The princess problem

It’s not often I pay attention to the NRL. I can count the number of times I’ve been on an NRL team website on one finger. Team sports, televised sports – hell, sports – just aren’t my thing.

But sometimes something NRL-related pops up on my ‘we need to talk about this’ radar. (I’d call it Kevin, but that now means ‘knowing you don’t have the numbers for a leadership challenge but doing it anyway to fuck over your colleagues’.)

So, we need to talk about the Northern Pride rugby league club. They’re based in Cairns and, according to their website, they’re a “feeder club” for the North Queensland Cowboys.

Specifically, we need to talk about the Northern Pride’s role in limiting the options available to girls in their local community.

Most teams in the NRL offer junior memberships for children – not girls, not boys, but children. But not the Northern Pride. There, children can be either a Pride Cub, or a Pride Princess.

But it gets worse. This is what boys get as part of their membership:
Pride Cubs Membership – $60
– Opportunity to run the team out to one (1) home game
– Opportunity to become a ball boy for the Northern Pride on home game days
– A Pride Cubs T-shirt, hat and boot bag
– A football, drink bottle, team poster, wristband, tattoos, stickers, draw magnet & balloons
– Member’s card with exclusive offers & benefits
– A personalized Pride Birthday Card signed by your favourite player
– Subscription to the Northern Pride’s “Pride Pulse” members e-newsletter
– Exclusive Members only team alert emailed every Tuesday
– Voting rights for the 2012 Members Player of the Year award

This is what girls get as part of their membership:
Pride Princess Membership – $60
– One (1) Cheerleading lesson & performance conducted by Awesome Cheerleaders
– Possibility for you to become part of the Northern Pride mini cheersquad “The Pride Princesses” and perform at Pride home games in 2012 **Conditions and additional costs apply
– Two (2) Pom Poms
– A Pride Princess T-shirt and cap
– A Pride drink bottle, team poster, wristband, tattoos, stickers, draw magnet & balloons
– Member’s card with exclusive offers & benefits
– A personalized Pride Birthday Card from signed by your favourite player
– Subscription to the Northern Pride’s “Pride Pulse” members e-newsletter
– Exclusive Members only team alert emailed every Tuesday
– Voting rights for the 2012 Members Player of the Year award

That’s right. Boys get to run the team out on to the field and to be a ball boy at home games; girls get pom poms and a cheerleading lesson.

Girls in Cairns who follow league learn that boys get to be on the field, girls get to be next to the field in pretty outfits; boys get to be the stars, girls get to cheer for them. (And pay extra for the privilege.)

Reducing their role in sport to adornment is like telling elite athletes that they have to wear skirts at the Olympics. Oh. Wait.

I don’t think it’s outrageous to say we should be teaching all kids that they can be stars. I’m not talking about Australia’s Got Singing Dancing Children, but the idea that dreams – and achievement – aren’t limited to what genitals you happened to be born with. Because hell, females spend their whole lives being told that looking pretty, looking sexy but not slutty, is the most important thing they can do. So Northern Pride, how comfortable are you with being part of the problem? When a girl supports your team, instead of telling her that all she has to offer is being a bauble on the sidelines, why not tell her that her support is just as good as her brother’s support?

69 responses to “The princess problem

  1. Do girls want to play this stupid, barbaric sport anyway? I say go the pom-poms!

    Oh and I just wanted to add that ” I can count the number of times I’ve been on an NRL team website on one finger” sounds a bit dirty.

    : ) Great to see you on Sunday. x

    • Maxabella, I’m shocked! Loads of girls play league and loads more follow it. Do we really want girls to think that waving pom poms in a little outfit is the only role for them in a national sport?

      (And great to see you on Sunday too. Was a lovely afternoon.)

      • My daughter aged 5 plays and until that stupid age when girls are no longer allowed to play with the boys (12’s) but there is no competition for girls only until 16’s, the best player by far on my sons team was a girl. Maxabella if you don’t like rugby league that’s fine but implying that those who enjoy or play the sport are stupid is broadly offensive.

  2. Oh Jesus Christ, I wish you were kidding. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. What do they teach them to cheer? “No means yes! No means yes!” ??

