Shirt decision shows respect still needs work
Lance Franklin. Photo: Supplied
WHEN it comes to respect for women, many footballers just don't get it. Neither do many other people in society, including some women. And it's not their fault.
The reason people don't get it is because not many know what ''it'' is.
People need to be educated about what respect for women means. It's not about opening the door first or some other display of chivalry. It's about women truly having equal rights to men and for those rights to be defensible.
The furore this week, over the T-shirt designs produced by a company in which Lance Franklin has a share, has highlighted how much work still needs to be done.
If a woman wants to pose provocatively - even if it is unsavoury to some - then that is her right. If a man or a woman wants to wear a T-shirt covered in sexually suggestive images or irreverent slogans, then that is his or her right too. The debate this week has, at times, been misguided. The issue is not about whether the images can be categorised as soft porn or sexually suggestive. The real issue is the normalisation of violence; the degrading of women; and the objectification of women by men. It should not be seen as cool.
The company in question, Nena and Pasedena, appear to have been at ease if not casual about the normalisation of violence and objectification of women, if some of the posts by the company's fans that were left on it's Facebook page were any guide.
The point is that there is a line in the sand and it isn't crossed by sex. It is crossed by abuse, degradation and violence. This is, in part, why the conversation about respect for women is so difficult to have; it is not clear enough where the line is.
It's one thing to chastise those who support the objectification of women but what is really needed is for men, and some women, to be educated about why the reinforcement of the alpha male as ''king of the jungle'' is so harmful.
It is harmful because it is not just about a few harmless pictures or some words on a page. Those who display them may well have no intention of acting upon what they write or depict. However, some people do and the consequences can be horrific.
We need to create a new normal.
The AFL's Respect and Responsibility policy is an instructional guideline for players and officials of AFL clubs that offers a small contribution to changing ''the way it is''. It was created to educate footballers and the broader community on issues of respect towards women, and to reduce the incidence and acceptance of violence towards women in all forms. The only way it will work is if everyone ''buys in''.
This week has seen arguments levelled about both the AFL's duty to enforce the moral standards of the game, and about how unfair it is that the AFL may seek to curtail Franklin's commercial exploits because they are running foul of the game's position on respect to women. He owns his own image if he's not in a football jumper, after all.
A close examination of the policy will reveal the T-shirt company in which Franklin invested did not breach any of the policy guidelines. Neither is he a director of the company. However, he does control his personal image.
Players are free to sign independent commercial deals that allow them to cash in on their popularity, but Franklin has shown a naivety about the impact of such deals. The reason that Nena and Pasadena "captured the attention of thousands" is because of the brand that is Lance Franklin. He is an AFL superstar. The ''Buddy brand'' has meant that Franklin is perfect to sell irreverence, sex and indie culture on a T-shirt. However, he has also allowed his image to be used by Foxtel to convince families to sign up for subscription television. The same image he uses to promote the ''Buddy ball'' to children.
Franklin may have skilfully stayed just inside the boundary when it comes to the rules surrounding respect and responsibility but this week he discovered you can't have it all. Doing the right thing is not just about adhering to the letter of the law but acting within the spirit of it.
The AFL has started a conversation about respect and responsibility towards women, but it cannot be the only voice in it. Neither can it be charged with the responsibility of policing the moral conscience of every person whom the policy applies to. This is a job for the individual.
If we covet a society where women and girls are safe from violence, have free choice and equal rights, and are supported and included, we have to actively engineer it. It starts with the individual speaking up when they know the conversation has taken a turn for the worse. It will take courage.
It may not always be convenient and it certainly won't always be popular for a person to say, ''actually, I don't think that's OK''. Just like the slow-burn debate about drink driving 40 years ago, it starts with education and individuals having the courage to say no and spreads from there. It is time to end the stubborn, lazy status quo.
Pippa Grange is a director of Bluestone Edge, a consultancy working to build sound ethical cultures in sport.
David Lowden is senior lecturer with the Centre for Sport & Social Impact at La Trobe University.