Not Pitch Perfect

EXPLORING THE GENDERED SPACES OF CRICKET

27th January, 2021

Written by Kuber Bathla

Artwork by Rachel Mathew

Cricket originated in the West, and as a result the ideologies associated with it are often incompatible with South Asian culture and social realities, which is amplified in the case of women.

History tells us that the boundaries of sport have been drawn by men who created spatial rules for different games, in order to define spatial limits of the same. Through such limits, certain bodies were excluded from sport because of their gender and/or race identity. 

 

Patricia Vertinsky, a research scholar from the University of British Columbia, argued that male construction of sport determined who counted as an athlete and who did not. Similarly, John Bale argued that women were considered to be spectators and consumers of sport, and not as individuals who could participate in a similar capacity as men. 

 

In her thesis submitted to the University of Toronto, Razack Sabrina argues that these inequities continue in the present era where there are invisible barriers for women in sport spaces. They have been victims of continuing masculinist discourses within sport spaces. Priyanka Pareek, a sportsperson from Jaipur, talks about these spaces and says, “Even though women have entered these spaces and have worked really hard for it, they are always aware of the idea that we entered late, and this was not made for us”. She adds to this by commenting on the representation of sportswomen in mainstream media, “The only time that we are given attention is when men can’t perform—then we come into the picture and achievements are expected out of us”.  

Cricket originated in the West, and as a result the ideologies associated with it are often incompatible with South Asian culture and social realities, which is amplified in the case of women. For instance, a South Asian Woman, apart from their gender identity, is weighed down by a dominant culture that demands them to stay home in a ‘protected environment’. This problem increases in the case of cricket as matches are long, some of them lasting for even three or more days. 

 

The spaces of cricket have been historically dominated by white males from the West, donning a white attire which indicates their privileged status. John Bale, a research scholar, argued that the colour white signifies purity, innocence and cleanliness, and is a representative of cricket’s idealist status of being a gentleman’s game. 

 

Such spaces are therefore dominated by the ideals of colonialism, race and imperialism, and were the breeding grounds for the rules of cricket. Naturally, the rules that emerged were masculine in shape and effect. These encouraged the supremacy of physical strength and force, making it difficult for women to find a home in them. As someone who has been playing for over 15 years, Priyanka comments on the same by saying, “Finding a home in a sport always comes at a price for women, which more than often results in giving up some part of their femininity. At the same time, it becomes important for women to do this, in order to step out of the confines of a patriarchal household” 

 “Finding a home in a sport always comes at a price for women, which more than often results in giving up some part of their femininity. At the same time, it becomes important for women to do this, in order to step out of the confines of a patriarchal household” 

Such spaces depict production and reproduction of power as well. In South Asia, cricket spaces have always been dominated by men, who have been extensively covered by the media as well. Ronak Nathawat, a professional cricketer from Jodhpur, tells me that unlike men, women’s cricket in India does not have much opportunities at the lower level in the form of clubs and leagues. Day/night matches also do not usually happen for women, since their participation in longer games is restricted by parents and the society at large. Cricket, according to her, remains to be a men’s game in the country, despite Indian women doing so well at the international level. 

 

Given the large amount of rural population in South Asian countries, sport for women witnesses an additional barrier. Priyanka reflects on this rural-urban binary by saying that “Only a certain class of women living in urban areas, with access to facilities and parents who support their participation are able to stay in such spaces for a period”. Most families are still situated within rural settings, creating a cultural obstacle for women. This is amplified when it comes to the participation of women who are further marginalized due to their caste and/or class, among other attributes. 

In terms of their culture, South Asians are quite accustomed to the term ‘Generation Gap’. Owing to exponential growth in the past few decades, a cultural clash is evident between the elders and the young. The emergence of this cultural clash was parallel to the growth of women’s cricket in these nations. As a result, women had to, and continue to, face binaries of unattainable expressions where they are expected to negotiate with their identities to exist within these binaries. As Sabrina puts it, ‘A modern working woman is encouraged to fulfil expectations of both a traditional and non-traditional woman’. 

 

Scholars and players believe that equity within such spaces can be brought by challenging the exclusionary practices of the game, among other things. Having conversations about such practices can also be an entry point for such changes. According to Priyanka, sport as an activity needs to be redefined in such a way that it is imagined outside the boundaries of a patriarchal structure. She says, “Sport should be more accessible, not just for women but for everyone, since it is something that is supposed to liberate people”. 

 

Ronak, however, is hopeful when it comes to cricket in South Asian nations, and says that the perception of people towards women in cricket is changing, and it will attract more viewers as the performance of players gets better. With a tinge of passion and confidence in her voice, she says, “Cricket jo ladkiya khelti hai, unmein bohot zayda passion hota hai khelne ka— The women who play cricket are extremely passionate about the game.”

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