Tayla Harris response sparks vital dialogue

POWERFUL: This is the image of Carlton's Tayla Harris in AFLW action that has people talking. Picture: Michael Willson, AFL Media

POWERFUL: This is the image of Carlton's Tayla Harris in AFLW action that has people talking. Picture: Michael Willson, AFL Media

OPINION

BACKLASH to a deleted post of AFLW footballer Tayla Harris sends a positive, powerful message and shows just how far women's sport has come in public perception.

Only a few years ago, as Ballarat Football Youth Girls was starting out, The Courier would receive calls to be more selective in our photos of the female game. Tenacious tackling was feared to project the wrong images to young girls, scaring off parents from allowing their daughters to venture into what had long been a male domain.

To be clear, such concerns did not come from AFL Goldfields, which has been a leader in promoting the women's game in regional Victoria.

About 20 years ago, female football was generally regarded as only for the scary, bigger, angry girls at school.

There is still a long way to go in changing the way we accept and talk about women's sport as a society, but the response to the Harris photo shows the tide is well and truly turning.

Harris has said she felt "empowered" after the rallying around her when Channel Seven removed a photo of her kicking for goal at the weekend attracted offensive and derogatory comments on social media.

The broadcaster has since apologised via its 7AFL social media channels, stating it would work harder to ban trolls from its pages.

Trolling is the negative undercurrent that comes with being different in the game. 

Critics can argue all they like about AFLW not measuring up the same as the equivalent male league. This sport, at its highest levels, has been all about the guys for more then a century. 

AFLW footballers are not trying to play like the guys. They are developing a league and style in their own right, showing was women can do.

This is no different to watching a basketball double-header at the Minerdome, where women are admired for their more team-based tactical nous and the men showcase flashy moves and power.

The photo of Carlton's Harris was taken by AFL photographer Michael Willson - one of the best in the business - and captures incredible athleticism in a kick on goal from more than 40-metres out.

This is, as Harris herself says, a photo of Harris at work. This is also a woman to which young girls can aspire to emulate in a game with a sound pathway to be taken seriously.

Derogatory comments, as Harris also says, indicate a more troubling social issues of sexual abuse.

This comes in the inaugural VicHealth This Girl Can week, encouraging women to kick stereotypes and get moving - sweaty, red-faced and jiggly - without fear of judgement or body shame.

Ballarat women are moving less than the average Victorian woman, with about seven in 10 Ballarat women failing to move for 30 minutes at least five days a week.

VicHealth's latest research shows one in two Victorian women aged 18 to 65 have experienced heckling and shame and, as a result, became too self-conscious when working out. Mum guilt, sexualisation, gossip and cliques in classes and social media are key barriers for women, who withdrew from exercise or did not start.

This is a serious issue.

The response to the Harris photo gives hope, but importantly is sparking vital dialogue on respect for women - from men and women - that carries so much power across all aspects of our community.

This girl can kick and this is definitely worth celebrating.