  3. I felt that way about sport till my first roller derby bout. Now I get what everyone else was on about!

    The girls are right in the middle, the focus. The men only get to watch, or be refs. Unless you read that like one friend did – the men still in control. I guess the women are too busy being awesome role models for all the kids that come to each bout!

    • I love roller derby! Good for you for playing. It’s interesting that your friend said men still control the game because they’re refs – would your friend say female refs in, say, soccer, control the game?

      Amie, welcome to the News with Nipples.

  4. Well, at least both girls AND boys are eligible for Northern Pride tattoos. I say offer the littlies some piercings, too …

  5. the sad thing is – so many of the sheeple that pass for a polity these days will this is only natural and right. like your question about brereton & nixon we just have to keep on calling them on their obnoxious behaviour, leaving us precious little time to get on with the things we want to do.

  6. Didn’t you get the memo? Boys are tough and can do anything. When they aren’t hunting wild animals for food using their Northern Pride drink bottles as clubs, they dream of sporting stardom while running out onto the field with their “heroes”. Girls, on the other hand, are not tough, and apparently only suited to looking pretty, waving pom poms and, eventually, breeding.

    Which genius on the Northern Pride marketing teamed signed off on this?

  7. Coming from Townsville, this doesn’t suprise me at all – considering the town got the lucky title of most ‘racist’ place in Australia (the AIDS clinic once got burnt down too).
    However, to put young girls in the cheer squad is disgusting. Maybe things have changed since I left (which was eight years ago) but the conditions that the Cowboys cheer squad were notoriously bad. I know a number of ladies (courtesy of many years of ballet training) who refused offers to join the squad because having beer and other crap thrown at you isn’t a very nice experience. As I said, might have changed.
    Regardless, doesn’t change the fact that offering young girls the chance to partake in early sexualisation is gross as well.

    • I agree, it is icky. I didn’t want to get into that, but it absolutely is the sexualisation of young girls, pushing them from a young age to be sexy.

    • Went to every cowboys home game for 4 years from 2002 to 2006 and never once saw anything thrown at a cheerleader.

    • Not sure how I missed the beer throwing reference, but I have to agree with Kimsonof. At all the games I have attended at Dairy farmers (between 2004-2006 and 2008 -2010) not once have I witnessed the cheer girls having anything thrown at them, not even verbal abuse. They are the only cheer squad I have seen (granted I haven’t yet been to every teams home ground but I have been to many) that actually engage with the crowd. They walk around the ground during the match and talk to every one that comes down to the barrier. They hand out small trinkets to the kids. They are really quite a lovely squad. One of the ex-cheer girls was my sons primary school teacher. (She’s also an accredited juniors QRL coach)

      I can’t see a squad that gets abusive comments and beer thrown at them being so involved with the crowd. Maybe there was a one off incident, but if that was a common occurrence I doubt they’d leave their seats near the sidelines.

  8. Omg Where did they get the Pom poms? I want some.

    So does my 2-year-old.

    Ps would you be interested in talking to students about being a blogger? Go on, you know you really want to.

  9. I dunno. I think mostly it’s all just cold hard business; and with cricket, league and rules, the business is blokes. I know a few P.E. teachers who coach junior teams and from what they tell me, I don’t think any code treats girls particularly well. Mostly, they allow mixed sex teams up until a certain age and then split girls and boys into separate divisions. However, since “nobody is going to pay to watch sheilas play”, a lot of the time this just amounts to the girls being told to take a hike.

    As for cheerleaders, it’s a shame to see them reduced to the sporting equivalent of exotic dancers. At its best, cheering is an insane sport that’s far tougher than any footy code; like Cirque du Soleil crossed with Olympic level gymnastics. But we don’t really have that here, do we? Do they even let boys cheer?

  10. A lot of the NRL clubs have extra options for girls. (The Bulldogs have the Belle’s package, The Sharks offer a mermaid option for the girls, The Dragons have The flames package, The Tigers don’t even have a specific junior membership package for kids over 4yrs, The Roosters have a Chic package for adult women.)

    Whilst I don’t like the packages being genderised, I do know they are not set in stone. My daughter always asked for the Scorch package (Dragons junior membership marketed at boys) and she always received it. She didn’t want The Flames package as cheerleading never interested her. Conversely, a friends son loves pom poms so he gets the Flames package.

