Women in Sport: Celebrating Our Bodies and Demanding Change

Last night a small rag-tag group of keen Women of Keele Educate members gathered to listen to three fantastic members of the Keele Sports Center.

Woke women in sport

Presenting for us were:

  • Mel Piper – Student Experience and Engagement Officer and self-confessed Quidditch obsessive
  • Naomi Parton, Active Lifestyles Officer and life-long Netball player
  • Nina Walker, Keele’s Lead Strength and Conditioning Coach who also competes and takes part in CrossFit.

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We started with a talk about the numbers involved around women being active and involved in sport.

We found out that only 4% of sports media content is dedicated to women’s sport (UNESCO)

And that only 58% of women are meeting national aerobic guidelines compared to 68% of men (NHS, 2016)

But it’s not all doom and gloom!

Change is happening and continues to happen. We watched two inspirational videos:

 

And

 

We learned about the very different journey into sports careers that Mel, Naomi and Nina took, and realized that it is never too late to find that activity that becomes your passion.

The room opened up about their own experiences in sport and the barriers that can be faced.

We talked about mental health.

We talked about periods and the taboos that still surround them. You wouldn’t judge an athlete for pulling a muscle but why can’t athletes say that their periods are giving them an off day in sport?

We spoke about the positive impacts of team sports as well as the potential negative sides (like drinking cultures). We talked about sport being more than ‘traditional’ sports offerings and all the things you could do if you are just not into being a team sports player.

We spoke about the impact of ‘lad-culture’ and cat-calling / shouting when women are exercising. Sharing the frustration that when you get out the house to get active you have to overcome yet another social barrier.

We talked about the impact of others speaking out and normalizing women’s experiences.

We spoke out against body shaming and framing exercise as only good for weight loss or a way of reaching some idealized version of a female body.

Sport is so much more than this. It is an opportunity to invest in your entire well-being.

Whether you do yoga, weight-lift, run, go to classes, swim, or take part in team sports.

It is all a great way to celebrate yourself.

Women’s bodies are fantastic and we wanted to celebrate ourselves in all forms,

Finally, we fan-girled over our sports heroes and decided that this talk was an essential one to have again next semester as part of our freshers offering.

If you want to get involved in sports at Keele:

https://www.keele.ac.uk/activekeele/

Or follow their Facebook page by searching for Sport Keele.

 

Join us for the next WOKE events soon!

 

 

My First Time

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   “The personal is political” – Audre Lorde, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House –

I came to Keele to get my degree and go back to London.

I never imagined being engaged with student life and politics.

However, as I now know all too well, things don’t work out how you think they will.

After having so many unforeseen roadblocks in my academic journey, I decided to get more out of my time at Keele and become the change I wanted to see.

I met Sophia (WOKE co-founder) after looking for a opportunity for women of colour at Keele.

After getting to know the aims of WOKE, even though we’ve not been active for long, I felt empowered to do move forward with my ideas.

Decisions, Decisions

After seeing so many tired faces among the Students Union Officers, I avoided taking part in student politics (other than voting).

But who knew, just being asked by Sophia was all the encouragement I needed to think about changes I wanted to make so that people like me felt more represented at Keele.

I eventually decided to run because I knew that I could make changes, with the support of WOKE, and students who agreed with my stance on free periods, etc.

My decision to run for NUS Delegate was mostly because the NUS had already been doing progressive work i.e. Tampon Tax, the Attainment Gap of Disabled Black Students.

The Process

It was straightforward to nominate myself via KeeleSU website.

After going to the initial meeting with other candidates, where we were informed on the rules and regulations, I knew my campaign ideas would be restricted (though the regulations made campaigning fair for all of us).

I had big ideas and a small budget, so I had to consider how to approach voters, and prove why I am a good candidate for NUS Delegate.

After designing my campaign posters, stickers, and writing my manifesto, I had to decide where I was going to display them.

I had to consider where people are the most like the Students’ Union, toilet’s, lecture buildings.

These were key locations to display posters and stickers as they linked to my campaign aims around Sex and Relationship Education, Free Feminine Hygiene Products, and Extended Freshers Week.

eleAnother key location was in the centre of campus.

I had a campaign stall with the intentions of giving out self-care packs including sanitary towels, condoms, sweets, and information on my campaign.

