Tuesday, June 21, 2011

This is an intriguing news story that I saw on BBC news a few days ago:

The majority of the Sri Lanka women's cricket squad have signed up for jobs in the armed services.
The move comes after attempts by Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) to find a sponsor for the women's team have failed so far to create much interest.

The attempts made by the English women's governing body until 1998, the Women's Cricket Association, to attract commercial sponsorship, could probably fill a book in themselves, but I have yet to research this aspect of the sport's history in detail. This can wait for another blog post, perhaps. Suffice it to say that women's sport has always been and is still chronically underfunded and undersponsored (although the situation has improved in Britain in recent years).

The other aspect of this news story that I find interesting is the way a career in the army is portrayed as highly compatible with playing cricket: the players, according to the BBC correspondent, "can hone their sporting skills while in uniform."

I spent part of last year researching the history of women's sport in the British army for my Master's dissertation. Specifically I looked at the Second World War, and the impact this had on opportunities for women to participate in sport (and cricket specifically).

The question posed was what effect total war might have had on the 'masculine' domain of sport. Relating to the above news story, I particularly considered the entrance of 445,000 women into the auxiliary armed forces between 1939 and 1945. In this period, the authorities recognised the value of sport for morale purposes and established a welfare organisation, with welfare officers securing equipment and grounds to enable women to play sports and games, as well as organising compulsory Physical Training (PT) for recruits. The attitude that a career in the army is compatible with the playing of sport evidenly has a long history.

One striking trend was the frequency with which mixed sport - previously frowned upon in British society - took place where men and women were stationed together. For example, Women's Cricket reported after the war that some of the WCA's talented players were selected to play in the predominantly male Officers v Sergeants cricket matches.

Conservative attitudes towards female athleticism remained in place. The Treasury would not budget for additional PT kit for women, refusing to believe that they would be participating in strenuous enough activities to require this. Additionally, PT was specially adapted to women and mainly involved 'light' gymnastic movements. It was specified that women should not be able to compete in violent sports such as tug-of-war.

Nonetheless, a time of total war coupled with the entrance of women into the armed forces did expand the sporting opportunities available to a number of females, and for a time at least broke down some gender boundaries.

To bring this back to the news story I started this blog entry by quoting from, it does seem as though we might greet the news of female cricketers joining the Sri Lankan Army as a positive development, breaking down the traditional association between masculinity, sport and war. On the other hand it seems clear to me that both these arenas are still perceived as 'masculine' and that female involvement, even in a time of total war as described above, is unable to permanently break down these associations to any great extent.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sorry to have neglected to post for awhile - one of the downsides to being a part-time PhD student is having to work 3 jobs from time to time to foot the bills. I'm hoping to post a bit more frequently from now on!

It was good to see on cricinfo recently a bit of a preview of the Women's Quadrangular Tournament being held in England this summer between England, Australia, New Zealand and India (the 4 best women's sides in the world) - http://www.espncricinfo.com/women/content/story/515794.html

Nice to see the women's game getting a bit of coverage, but, as ever, we'll have to see what happens once the tournament actually begins. After the results in Australia, I think we can look forward to an interesting summer of women's cricket.

Anyway, what really inspired this blog post was the announcement that Arran Brindle is back in the England side, having announced in 2006 that

I have decided to take an extended break from competing at the highest level for personal reasons, and to spend more time with my family while also looking to develop my career outside of cricket.

According to her ECB player profile, this really meant time off to start a family of her own. For Brindle, it appeared to be a choice (albeit temporary) between children and cricket. The research I have done to date reveals striking continuities between the difficulties faced by Brindle and her female ancestors. It has certainly never been easy for women to juggle cricket and marriage.

Eric Morecambe quipped in the foreword to Rachael Heyhoe-Flint's 1978 autobiography that

she is in such demand that she rarely eats at home. In fact, her lonely husband has eaten so many frozen dinners that he's been treated for a chilblained stomach and has had a gas heater fitted in his igloo.

RHF goes on to claim that she discounted marriage for years,

chiefly on the grounds that it would have been unfair to my husband. I did not consider giving up cricket and hockey at an early age and settling down to mothering and housewifery. I knew it would take a man of extraordinary tolerance, understanding and – preferably – a sporting background of his own, to put up with my constant departures to various corners of the globe.

Presumably she would have endorsed the following advice, targeted at the young female cricketer, published in the August 1966 edition of Women's Cricket journal:

To all those girls who, through fear of having to give up cricket have turned down no end of marriage proposals, here are a few words of advice from someone who risked it:
Arrange your wedding for just after the cricket season has finished. Wait on him hand and foot all through the early winter months, gradually easing up on the servant act after Christmas and constantly stressing how satisfying cooking and housework can be. If he is a keen footballer, encourage it; if not, make him take it up.
By the time March arrives he should be helping out a bit in the home and able to cook a simple meal...
April arrives with cricket practice one night a week and a match at the weekend. He should by now be sufficiently tired of you to enjoy one night a week out with the boys, and as for that match at the weekend his conscience is only too glad to be free of that guilty feeling it had all through the football season.

Naturally it has been even trickier for players to balance motherhood with cricket. A letter to the editors of Women's Cricket in May 1963 pleaded them for help:

how does one manage to resume playing and look after one's charge?...how will opponents and team-mates relish a pram appearing in their midst or what will occur when infant howls as mother bats? Is this a time for co-operation by all or is it, as so many of my friends tell me, time for my personal permanent departure...

I think many club cricketers today would recognise this dilemma.

In the less distant past the desire to devote time to motherhood has contributed to the premature end of some cricketing careers. Karen Smithies, England captain during the 1993 World Cup victory, retired in 2000, but 3 years previously had admitted she was considering retirement because:

I'm married, maybe I want a family soon, and [my husband's] not a cricket man...I think he's getting to the end of his tether.

All this is understandable when you consider the sacrifices that have always been and are still required to be a successful international cricketer: often away for months at a time and undergoing long hours of training, without even the financial reward that can prove such an incentive to male professionals.

One thing I have, however, found intriguing is that even pre-second wave feminism, many of these women were forceful enough to make their own choices about how to spend their leisure time. Given what social historians claim about married life in the 1950s, it is really rather extraordinary to read the following poem in a women's journal:

'The Married Woman's Apology to her husband'

Tell me not John, I am so strange
That from the scullery
Of our good home and quiet life
To bowl and bat I fly.
True, a new venture now I chase,
The Aussies must be beat;
And with a firmer grip I brace
My bat, my nerves, my feet.
Yet this desertion from my hearth
Which you, I know, deplore -
I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not cricket more.

(Women's Cricket, May 1951)

It certainly seems that for married female cricketers, two loves have always had to fight for precedence. I have been encouraged in my research, however, by the countless examples of husbands encouraging wives (and daughters) to take up the game, coaching them, and never seeming to mind their occasional relegation to second-place priority.