    When we lived in Townsville, I was surprised by how popular cheerleading is as a sport up there. I am not surprised that the feeder club has the offers it has. There is no reason why a girl couldn’t ask for a boy membership package though if that’s what she preferred. And vice versa.

    It’s a shame the clubs don’t just include all options in one big package that’s not marketed to a specific gender, but hopefully, if enough people ignore the gender tag and purchase the package their child prefers, the individual marketing teams for the clubs may just realise that gender lines in sport need not be so defined by ‘pink’ and ‘blue’. And whilst the cheerleading may be the impetus for some girls following rugby league, the majority of females who do, do because they love the game, not the pretty girls on the side lines.

    • Interesting. I looked on quite a few club sites and none had gender-specific junior packages.

      Why do so many of you know about Townsville?

      • Well you have to consider that I named 5 clubs when there is in fact 16 clubs + feeder clubs. So it’s still a small number. And it seems a lot of clubs are pulling away from dedicated junior packages and instead offering junior prices for the regular packages.

        Of those 5 I named only three have the genderisation included in their packages. (The Dragons with the Scorch/Flames packages and the Sharks, who have the Mermaids option in small print included in the regular package, although I don’t know if you can count the Roosters Chic package as it is marketed at ‘Chicks’ in general and doesn’t appear to be age specific) The Bulldogs Belle’s package is a separate add on package. (And the Tiger’s junior option is only for kids under the age of 4 yrs. Although it didn’t appear to gender specific, I had intended to say that it seems to be the way clubs are heading. Packages for babies are cropping up at other clubs, along with packages for pets and the junior memberships seem to be rolling into the regular membership just at a junior price.)

        As for how we all know so much about Townsville, there are many possibilities but two are that Townsville is a garrison town and there is also a large mining population. (We’ve lived there twice in the past 8 years and will probably be back there next year for another posting cycle.)

        • Yes, I saw those packages for pets and babies. Too funny. Being so into a team that you buy their merchandise is so odd to me. But then, I sometimes buy band t-shirts, which is the same thing.

          • Our entire house is a sea of red and white. It’s kind of pathetic really. But we draw the line at pet merchandise. (I also balance it with every available space being filled with books, books and more books.)

            The clubs with more professional cheer squads offer training sessions and meet and greets with the cheer girls as they do training sessions and meet and greets with the players. (I know the Sharks, Belle’s and Flames have an invitation to try out for the junior cheer squads included in their packages) It’s not an ideal way to get girls into league, but given how invisible any sort of female presence in the NRL is, at least they are starting to think about ways to engage girls. Granted it’s still the same old OMG fashion and Dance and pretty pretty, but it was encouraging to me that when my sons were playing in the Townsville comp, one of the female refs (a young girl about 15) said she started getting into footy watching her brothers play and she did a year of cheerleading before switching to refereeing as a way to get more involved in the game.

            Smart girls will find a way to enrich their involvement and love of the game. Not all will be fooled into side line participation by sequins, pom poms and poor choreography.

            • What I find particularly sucky is that the options for enriching involvement rarely include, y’know, actually playing.

              • Actually, there are. But they are women’s teams. Not mixed. And it is agonisingly difficult to find information on them unless you are affiliated with a club. The NRL and ARL need to be doing to more to promote their initiatives. Two of my (adult) sisters play football. (One plays Union in QLD, the other plays League in NSW) My sister who plays league (I just texted her and asked her briefly about it) said the game she plays is through the league club but is a hybrid game of League and Union. Group 16 introduced it to get more women participating.

                Last season saw all teams (men and women’s) getting better gate intakes and crowds and the club she plays for now has more female committee members than men and better player participation in their community. There is a women’s union team in the region as well who have been around a lot longer but she’s not sure if their team is affiliated with the men’s team like the league teams are.

                There’s also a high school comp for girls in both union and league in the NSW south coast region. Initiatives and programs ARE there, they just aren’t as visible as they should be.

