21 Feb 2014

Why the ‘pinkification’ of women’s sport is wrong

There has always been scepticism within government circles about the abilities of the minister for sport and equalities, Helen Grant. And now you know why.

Interviewed by the Telegraph on the gender gap in sport, she managed single-handedly, and in just a few choice words, to compound David Cameron’s “women problem”.

To tackle the issue that 1.8m fewer women than men take part in regular sport, female athletes should take up more “feminine” sporting pursuits she advised.

“We really need to take a step back and actually ask women what they want and give it to them… whether it’s a Zumba class or a game of Rounders after they’ve dropped the kids off,” she continued, exercising her own upper arms by digging a hole of her own making.

She appears oblivious to the fact that many men do the school run, or that, just a day after we learnt that the number of women in work in Britain has hit a record high, mums are more likely to be dashing from the school gates to the workplace. No time for zumba or rounders there.

Sports Minister Helen Grant Visits Women's Sport Campaign in Bury

Ms Grant (above, right) also ignores the glorious role models of last year’s Olympics. Jessica Ennis-Hill, winning time and again in “masculine” track and field events. Or Rebecca Adlington, struggling throughout her life with sexist taunts that her appearance isn’t quite feminine or conventionally beautiful enough, yet overcoming those taunts to triumph in the pool.

And ​this year, it was women cricketers who won the Ashes, so thank goodness they didn’t decide to spend their time honing their zumba skills instead.

It gets worse, though.

Pre News refresh player – this is the default player for the C4 news site – please do not delete. Ziad

(Above: watch the former Tory MP Louise Mensch and Louise Hazel, gold medallist, debate Ms Grant’s words)

Ms Grant goes on to suggest women should consider “gym, ballet, cheerleading?” explaining her train of thought as follows: “There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating.”

Try telling that to her fellow Tory MP Tracey Crouch, who’s campaigned against FA rules which prevented her joining male MPs on the parliamentary football team. Ms Crouch (who I’ve called this morning, so I’ll let you know what she says) looks perfectly radiant to me without recourse to cheerleading. Or at least, only cheerleading of a strictly metaphorical nature.

Ms Grant’s mentality is the pinkification of sport and it’s quite wrong. It happens in other fields too, and it starts young. Virtually every present my five-year-old daughter was given had an element of pink in it. And when I tried to buy some lego for her at the local toy shop, I was steered towards a pink creation featuring ponies and grooming.

It’s why Ms Grant’s cabinet colleague Vince Cable has complained that the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineers in Europe. If the girls of today are too busy worrying about their radiance, and putting together less demanding pink Lego, we’ll not only miss out on the sporting stars of the future, but hold the economy back too.

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15 reader comments

  1. Shinsei1967 says:

    I think this is a rather unfair reading of Helen Grant’s views on sport and women.

    Bear in mind that Helen Grant represented her school & county at plenty of traditional sports. And was Under 16 South Scotland/North of England judo competitor. So she clearly personally loves sport.

    She was responding to a direct question from the Daily Telegraph who cited a poll saying that 50% of school girls were put off sport because it was too “sweaty”. Grant was merely suggesting that there are plenty of other sports one can do, outside of the traditional hockey/netball/athletics that might be more attractive to these girls.

    And although she didn’t specifically mention Jessica Ennis she did mention the success of the womens’ Ashes team and complained it didn’t get enough coverage. And highlighted the success of the UK women competitors in Sochi.

    Clearly she wants more women to do sports, but was suggesting ways of doing this rather than forcing reluctant girls out onto the hockey pitch on a wet Frebruary afternoon.

  2. Helen says:

    I think you are making an issue where there is none here. Clearly what Ms Grant is saying is that quite truthfully, not every woman likes athletics, cricket or some other ‘masculine’ sport. Jessica Ennis is my hero but she is not everyone’s. Sports like Zumba classes and cheerleading have had attendance increasing greatly over the last few years. I think what she is saying is that instead of thinking if you want to be active you have to run a mile or kick a ball you can actually join a club that is fun and also sporty in non-traditional ways. What is so wrong with some women wanting to be feminine anyway? Ms Grant is clearly not saying “all women should do girly sports”. She is saying that there are other options out there to be explored. Perhaps the way she phrased it was kind of patronising “look absolutely radiant and very feminine” but none the less what she is actually saying is good – more women do need to exercise.

