Pakistan’s off-spinner Sana Mir has become the most successful women’s ODI spinner in the world when she dismissed South Africa’s Sune Luus in the third One-Day International of the ICC Women’s Championship. It was Sana’s 147th ODI wicket in her 118th appearance. Sana is third in the ICC bowlers’ rankings of all time.
Just recently, another cricketer made headlines for a controversial remark. Shahid Afridi revealed in his book that he wouldn’t allow his daughters to play outside. While his family life is his own, it does show us a side of Pakistan that many do not like to accept or challenge. That people still view men and women as differently, that patriarchal structures discourage women from enjoying the same privileges and freedoms as men.
There are many reasons why society discourages women from sports. It’s considered a masculine activity, and as such, women associated with sports are viewed as masculine. Society encourages men and women to act a certain way, and part of that is through the activities we are encouraged to take up.
While the gender politics of Pakistan deserves an article of its own, the point of all of this is to show to you why someone, even Shahid Afridi, would not want his daughters playing sports. They don’t view it as useful to their life, or even a part of it. It’s not for them to do, because they may be ridiculed and seen as less feminine than they should be. This, in turn, shows why society doesn’t respect their female athletes. Their talent is sidle-lined and under represented, while their achievements are not seen as equal.
There will always be that added “it’s women’s sports” condescension when talking about female athletes. Look at the way Serena Williams in treated. She’s considered by many to be the top of her field. But many commentators associate her with masculine traits constantly to belittle her. This is also part of a bigger problem of race, but that fact that she is a women who’s build may be stronger or bigger than the average man encourages ridicule, and as such, a loss of respect.
I’m not saying we live in the middle ages, where people are trying to prevent women from playing with laws. It’s more subtle. It’s the joke we make when women do not adhere to societies perception of femininity. It’s the difference in how men are praised for being athlete, while women are not.
It may not result into all out hatred. Many people respect Sana Mir and the women’s cricket team. Twitter blew up with the news of Sana’s record. But that’s really about it. Most of these people won’t watch Women’s cricket, but probably watch men’s. They encourage men’s cricket simply by being a consumer of the product, while they do not do the same for women. They just aren’t seen as “as good” as the men. Or in Shahid Afridi’s case, sports just isn’t for women.
His family life may be his own, but then it should stay like that. By putting that information out into the public sphere, he has the ability to influence people to act accordingly. As a result, it becomes our prerogative to speak on such issues. You may think I am making a big deal about this, but statements like this perpetuate the idea that there is a singular ideal of what a women should be, one that is docile, one that stays indoors.
This record title has brought unprecedented coverage to Pakistan. Sana Mir herself has been fighting to encourage more girls to pick up sports. She has called for the set up for women’s cricket to be improved. And she has asked for a PSL for Women. And above and beyond, she is changing mindsets by simply existing and doing well. Watching her on television encourages others to follow suit. With this under her belt, hopefully her requests may be taken seriously. May be society, including myself, will understand the way to give respect to female athletes the same way we do for their male counterparts. Congratulations Sana Mir for making Pakistan proud.