                The young ref I spoke to in Townsville, she didn’t want to PLAY the game, she just wanted to be involved in the game as something more than a cheer girl. (And good for her, I’d say good for her if cheer leading was what she wanted to do too. Some squads are quite professional and have a high calibre of dance and acrobatics. Granted, most are just jokes, but with more interest and more support they could be competitive.) I have quite a few friends whose daughters have take up cheer leading as a sport and compete and really enjoy it. It’s just as damaging to write it off as a “princess pass time” also. It undermines all the hard work and effort these girls and boys put into honing their sport. (Because yes, there are actually quite a few boys in these young cheer squads.)

                • Well, I’m glad we do have (at least the start of) some serious cheerleading in this country and that they do let boys participate. It answers a couple of my earlier questions.

                  And while I agree that women’s league has an obvious visibility problem, there must surely be an availability problem too, mustn’t there? I mean, I’ve lived in a few places and almost none of them have had women’s clubs that I knew of. They couldn’t be that invisible, could they? Of course, even if they didn’t when I lived there doesn’t mean they still don’t, I dunno …

                  • How hard did you look to find them?

                    I know this is Rugby and not league, however…
                    This weekend the Ella 7’s were played in Coffs Harbour. (8 women’s teams and 24 mens teams) Next weekend at Pittwater Rugby park the Sevens by the sea women’s tournament is being played.

                    Group 16, 6 and 7 in Rugby League all have women’s teams. (These ones I know of because I know women who play in them.)There are most definitely others. My sister’s team have a face book page but it’s a private page because some of the women who play in the team are still at high school. She said something about privacy and security purposes. (Which can explain a little of how hard it is to find info. Google is quite frankly useless) But if You google men’s league, find clubs in your local area and then go in and ask if they have an affiliated women’s team, that’s the easiest way to find out.

                    I’ve found that women’s league is more visible in areas where Women’s Rugby is more visible.

            • A dragons fan? Pirra how could you?

          • Confession: I got Jake a Newtown Jets tshirt when he was about a year old.

      • My parents moved us there from Noosa and have remained (from one extreme to another my Mum used to say). As Pirra said, you would be suprised – with the army/force/naval facilities, a major port and of course one of the major points from which FIFO operations fly out of in Qld.

    • But they don’t have to call them boys’ and girls’ packages. They could call them game, or basic and cheering packages. It’s naive to suggest that labelling them boys’ and girls’ doesn’t indicate that they expect the boys to be doing one and girls the other, or that it won’t affect the children’s decisions and perceptions of themselves.

      • Yes, precisely. At no stage did I suggest that it wasn’t poor form and that it shouldn’t be addressed. I don’t like the pink and blue binary either. (Which I also said in my above comment) I don’t think I am being naive about the packages offered or the messages they send. But the best way to make the point is for the people purchasing the packages to ignore the pink/blue binary and purchase the package their kid wants. Or simply not purchase one at all and tell the club why. The more feedback clubs get the better chance we have of these issues being identified and resolved.

        I think most clubs are realising this already and some don’t even have dedicated Junior membership packages anymore at all, they are simply making the regular packages available at junior prices.

        • Yes, some of the websites I looked at had this system.

          Another issue with pink/blue is that kids know that they’re for girls/boys because they’re not growing up in a vacuum. So how many would feel comfortable picking the “other colour”? I don’t have kids so I don’t know much about this, but I’ve read a bit in the area and they seem to police appropriate colours/toys because that’s what they’ve been taught to do by the culture they’re in.

          • I know one little boy whose favourite colour was pink until he started going to daycare. Now it’s blue, because “pink is a girl colour”.

            ’tis sad.

          • Yes. That is endemic within society. Not something particular to NRL membership packages. Packages that where probably the brain child of someone else who grew up within the pink/blue binary and didn’t think to question it.

            I have one son perfectly comfortable dressing in drag and another who wouldn’t be caught dead doing so. One guess which one was in the conventional school system longer?

  11. Then further down the track when a princess is sexually assaulted by a cub, the club community will paint her as a slut who asked for it.

    I doubt if it’s a Townsville thing; I know for a fact that soccer clubs in Townsville have mixed teams right through to upper junior divisions and encourage girls to reach their potential.

