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"A world for men, by men.." | Paul Rouse on the evolution of women's sport

Thom Malone
Thom Malone

20:37 19 May 2020

Paul Rouse joined Off The Ball on Tuesday for the latest in his History of Sport series, to look at the role of women in early sport.

The UCD professor concedes it was a male-dominated world at the time and the lack of female participation was very much a reflection of the times.

"This was a world constructed for men by men, with women very much in the margins," said Rouse.

Given the way of the world, it was unsurprising that women were not visible in sport, as it was reflecting society.

"You have to look at the world in general at the time," says Rouse "even though men were afforded the vote in many more numbers than previously, women didn't have the vote.

"Women's access to the professions was limited. Before the First World War, there were no female barristers, no female solicitors, very few female doctors.

"Women were entirely under-represented in teaching, in the civil service across all of those areas. They were very much second class citizens in society and indeed when it comes to education."

Something previously unheard of

While the emergence of the suffragette movement, with Emily Davidson running out in front of the King's horse at Epsom, and World War One were significant moments in the elevation of women in society.

There were many men conscripted, making women more visible, and it "cannot be unseen," says the UCD professor. However, Rouse says the transformative nature of the war can be overstated.

"It became something, in time, where for example women could work in banks, something previously unheard of in Ireland before the Great War.

"So you get a changing scenario in what women are perceived to be capable of while men are away at war. but you have to be very careful not to imagine that it was utterly transformative."

In reality, the true growth of female sports didn't happen immediately or anything close to it. It wasn't until the 1960s that formal organisations began to emerge.

"In the 1960s, there are women playing a small amount of indoor football as Lena Byrne has shown around Dundalk, but there are no women's soccer teams.

"There is no women's Gaelic football team and no women's Gaelic football association until the 1970s. There is no proper women's rugby association until the end of the 1970s.

"So it's 100 years later [that women's sport catches up in any form]," says Paul Rouse.

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