Since I buy in bulk and I hadn’t menstruated all year due to unknown reasons (shocking), I thought about other women who are financially challenged (as i am) and wanted to do something to help lessen their worries about the costs for something that should be FREE.

However, this was against the election regulations, so I could only give out information about the election.

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Overall, the stall was really engaging and fun.

I found many women coming to me and mentioning seeing my stickers in toilets, others engaged with the points on interest I had written on the table.

A post-it saying “Are Men Trash?” received the most attention; everyone who noticed it said yes, even the men.

This was my first time in student politics and it was great.

I’ll admit I felt slightly disappointed knowing that there results led to Keele’s NUS Delegates being 100% white.

Though, coming so close to getting a position convinced me that students at Keele really want to see change.

As it was a great opportunity for me to network with different sections of Keele as a community, I am proud to say that I have been working with such great people since the election to achieve my aims.

Disclaimer

The only thing about this experience that wasn’t exciting was the lack of election awareness from the SU and students.

As voting is such an important part of democracy, I think all universities should promote voting and election information constantly.

In a time of such political heat in UK Government, it’s absolutely necessary that we pay attention to who’s in charge of taking care of us.

Thanks to Tia, Ade, and Sophia for your close support.
Written and Edited by Raveena and Ade

W.O.K.E Launch: Inspiring the Next Superwomen

Read on for a write-up by Laura, a first year PhD Student, Postgraduate Decolonise Rep and WOKE Champion. 

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Yesterday, Thursday 11th October 2018, my alarm went off at 5:55 am and I’m sure I had all the thoughts a tired postgraduate mum could have,

‘do I need an education?’,

‘can I home-school my kid?’,

‘I need more sleep!’,

I piled my son into the car and dropped him off at his school’s breakfast club, just so I could sit in traffic for 40 minutes to (hopefully) get a parking space at Keele.

After working through the whole day, attending the postgraduate coffee morning (so that I can at least feel like I’m staying in the ‘postgraduate loop’), rushing home to collect my son from school and quickly throwing together a meal that was nutritional but required minimum effort, I piled my son back into the car and met my partner on the Keele car park to hand him over so that I could attend the official launch event of the Women of Keele Educate initiative (W.O.K.E).

By this point I was feeling the strain…

But, as I walked into the W.O.K.E launch event I was immediately surrounded by energy.

Roxy and Sophia, who have spent months making this initiative and launch possible (along with Ele and some WOKE Champions), were stood right at the front of the room greeting each attendee with the exact enthusiasm that has gone into making an initiative like this possible.

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Woke Launch 11.10.18

Students and staff alike were seated, chatting amongst themselves, sharing ideas and just generally catching up. In this sea of quietly charged excitement I spotted a familiar face and decided to sit behind her for the event. We had a minute to chat and I explained about my busy day, I remember saying that ‘postgraduate life whilst parenting is like hitting the ground running except you’re sprinting the entire time’ to which she agreed and offered me some really great advice.

I wasn’t the only one… I wasn’t pretending to be something I’m not. Maybe, just maybe, I’ve got a good grip on this postgraduate life after all!

Roxy and Sophia both began the event by explaining a little bit about what W.O.K.E is and the amazing speakers we have coming up, internally from Keele and externally from other places (more details of these can be found on the W.O.K.E website soon).

It was then time to introduce the first ever W.O.K.E speaker; Anne Loweth. I must admit, I had no idea who Anne was at this point – she’s a senior lecturer in Biochemistry, an Athena SWAN Champion, and Keele’s Pro-Vice Chancellor for students, so you know… a big deal!

Anne’s talk last night was amazing, the perfect combination of academic achievement and work-life balance. I wanted to share with you the parts of Anne’s talk that resonated so much with me.

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Woke Launch 11.10.18 Dr Anne Loweth

Anne began her talk by explaining that she had stood in this very same room, 29 years before the W.O.K.E launch, to deliver a talk to undergrad students about being a mature student. As a mature student myself, she had me interested from the word ‘go’!

Anne did not take the traditional route into education, instead after her A-levels she went into the world or work for practical reasons. She talked about working at Crewe Hall for a company which produced liquid pharmaceuticals like creams and medicines.

Looking back at her position in this company she can understand now how she was working in a very male, ‘macho’ environment and how some of the behaviours that were deemed as ‘normal’ would not be permitted today.

This triggered my own memories and I thought back to my experience of working in ‘macho’ environments.