    “Do girls want to play this stupid, barbaric sport anyway?”
    If they are less inclined then couldn’t that be because they were excluded and relegated to the side lines from an early age? Hence the point of the post.

  12. Sydney Junior Hockey is guilty of unapologetic sexism too. Girls can play in mixed (mixed being code for boys teams with one or two girls allowed to play) teams up to under 17s and there is no cheerleading culture at all. However, the beautiful, half million dollar, water-based, synthetic turf fields are reserved exclusively for boys. Girls only get to play on them if they are in a “mixed” team. All girl teams play on grass, or if the club still has an old sand-based field they use that. During Central Division rep trials which are held at Moorebank where there is both a water and sand-based field, the boys trial on water and the girls on sand. It’s an obvious status thing that nobody ever questions; girls are just less important.

    Btw I read this and wondered if you had seen it:

    • When I saw that Louise North was doing that study, it made me wish I was still working in a newsroom. I have many stories of being sexually harassed, and seeing female colleagues being sexually harassed and it’s almost always by managers. I can only think of one example of the harasser being the same rank.

      Call me cynical but I doubt anything will happen as a result of this study. Women don’t report it because it’s their career that will be affected, not the fuck-knob’s career, and so newsrooms will say ‘hey, we don’t have any reports of this happening so it clearly isn’t a problem here’.

    • That is just disgraceful. They are flat out teaching children that boys are more important than girls. Does nobody think this stuff will have an effect on how they see themselves and each other? Do the parents of the girls want some noise made about this? Because it sounds as if it could use some.

      • Were you talking about the hockey, orlando? Unbelievably, I have never heard anyone complain except the mother of a girl who was temporarily blinded by trialling for hours on a sand-based field in unusually high winds. Even then I don’t think she really made the connection to overt sexism. Any parents of girls with any serious interest or power within the sport just make sure their girls play on boys teams which they can right through to adulthood. Amazing when you consider level of risk and high rate of serious injury in hockey.

        But I’d be happy to support any noise-making campaign, on principle. Hell, most clubs wouldn’t even survive without the contribution women make in the form of time, energy, organisational skills etc. I imagine the same is true of junior rugby league.

        • I used to play field hockey (boarding school), then when we moved to a small town up north, I played indoor hockey on a boys’ team because I didn’t want to travel to the next town to play field hockey on a girls’ team. There were two of us who played on that team and the guys weren’t bothered at all because we were just as tough.

          It has to be said, as a shy year 9-er, I quite enjoyed it when the year 11 and 12 guys took their shirts off after the game.

  13. Not really relevant, but it is good to know that even horrible war criminals can be cheerleaders

    • Really a war criminal, do have a link ton information about the conviction or even the indictment? Didn’t think so.

      • Torture and indefinite detention without charge seems pretty war-crime-y to me.

        • If you accept that a war is occuring – which you must to speak of ‘war crimes’ then indefinite detention is entirely legal for prisoners of war. Indeed they could well be kept without charge until hostilities cease in Afghanistan which at least as far as the americans are concerned will probably be around 2020 (unofficially of course as special operations will still occur well after the official 2014 drawdown target.) As for torture well I have seen no evidence of Dubya participating in torture and at worst he could be accused of turning a blind eye to certain things.

          • Firstly; “If you accept that a war is occurring”. Well, I guess that’s debatable isn’t it? From memory (and it does get rusty) the UN didn’t sanction action and the US didn’t declare war on Afghanistan. I must admit to being ignorant of how these things are supposed to work when a nation declares a world wide war on an abstract concept like terror.

            Secondly; are they prisoners of war? Great pains were taken to avoid declaring them as such so that normal POW rules could be denied, right? Likewise, I must admit my ignorance on how one is supposed to treat captives whose official designation is “really bad guys”.

            Thirdly; I may be a simple hyperchicken without a big fancy law degree, but I would be very disappointed to learn that military commanders are permitted to order, organise, facilitate and knowingly turn a blind eye to torture so long as they don’t work the pliers themselves.

            • No war no war crimes you buffoon.
              It really is a simple notion. There are no such things as illegal wars and a nation does not need UN sanction to commence one in cases of self defence.
              The US declared war on terrorists and any regimes who hid them viv Afghanistan.
              Their official desgnation is ‘supporters of terrorists’ therefore technically their protection under the Geneva Convention is non-existant however I have yet to see any evidence (that is as opposed to something David Hicks said) that the basic rights of POW’s under the Geneva Convention have been withheld.

