The “Lingerie League” have been practising with year 9 girls - what's wrong with this picture?
When South Australian high school Endeavour College asked their local gridiron (American football) team for some support with their year nine girls they didn’t expect to generate national interest.
Heather Vogt, principal of the Christian co-ed school, wanted to create a ‘coaching clinic’ for her female year nine students following similar events for boys in previous years. The idea was for members of a local female gridiron team to come to the school to hold a practice session with the girls, encouraging them to think about participating in non-traditional sports.
Unfortunately, when the Adelaide Eagles agreed to send female gridiron players, they neglected to explain to the school that the players in question were from the Adelaide Arsenal, who play for the infamous Legends Football League (LFL). In other words, that the sports women conducting the clinic usually play gridiron in bikinis.
The LFL, formally known as the “lingerie football league” have attracted widespread criticism for sexism and exploitation of women. Sports organisation AWRA (The Australian Women sport & Recreation Association Inc.) describes them as “sexist and demeaning to all women.”
It’s not surprising that the unlikely combination of a sport once described as “the closest thing to live stadium porno” (by founder Mitch Mortaza) and a high school has sparked huge outrage on social media.
“This is just blatantly wrong,” said one Facebook commenter, “What is this school thinking? Is that what they want their students aspiring to?” asks another.
But is all the fuss really justified, after all on the day of the coaching clinic, members of the Adelaide Arsenal were dressed in leggings and singlet tops.
Caitlin Roper, spokesperson for grassroots campaign group Collective Shout says that the LFL is “sexual objectification masquerading as sport.”
“The fact that the athletes select leggings and singlets to wear for practice suggests they find this attire preferable to their brief bikinis, that they are more comfortable playing a high contact sport in athletic apparel and with less exposed flesh.
“This begs the question, why are players required to wear bikini style uniforms? Are their skimpy uniforms not the very draw card to attract an audience?” she says.
Roper notes that schools have a duty to foster an environment of respect and thinks that the school has sent the wrong message to students.
“In hosting the LFL, the message to young students, both male and female, is that women are not to be valued for their skills or athleticism, but for their sexual appeal - that their contribution to society is meaningless if they are not ‘hot’ and willing to strip down,” she explains.
In addition to this Roper says that girls exposed to the LFL will be taught that, “women exist primarily for men’s enjoyment and entertainment.”
And it’s not just the impact on girls that causes concern, as Roper explains: “Boys are learning that women are sex objects and should be regarded as such.”
But psychologist Jocelyn Brewer notes that we need to look beyond the brouhaha and give teenagers credit to assess the LFL for themselves. “It's important to teach kids to think critically about these kinds of social/pop cultural phenomenon,” she says.
“Its about choice and self expression. If women wish to participate in a sporting activity in which a fuss is made about what they wear, rather than the fact they're being athletes then we should talk about maybe what creates a situation in which women need to pull the knickers card to get attention for their athleticism,” Brewer explains.
So how should parents at Endeavour College and around Australia deal with questions about the LFL? “It’s all about the conversations that you have with kids about the issues,” says Brewer.
“Getting kids to ask questions and think critically about what they value about women is really important as part of a wider conversation around gender roles and equality.”