Ellyse Perry of Australia poses for a photo after stumps on day two of the Women's Ashes Test match between Australia and England at the WACA on January 11, 2014 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images) Photo: Paul Kane
Cricket Australia calls Ellyse Perry "arguably the best female athlete in Australia" and not without merit. She has played for Australia at international level in both soccer and cricket and recently batted the Aussies to victory in the One Day International against England in Hobart with 90 not out from 95 balls.
Some would say that deserves serious respect. Not the cricket fans on the Facebook page 'Cricket memes', apparently, who responded to the news with a plethora of comments on January 29 applauding her ‘hotness’ and being ‘extremely bangable’ with not so subtle references to men’s bats and balls and what they would like her to do with them.
The image on Cricket Meme.
Among this abuse are comments referring to why she is out of the kitchen and questions of where to find her naked on the net. Welcome to the world of mad men, literally.
The inflammatory post has since been taken down but not before The Anti Bogan blog site had saved a screen shot and posted it online. Obviously these comments are from a minority and in my experience do not represent Australian men as a whole. Nevertheless, it is highly disturbing when an elite athlete who loves her sport has to, in 2014, fight the perception that only men play cricket.
This barrage of online sexual abuse is nothing new in a world of compulsive social media with the keyboard as both sword and armour. In an age of Snap Chat and selfies, there’s a growing tendency and an open invitation to judge women based purely on their physical and sexual worth.
Sexist comments posted under the Ellyse Perry meme.
Which is why I love it when young healthy Aussie women achieve greatness on a world stage like Ellyse Perry, and in a sports obsessed nation like Australia, the more role models for girls across all industries the better.
Of course, all this fight for recognition is nothing new for female sports which battle to gain prime time broadcasting, government funding, equal prize money and the seven figure sums of sport sponsorship awarded to the men.
As Perry’s agent Andrew Fraser told Fairfax Media earlier this week: “'It frustrated the crap out of me trying to explain what a wonderful athlete she was, not just for women's sport but Australian sport. It was a battle for the first three years.
''I represent a few of the male cricketers as well [including fast bowler Mitchell Starc] and you don't expect equal commercial endorsements because you have to understand differences in terms of broadcasts and all that, but it was a real struggle.”
But then what hope do Australian sportswomen have against online harassment when the only mainstream exposure they seem to get is highly sexualised? Last year, one of our most loved and celebrated role models, Stephanie Gilmore, was asked to spend more time in front of the camera semi naked than actually surfing on the Roxy ad for the Roxy Pro Biarritz.
The ad, dubbed 'all sex no surf' by former world champion Cori Schumacher reveals the conflicted plight of female athletes who have more chance of those lucrative sponsorship dollars if they won the genetic lottery as well as the sporting one.
One of America’s most successful alpine skiers, Lindsay Vonn, who was the first American woman to win gold in downhill skiing at a Winter Olympics and has won a combined total of nine consecutive season titles in downhill, Super G and combined ski racing, spends her professional life covered up against the cold. And yet the only version of Vonn that magazines like Sports Illustrated seem to be interested in is when she’s bikini-clad in the snow. When are gold medals not enough?
We all know sex sells. But what makes male athletes naturally ‘bankable’ while sportswomen – however prominent – are harassed, vilified or objectified based on their looks?
Perhaps it helps to remember that it’s in this wider context that Ellyse Perry became the target of online abuse. And until female athletes are treated by their sports fans and the media with the level of respect that professionals deserve, there’ll always be a price to pay for being ‘marketable’.
Rachael Oakes-Ash is Australia’s leading snow sports blogger and is writing about the Sochi Olympics on her website www.miss-snowitall . She is also the Fairfax travel snow blogger Snow It All. Follow her on twitter @misssnowitall