge of cricket. “I’ve had some great reactions,” she explained. “At first, some girls think it’s boring or complicated, but by the end of the first session those same girls are desperate to know when the next lesson is.”

Role models start at home

My daughter’s club, Streatham & Marlborough Cricket Club (SMCC) in south-east London, is putting a huge effort into attracting girls and recently held open days to get more women and girls into the club. Surrey Stars player Beth Kerins came along to encourage them. And on Sunday our daughter captained the Under-11 girls’ team to their first league point, taking a wicket into the bargain.

And there was another boon from that open evening. My partner was persuaded to pad up and have a go. Now daughter and mother are bowling and batting at each other in the back garden. A reminder that role models can start close to home.

A longer version of this article was first published in the Daily Telegraph on 28th June 2019.

At Lifting Limits, as part of our whole school approach, we offer an assembly aimed at all pupils, specifically about sport and gender. It demonstrates that before puberty there is no difference in terms of strength or physical ability between children of different genders. Before puberty, being good at any sport is nothing to do with a child’s gender, and everything to do with the natural skills or talents they have for that sport – and how much they practise.

Anyone can be good at throwing – boys and girls!
Until the age of 11-12 years old, being a boy or a girl has nothing to do with how well a child can throw an object like a ball.

Across the whole programme, we offer lesson plans for PE for Years 1-6, to challenge girls’ and boys’ expectations of what sports are ‘for them’, a whole school assembly on gender and sport, and additional specific Inset sessions for PE and sports’ teachers on combating gender stereotypes in their practice. Five schools have benefited from our resources and whole school approach 2018-2019 and in 2019-2020 an additional 12 schools are joining us.