My six-year-old son is cricket obsessed. But he wouldn't be able to name any of the male players. It's the women he looks up to.
Sure, it has something to do with the fact that my husband and I take him to far more women's than men's games, especially when it comes to the Big Bash. Why wouldn't we, when the games are free and they're at nice local ovals where the kids can run around? Same goes for AFL and other sports.
But ever since that first Sydney Sixers WBBL match we went to – when, after the game he lined up and had his Milo in2Cricket backpack signed by Ellyse Perry and her whole team – he's been a big fan of the girls. Hundreds of boys and girls lined up eagerly, and despite having been defeated in the game, the players hung around to give autographs to every one of them.
Cut to my son and husband at a recent state men's cricket game at a small suburban ground. It was a rainy day so they had to keep delaying play, which meant the players had to hang around without much to do. Despite my son and just nine or so other kids hanging around during long stretches of nothing to get autographs from the guys, the players either ignored requests or flatly refused. My son came home with his unsigned bat feeling deflated. The two of them are planning to stick to the women's games from now on.
Female athletes are renowned for being good at fan engagement, so it's no surprise that kids fall in love with them. Keep it up, girls, and you'll have serious armies of fangirls and boys to keep your leagues going strong.
On a broader level, why do I think this is such a big deal? Well I think back to my childhood and I can't think of a single famous female who had big followings of young boy fans – apart from women they admired for their looks, of course. There actually weren't any female AFL, NRL, Rugby or cricket players in the spotlight for boys – or girls – to look up to. Which is why little girls like NRL player Allana Ferguson dreamt of being someone like Andrew Ettingshausen when she grew up.
Now, not only can little girls grow up dreaming of being a League player like female Ruan Sims, or a Rugby 7s player like Charlotte Caslick – little boys can grow up having admiration and respect for women for reasons far beyond how they look. My son has no idea that women haven't always been able to play cricket or AFL or Rugby. Why wouldn't they be able to? And I think that will play a huge part in improving dynamics between the sexes – in relationships, at work, everywhere.