What Oprah Winfrey's speech means for women in sport.
As Oprah Winfrey put so eloquently last night in her acceptance speech for the Cecil B. DeMille Award: "A new day is on the horizon." But before we discuss the future, let us not forget the past.
During the First World War factories in England were changed in order to mass produce ammunition for the war. Women were drafted from all over the country into towns to work in these factories and were referred to as the "Munitionettes". These women were encouraged to take up physical activity to ensure that they were maintaining physical well-being whilst working. The most popular option was, of course, football.
In 1917, at the Dick, Kerr & Co Ltd munition works factory in Preston, Lancashire, a group of women started a football team in the same year that women were granted the right to vote due to the immovable force of the Suffragettes. Their games drew crowds of 4,000 to over 50,000 spectators per game and they remained in existence, despite many attempts to shut them down, for over 48 years. In 1920, Dick, Kerr's Ladies defeated a French side 2–0 in front of 25,000 people which went down in history as the first international women's football game.
However, in 1921, when their popularity was at its absolute peak and they were averaging two games a week in towns all over the country, the FA claimed to have received complaints about the women, describing them as a threat because of how many people they were attracting to their games, which they described as "a threat to the national sport". There were also claims that it was dangerous as it could affect their fertility if they were to continue playing. On the 5th December, 1921, the FA banned women from using league grounds and stadiums controlled by FA-affiliated clubs. But despite this, Dick, Kerr's Ladies went on to play over 800 games of football around the world and raised over £180,000 for ex-servicemen, hospitals and the poor. This figure would convert to around £10 million today. The Women's Football Association was formed in 1969 and the FA finally recognised women's football in 1971, 50 years after they had banned it, when the WFA was granted County status. The WFA administered all its own affairs until 1993 when it was disbanded and the FA took over responsibility for women's football.
We owe our gratitude to people like the Dick, Kerr Ladies, who turned around and faced adversity in a time that was built entirely upon judgement and stereotypical role placement. We owe it to them and ourselves to keep pushing for equality and realise that we have not yet reached our end goal, but we are most certainly on our way. Now is the time to open our eyes and read about those who came before us and the causes they fought for to make a difference in the world. With the #timesup movement being proudly worn by women around the world in solidarity, we, both men and women, need to think about what it is that we aren't happy with and how we can eradicate it. As a footballer in a well known team, I am challenged by the realisation that our kit is not a priority for those who run our club. We are, in their eyes acceptably, playing in a logo that no longer represents the club. This unsettling metaphor is how women's football is seen: second best. Clubs like Manchester City have provided their women's team with its own stadium and yet Manchester United refuse to even hav a women's team. There is no consistency and it's time to change that. It's time to stand up and make a noise until we silence ourselves after receiving equality.
Oprah Winfrey's speech brought me to tears. Not only because I am a woman and I feel empowered by her words, but because she is right. A new day is on the horizon, we just have to fight for it with everything we have.