Stories shape our culture and our culture shapes our stories. Our stories are based on ideas about norms, expectations, what's possible, about the kind of dreams we are allowed to dream. These are the kinds of reinforcing loops that entrench ideas, ensuring continuity between generations of thinking.
Some stories are good and useful. In The Old Man and The Sea Ernest Hemingway tells the story of Santiago, a Cuban fisherman, an aging man, who has gone 84 days without catching a fish. He is considered the worst kind of unlucky. On the 85th day, he ventures further out, to the gulf stream, where he hooks a fish so big it pulls him out to sea. In the days long struggle that ensues we are reminded of humanity's ability to persevere in the face of challenges, and do so with dignity.
Other stories hold us back. Like the idea that women's sports are:
- Uncommercial, a financial drain supported by men's sports
- Not as interesting or competitive as men's sports
Of course, one can always find the evidence they want to believe. In the Olympics, women's events are a major drawcard. Or, consider that women's sports have been forced to work within entrenched models of sponsorship, licensing and associations not designed for them, and without the same resourcing and investment necessary for growth.
"Experts say the narrative that big organizations have pushed about women’s sports have framed them as a financial drain, which in turn discourages the kind of investment they need for growth, financial or otherwise.” - Ellevest
The cultural environment of being a men's sports fan isn't particularly welcoming, either:
- In Europe, alcohol is banned at football matches and some clubs have had fans banned from supporting away games
- Game nights in Australia's State of Origin result in an average increase of 40% in domestic assaults
- You probably know someone who has been assaulted after a men's sports game. If not, you know me, and I have been assaulted by a drunken rugby fan who after asking me what team I supported, was unhappy with my disinterested response, 'the dugongs' (not a real team).
Record crowds and streams in the 2023 Women's World Cup have defeated the narratives about commerciality. In future one only has to point to this moment to refute an argument against investing in women's sports. And, like in The Old Man and the Sea, perseverance and dignity has created the foundations of a new kind of sports culture and with it, new generations of stories that bring exciting possibilities. Just compare the pair: