Friday, July 10, 2009

Who said 'footy mum'?

I have recently discovered that I've been keeping some of my friends amused by the fact that I can now talk football.

I have to admit, on this matter, I have been a bit surprised by my own capacity to adapt. But what do you do when you have a seven-year-old who is so utterly obsessed with football (in our case, AFL, being Melbourne), your only hope of a decent conversation is to start talking shop?

My son is now a walking encyclopaedia of footy scores. Perhaps he’ll hit 13 and we’ll suddenly be plunged into the ins and outs of his favourite music (bring it on!). But for now, it’s all “So, Mum, who is your fourth favourite footy player?”

May as well have an answer.

Even more amazing (to myself and others), is that I have now completed my first Auskick training certificate. Yes, I actually know how to put spin on the ball. It was that or stand around shivering on a frost-encrusted oval at 9am on Saturday morning. (Goodbye weekends…)

I have to admit, this Auskick set-up is impressive. I understood what one of the other mothers meant when she said: "We could learn something here, Rachel. Us lefties — if we were as well organised as Auskick we'd have kicked out Kennett two years earlier."

When our son first started showing an interest, my partner warned me about mothers like me. "You'll have to hang out with those footy mums...". "Oh, God, you're right," I thought. "Shit, no."

Now look at me. There is that simple thing that, as a mother, I want to be enthusiastic about whatever my kids are enthusiastic about — to genuinely engage with their interests and support their endeavours. It's just that when I thought about having babies, I stupidly envisaged that they'd be a bit like me — bookish and introverted.

Ha, ha, parenthood 101 — your kids will be their own going concern.

At this stage my son is too young too be aware of the suspect culture that exists on (and all too often off) the field. But it doesn’t take much to know that aggression is inherent to the game — exactly the thing that has always made me rail against it.

I can admire the athleticism involved, but what of the masculine (read, sexist) culture so evident in a sport like AFL? How do I counteract this at home when it is so much a part of the scene?

We don’t have a TV, thankfully, so I don’t have to deal with my son coming across programs like the Footy Show (so aptly described by the fabulous Catherine Deveny as hosted by pigs in suits for pigs in suits).

And fortunately my son has chosen to support a team that is on a serious losing streak, which not only makes me a tad more sympathetic but, for him, has enforced some useful lessons in humility.

The other great thing about my son’s age group is that there are still girls doing the Auskick training alongside the boys and this so far goes unquestioned. I am full of admiration for those fearless girls in their pink trackie-pants who can cut it with the best of them. What a shame all their visible role models have to be male.

In Melbourne, being part of the footy culture is like joining a club ('scuse the sort-of pun) — one that almost everyone else has already signed up to but to which I was almost completely oblivious, before now. Everywhere we go, if Griffin has his footy gear on (which is most of the time), people will tussle his hair and mumble: “Go, tiges!” (For those in the know, he is a Richmond Tigers fan, if that wasn’t already clear.) I can find this ridiculously endearing.

Right now I feel torn between wanting to support my son in his genuine love of the sport — which to him is about physical striving and personal achievement — and my concerns that the dominant culture in AFL is one that is in strong part to blame for the conduct of so many of its players. Even if it is working to change its ethos.

Plenty of women do love footy, I know. Funnily enough, on the fan front, AFL seems a pretty egalitarian sport. But just like I think it’s a form of denial to say that women’s magazines are just a bit of fun that don’t impact on women’s self-esteem, I think footy culture has problematic implications for our broader culture.

Anyone else out there confronting how to raise a son who loves footy and respects women? It was not a challenge I was expecting...


Anonymous said...

So far my son is oblivious to footy, but he's only two and a half. He does love cars though, and I feel free to take no interest at all in the 50 Matchbox cars, the diggers, tractors, utes and assorted other mini machinery. I figure he's got other people in his life who are genuinely interested so there's no need for me to pretend. He knows I'll always share his interest in other stuff.

My nephew is ten, I know his parents did a fair bit of careful research before allowing him to join a team (he was over Auskick and ready to move up) to make sure the club culture was one they could support.

In theory I think being involved helps to change the culture, but I also think there are clubs where the sexism is so entrenched you wouldn't have a chance and they're best avoided.

genevieve said...

Rachel, I've written such a long comment I'm going to send you an email instead. PFFT.
Don't worry, it's mostly quite good news:-D

Red Hen (dette) said...

And respects and accepts the arts and is not homophobic! My experiences with my ex has made me totally against this subculture.For many years my children believed I had a special sport blocker for the TV (an off button and remote control actually.) I truely don't know how I would have felt had either of my children wanted to join footy or cricket for that matter. It is also the heavy reliance and acceptance of binge drinking and anti-social behaviour that I found particularly difficult leading to all sorts of problems for me afterwards. Any one who was loving and commited to their family were had to be exceptionally strong to put up with the dirision they copped for being 'under the thumb and hen pecked'.
Rant over...I'm glad it is not me having to confront this. My son took up fencing where both men and women compete and the conversations I overheard while watching one day was about their various uni cources and the merits of the cello over the flue.
I suppose as he grows and encounters these things you will just have to make sure you (and your partner) discuss the negatives with him as well as embracing the positives.
(Your posts have a tendency to elicit long responses!!!)

Elk said...

As I'm not yet a mother I dont' have any experiences of trying to guide a young one onto a good path. My comment instead is in relation to learning about things you'd never expected to have anything to do with. In my career as a Graphic Designer I find myself delving into mysterious worlds and learning a lot about them. I lay out a magazine for Dogs Victoria and also a publication for the NSW Harness Racing industry. When I first got the job my mum joked it was like that line from the Hugh Grant movie where he pretends to be a journo from Horse and Hound... I'm not really a dog person but I find it fascinating seeing all the things involved in their world, the same for the trots. And yes when I start talking about dogs my friends don't recognise me either...

Rachel Power said...

These are all such great comments--and have made me feel much better about the whole thing. I suppose I should be grateful that it's not rugby or boxing. Yes, so far Auskick has been surprisingly mild--most of the parents are more interested in reading the paper than egging on their kids. There's no tackling, a focus on fairness and giving everyone a go etc. But I think that's good advice to research the club carefully once we get to the team stage. I love those comments overheard at fencing--classic!! Also agree, Elk, that journalism is great for exposing you to all sorts of subcultures you never knew existed.

Damon Young said...

Nothing wrong with boxing!

(Except the parents' and spouses' ongoing fear of serious injury. But APART from this, nothing wrong with boxing.)

What about cage fighting? Very good safety record...

Anonymous said...

I think innercitygarden's last paragraph is a good one...but, yeah, we've got the same questions in this house.