Like Anne, I did not follow the traditional path to university and sought work after college. At the time, I lived on army barracks in Salisbury and worked for the RAF on an airbase just down the road. Not only was I one of the few females in my team, I was also a lot younger than many of the staff by at least 20 years.

It was the norm to hear comments about my skirt, my legs, to have a senior staff member place his arm on the small of my back, to be spoken to in a condescending manner.

Even though this was only just over a decade ago, this behaviour was just ‘normal’.

I even remember a member of my team telling me my ‘bum has the right amount of jiggly’… ‘normal’, right?

Anne’s words reminded me of how much change has happened in such a short space of time. I can now look back and see that this behaviour is not normal, and I now know that I do not have to stand for it.

When Anne was on maternity leave, she made the decision to not go back to work and instead, when the time was right, decided on going to university instead.

Again, my path has mirrored Anne’s.

She explained that when she came back to education as a mature student, she suffered many anxieties that I have also felt; would she be any good? How would she be able to juggle studies whilst parenting two small children?

But Anne found that she could complete a degree with two toddlers at home, and felt that not only could she complete it, but she was quite good at it. She remembered a time in the lab when the group were asked to complete an experiment that had a lot of different components, the other students (who were not juggling studying and parenting) were having a hard job with the amount of different things to do, and Anne thought to herself ‘this is easy compared to looking after two toddlers!’

Anne excelled in her studies and went on to complete a PhD at Keele university. She explained that the completion of this degree brought about new anxieties, post docs were meant to be flexible, relocate, perhaps even do a stint abroad.

But Anne said that in every decision she has ever made she has always put her family first, admitting that this may have had a knock-on effect on her career, but she was determined to keep a work-life balance that both her and her family were happy with.

Anne secured grant funding that allowed her to continue researching at Keele for a further three years, when this came to an end she knew she had to find a more permanent role.

As there were no contracts available at Keele at the time Anne managed to secure a lecturing role in Liverpool John Moores University.

This role did have its draw-backs though, there were no research hours included in the contract and Anne now faced a 100-mile commute taking her further away from her family each day.

Nevertheless, she made it work for five years.

In this role Anne was a personal tutor to many students, and this is where she learned to provide pastoral support to students, something that she brings to Keele in her current role on a much larger scale.

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Woke Launch 11.10.18 Dr Anne Loweth

When a position became available at Keele in 2003, Anne jumped at the chance to come ‘home’ to a university she loves.

During this time, she has taken on the leadership of the undergraduate program in Biomedical Science, been appointed Head of School of Life Sciences, led the School of Life Sciences to its first Equality Challenge unit Athena SWAN award, been the interim Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, co-chaired the University’s Athena SWAN committee, and is now Pro-Vice Chancellor for Students (Keele, 2018).

And she has done all of this while raising her family… #superwoman!

After hearing Anne’s story, I felt so inspired that I wanted to talk to this amazing woman.

As the session came to an end and we were invited to partake in the refreshments available, I plucked up the courage to speak to Anne.

I can’t remember the exact words that I said but it was something along the lines of how amazing her talk was, and how much I had related to it.

We discussed imposter syndrome, something that Anne had mentioned in her talk. This is something that I feel has followed me around during my university experience, always feeling as though I had to keep up with younger students and trying to balance the academic and social sides of university at the same time as raising my son, always feeling not quite good enough.

Anne’s words were really encouraging, she told me of a time when her children were in their teens and she would be cooking their dinner before even taking her coat off after getting in from work.

She reminded me to take time for myself, to set myself ‘working’ hours and family hours and that even though I would be tempted to continue working into the evening, to always make time to relax with my family at the end of each day.

On a day when I was really feeling the strain, Anne reminded me that I am good enough, that I can do this and that having a family does not mean that you can’t have a career.

As I looked around the room and spied my supervisor who had brought her young son along to this talk, juggling her work-life balance (just as Anne, myself, and countless others in the room were), I realized that this journey does not have to be about making a choice between work and life.

Initiatives like W.O.K.E and many more are allowing a more inclusive working and studying environment for everyone who identifies as a woman, or is non-binary.

This is exactly why I wanted to jump on board.

One day I hope that I can stand in Anne’s position and inspire somebody the way that Anne has inspired me and many more people in the room last night.

Find more information about Anne here.

Find more information about the Athena SWAN award here.

Find more information about W.O.K.E by looking at the rest of the website