              • Easy on the name calling, kimsonof. You know the rules.

              • “No war no war crimes you buffoon.”
                “The US declared war on terrorists and any regimes who hid them viv Afghanistan.”

                So which is it?

                “Their official desgnation is ‘supporters of terrorists’ therefore technically their protection under the Geneva Convention is non-existant”

                But if you were at war with terrorism, terrorist prisoners would be prisoners of war, no? But seriously, the point is that “supporters of terrorists” is a label that is being given to people to avoid having to treat them as POW. I’m sure a lot of the people who get picked up see themselves as being a lot closer to soldiers fighting against an aggressive invasion than supporters of terrorism.

                And you don’t think anything that went on in Guantanamo pushed the envelope? How about the chaps who were flown to Egypt?

                Please note, I’m not arguing about whether the invasion of Afghanistan was right or wrong, only about the treatment of prisoners.

  14. All this talk of women in football and not one mention of the Lingerie Football League? Why yes, of course girls can play football. As long as they play it in a bra and panties…


    Mind you, if you see interviews with the Lingerie Football players, they are powerful woman that would knock most guys flat out if they received any unwanted attention! It’s a double edged role model, showing that women can play a hard physical game and can do whatever they want, but are still hampered by the “only if sexy and in knickers” limitation. Put them in normal NFL outfits and I reckon it would still be a great game.

  15. The NRL has had a few male cheerleaders.
    Paramatta started it in ’07

    Stephen Holdsworth for the Broncos and Aaron Neich for the Panthers also popped up out of Google searches.

    So that princess thing is a bit sexist. At least ‘cubs’ is gender neutral

  16. That cheerleading has become a challenging sport requiring athletic skill is a credit to the women who have made it so. Nothing like making lemonade out of lemons.
    Doesn’t change the fact that the role of the cheerleader is to admire the person playing the sport, and that female cheerleaders are viewed as providing a sexual display for spectators, and this is very crappy.
    The message to children is : sport is good, boys play it, girls admire the boys.
    Time to open up our heads and pour this rubbish out.

  17. But Darling, the boys get to play and compete but you get to stand on the sidelines, wear something skimpy and cheer them on. And you get a top with the word Princess on it. Dreams do come true!

  18. Doesn’t change the the role of female cheerleader as providing sexual display: doesn’t change the secondary role of cheerleader.
    There’s a comment above about little boys learning that it’s bad to do girl things. “Glee” and “Malcolm in the Middle” both had an episode about a boy joining the cheerleading squad: both showed the dominant attitude to boys doing so was negative. Read the link above: same attitude to the Lone Male Cheerleader in ’07.
    Men are needed in cheerleading now, because the routines require a great degree of physical strength. I dunno, how about skipping the cheerleading bit and going straight for Olympic level gymnastics?

    • I don’t think I follow. The way you break down the perception of something being “girly” is to get boys involved, isn’t it? Yes, the primary role of the cheer leader is to provide cheer for the people playing sport, but I don’t think that’s terribly awful if you can get away from the dichotomy of “girls cheering for boys”; which you do with mixed squads, right? And the level of sexual display has to do with the outfits and routines, doesn’t it? I mean, is there anything inherently sexual about cheer leading? It’s not lap dancing.

      And no, I don’t think gymnastics offers a drop in replacement for cheer leading. It doesn’t have the same team dynamic for starters.

      • I did say “I dunno” about the replacement activity.
        The way to change negative attitudes to female-centred activities is to change attitudes to women; and the best way to do that is to stop making unneccessary divisions between male and female roles in activities.
        The “Cubs” package is just nifty for all kids. Why offer the cheerleading package at all? Because they think girls and women have a seperate role : and that applies when the entire group consists of spectators.
        Heck, offer the cheerleading package if you really want to (though I would beg you not to, we are American enough, already) : just remove the word “princess”.

  19. Great post Nip.

    I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the way the athletic achievements of women are portrayed in the MSM lately. It is infuriating.

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