  3. LucyWebb says:

    I completely agree with this article. Women should be encouraged to take part in a whole variety of sports, not just those that are considered ‘feminine’. Jessica Ennis definitely was one of the stars of the Olympics for Britain, and I think her example has showed lots of women that they are just as capable at partaking in sport as men. The fact that Helen Grant has made these comments when she is supposed to be promoting equality in sport is ridiculous.

    1. Shinsei1967 says:

      Cathy Newman has misquoted Helen Grant. Nowhere does she say women should only be encouraged to do feminine sports.

      She (quite sensibly) said that IF schoolgirls didn’t like traditional school sports they should be allowed to do other things instead.

      Helen Grant played hockey, netball, athletics and judo at county level. Do you really think she is bothered about sports being feminine ?

  4. Philip Edwards says:


    If you think helen Grant is bad (and she IS, very)…..wait until you get a load of Esther McVey.

    I’d put the two of them in a ring and let them knock the living bejaysus out of each other. Last one standing irons the shirts.

    Women……can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.

  5. Gemma says:

    Your article is headline ‘why it is wrong’, but you haven’t actually said why it is wrong.

    If developing sports that females want to be involved in and encouraging them to get involved in less traditional sports increases the amount of females in sport, then who cares what sport it is, as long as they’re active?

    My experience isn’t that women are worried about sweating, they’re worried about how they appear doing physical movement in front of other women. You may call yourself a feminist, but this article is basically sl*t-shaming any woman who enjoys doing a sport where men are the minority.

  6. Jackart says:

    You’re lying, aren’t you?

    She didn’t “suggest” women do Zumba instead of play hockey, she suggested that as some girls don’t like hockey, zumba should be offered instead.

    The perma-outrage of the intersectionalist feminists is pathetic.

  7. Lankylad says:

    Why oh why is there a women`s story quite regularly on PC Media?
    Politics I reckon.
    Todays sisterhood without having to inconvenience themselves like the real Suffragettes who actually GOT women the vote and equality, seem to just want to diss men and get women into positions of influence whether they are competent for that position or not. The Left and the Labour Party do not help matters by their PC “All women shortlists.
    Maybe we should try that in examinations? All women pass marks?
    All women in Oxbridge?
    All women shortlists ensures all women mediocrity from the performance of some women MPs on Television.
    Take Thursdays Question Time. A question on Parliamentary PMs Questions was asked.
    ALL the women on the panel condemned the manners and behaviour of male MPs, Whilst as the men on the panel attempted to answer, Interrupted them rudely (speaking over the men as they attempted to answer).
    Seems to me that all women shortlists should be banned and promotion should be solely on merit.
    As for the lack of women as engineers etc., perhaps the modern culture, which encourages one to believe that all you need to do is be in front of TV cameras and act stupidly and you will become famous!
    Girls are equally as gifted as boys. Sad that the PC publicity over the las 15/20yrs has denigrated men and raised up women.
    As Labour are it seems about to push for “equality” in board rooms, time I think to expect Rigour and talent to be evident.
    Women in the early 20th Century fought like tigers to attain the vote and equality.
    Sad that modern “sisters” misunderstand how the original suffragettes went about things. THEY got respect, the modern version loses it!
    If that is what all women shortlists results in, perhaps merit needs to be returned to?

  8. Dawn says:

    Totally agree. Once again this government has shown they’d be more comfortable in the 1950s!
    I’m an experienced road cycling instructor and yet still get dismissed in some bike shops in favour of my (male) colleague. The ‘pink it and shrink it’ mentality is still going strong in cycling!

  9. peterthepainter says:

    Some women are feminine rather than feminist.
    Not all women want to act like men. They value their femininity yet want to keep fit; they do not want to play football or rugger.
    Some women enjoy pole-dancing as a means of keeping fit. Is that wrong? Should they be denied their choices and preferences?
    Why do some people wish to ignore gender and personal differences?
    It must be good that people take exercise.
    How they do that is entirely up to them……providing those options are available, of course.

