In 2014, The Courier published a series of stories focusing on high-achieving Ballarat sportswomen.
The series showcased badminton star Tara Pilven, champion gift sprinters Tara Domaschenz, Nadia Domaschenz and Holly Dobbyn, former world champion karate fighter Shannyn Johnstone-Ward, AFL women’s footballer Kaitlyn Ashmore, emerging basketballer Abbey Wehrung and Australian Junior Fed Cup tennis player Zoe Hives – all hugely successful in their respective sporting fields.
The series was titled Play Like A Girl.
On the morning after the first story in the series was published in print, The Courier received a call from a reader who was clearly upset at our coverage. “How could you be so demeaning of these girls?” she asked.
I was puzzled. Whatever could she mean?
“Don’t you know what it means to ‘play like a girl?’”
In the schoolyard, at least in my youth, there was an often heard refrain that a fellow child was “playing like a girl” due to an affliction of incoordination or weakness.
The put-down carried on well past the schoolyard and wasn’t – or isn’t – uncommon in sporting clubs at junior and, yes, senior levels.
In reality, to suggest someone “plays like a girl” says more about the ingrained culture of the roles of men and women in our society than merely someone’s athletic abilities.
It says that we support the creating a culture of inferiority. In an inclusive and respectful community, The Courier’s Play Like a Girl series celebrated strength, skill and achievement.
In an equal society, to play like a girl is mark of honour, rather than a demeaning verbal assault. This is the true message that should be presented in the schoolyard and in our sporting clubs.
That series followed on from a year-long campaign titled It’s Up to Us, provoked and produced by The Courier.
The campaign, led by senior journalist Kim Quinlan, provided a platform for dozens of stories about people and organisations involved impacted by family violence. It encouraged readers to sign the oath against violence in a partnership with the White Ribbon Foundation of Australia.
Bravery is an overused word in mainstream media but the often disturbing and challenging nature of family violence exposes fully those who speak of it publicly.
From Ballarat’s Citizen of the Year Tony Lovett, a confessed perpetrator of violence, to “Sarah”, a victim of such crimes, it is not possible to achieve greater understanding without a 360 degree view that lays bare the often dirty details of the communities in which we live and work. It’s Up to Us achieved this goal.
The Courier’s campaign was not about increasing newspaper circulation or driving online hits. Yet it is the most rewarding work I’ve been involved with in my journalism career.
It was about leading change. It was about coming true on the promise that newspapers such as The Courier do not just report on a city, we advocate for those who live within it. And we challenge our readers and our leaders to act for positive change. To make a difference.
The challenge for the media when tackling family violence is to recognise that it’s not just education through identifying and preventing violence that is the only aspect of the conversation.
With a worldly view, it is also about reassessing the values that support how we want our community to function in the future.
It’s about standing up against our ingrained perceptions about the roles of men and women in society and the responsibility we have to change our own attitudes that can make a real difference.
It’s about ensuring we speak out in defiance to challenge the behaviours we accept, little by little, piece by piece often from early in life. It must start with individuals, and teams, and business, and communities. The media has a pivotal role to play in leading a change in attitudes.
Our Watch a national non-profit organisation set up to drive change in the attitudes giving rise to violence, recognise the important role of the media.
On Wednesday with an address to the National Press Club, Australian of the Year Rosie Batty will launch the Our Watch Media Awards for exemplary reporting to end violence against women. The awards will be administered by the Walkley Foundation. Media can submit an entry via: www.walkleys.com
-Andrew Eales is the former editor of The Courier, Ballarat. He is currently Group Managing Editor (Victoria) for Australian Community Media, a division of Fairfax Media.