  10. James Alton says:

    Dear Cathy,

    Your media image is attractive in many ways but even you are subject to PC pressure to adhere to a safe, majority view, not an obviously fair view. Ms Grant is clearly suggesting alternatives and not precluding anyone from anything.
    There are two sexes comprising humankind and they are indubitably physically different insofar as their genitals – it surely would not be improbable that, as two groups clearly distinguishable in this way, nature distinguishes them in other, subtler, ways. However, saying that males and females are different in any way other than a few basic and relatively inconsequential ways is anathema to many (largely) females with their own agendas, since admitting that males and females are different in many consequential ways may lead to conclusions about specific roles more suited for men and vice versa for women.
    Thus, anyone who suggests that women would probably like to partake of activities that men do not usually partake, as here with Ms Grant, is venturing on the slippy slope that might lead us to admit that men and women have significant differences that might lead to, to some, disadvantageous policies, thoughts, etc. Such attitudes then engender knee-jerk reactions, as here.
    What we all need to be in all things is to be wise and fair, and, to quote Shakespeare (Polonius – Hamlet): “To thine own self be true”.

  11. Brenda Holden says:

    Helen Grant is merely pointing out that, just as some males would rather play table-tennis or ride their bicycles than wallow about on a muddy rugby pitch, so many females would prefer to choose other activities which suit their own preferences. I don’t see that her comments have any sexist element, though she seems to think that many mothers of school-age children have plenty of free time on their hands.
    Incidentally, cheerleading is acknowledged to have one of the highest accident rates of any sport.

  12. John Sturman says:

    Some sports are culturally seen as masculine, such as hammer throwing and others as feminine such as synchronised swimming. This puts adolescents off participating when they are going through a time of huge self image awareness. If a teenager crossed the cultural norms they would be labelled as ‘gay’ by their peers.

    This has established not only social barriers but also physical barriers as few, if any, opportunities are available for young people to participate across cultural norms e.g. how many male clubs are there for men to participate in synchronised swimming?

    Time is also an issue. It is the norm for young men to socialise whilst playing sports like football in their spare time. However, there is a social pull for girls to socialise with their peers by shopping etc. in their free time.

    Change will only happen when it is culturally ‘cool’ for teenagers to engage in ANY sport.

  13. H Statton says:

    ‘Dancing on Ice’ star Kelly Holmes has slated one of the show’s judges, Jason Gardiner, over comments he made about her during last weekend’s live show.

    After Holmes skated with her professional dance partner, Gardiner compared her to a drag queen, saying that her muscular body made her look like a man.’

    January 27th, 2006 by Gerard McGarry.

    Comments such as these are deplorable. Here is a sportswoman who has overcome both clinical depression and injury to become a superlative athlete. Surely the emphasis in sport should be on the athletic and not the aesthetic – and there was nothing wrong with the way Kelly Holmes looked. Women in sport do not lose their femininity any more than a man who dislikes sport loses his masculinity. And I’m sure that any gymnast out there would say that blood, sweat, and tears come before thinking about radiance. It is a combination of power and grace and lest we not forget, there are male gymnasts out there too. I don’t think modelling the latest haircut takes precedence over sustaining their body in the immensely difficult crucifixion pose on ‘The Rings’. Sport is not to everyone’s taste, either spectating or taking part. Physical activity does not always have to include competition, and it can be good fun. As a nation we should do more if we can, and remember that sports belong to everyone.

  14. H Statton says:

    Is this what is must come to:


    The Independent, Wednesday 26 February 2014

    Doing it for personal reasons is fine, but was the contemplation of cosmetic surgery a result of bullying? The poor girl has been at the mercy of comedians and trolls alike since she first appeared on our screens. Like Kelly Holmes, a fantastic athlete, but her achievements have become almost superseded by her appearance. I don’t remember a rugby player suffering such abuse for his cauliflower ears or a boxer for his flattened nose. Is this because they are generally more respected as their looks are a result of sport, or is it just a case that women are considered fair game? As with Kelly Holmes, there is nothing wrong with Rebecca Adlington’s appearance. I bet nobody would dare make such comments about Paralympians, so why is it OK for this abuse to be doled out at Olympians. No-one deserves this grief. On all sides they are athletes at the top of their game and they work bloody hard to get there – that’s what matters.

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