Words of War
As published in the Herald Sun in 2007
‘I’ve been deeply hurt, offended and defamed by some of the accusations’. West Coast Eagle Adam Selwood wasted no time in declaring himself a victim, after being cleared - due to insufficient evidence – of calling Fremantle Docker Des Headland’s daughter a slut. Yes, if the comments weren’t directed at Headland’s daughter, he might have a case. But was he really the victim?
Selwood didn’t deny he’d used a sexual taunt in an attempt to unsettle Headland. After all, the words ‘What’s that shit?’, when directed at the tattoo on headland’s arm, followed by a taunt about having slept with the woman depicted in the tattoo, hardly painted him as a charming, sensitive man. Even if we put the best spin on the story, Selwood must surely have known or come to have known that the girl in question was close or dear to Headland? And anyway, wasn’t the point of the jibe to besmirch the girl as someone who slept around?
And it simply doesn’t matter whether the jibe is a fiction. Everyone, an out of control Des Headland included, knows Adam Selwood didn’t sleep with the girl. It’s because men have turned sexually liberated women into objects of derision that the comment became an insult. In the blokey, boyo football culture, women who have casual sex with footballers – unless they marry one - earn the pejorative ‘slut’ or ‘dog’. Even if, as Selwood claims, he didn’t utter the word slut, surely that was the subtext. Women who sleep around are damned, whereas every woman is a conquest and a notch on the belt for men. This is why the first ‘accusation’ fired at women by lawyers defending rapists and wife killers, is that the woman is promiscuous. This was exactly what Adam Selwood was saying about the woman in Des Headland’s life.
Without a moment’s thought Adam Selwood spoke for the underbelly of misogyny that haunts the football culture, ARL and AFL. It was same for Collingwood’s Brodie Holland when, in December 2005 he roared ‘What the fuck are you doing, you stupid slut?’ before punching a woman in the head during a dispute over a taxi. The use of sexual insults has a rich history. But just as Nicky Winmar lifted the cone of silence on racial vilification by raising his jumper and exposing his black skin at Victoria Park in 2004, so too Des Headland has opened a new gender frontier.
Only last week Herald Sun sports journalist Mark Robinson walked this gender tightrope when he interviewed St Kilda player Leigh Montagna. ‘We hid out, couldn’t sleep stress…I didn’t want to talk to mum, lot of embarrassment, facing people and wondering what they were thinking about me,’ said Montagna, when asked about sexual assault accusations that engulfed him and teammate Stephen Milne in 2004. Surely the only conclusion the average reader could have arrived at was that Montagna was the victim of false accusations by a couple of women, who, in media reports were clearly depicted as promiscuous women, chasing footballers.
Robinson chose not to confront this myth. If he’d spoken with the Office of Public Prosecutions he’d have discovered that director Paul Coghlan thought ‘The girl was telling the truth when she said she believed she was the victim of a sexual assault, but there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction’. Robinson would have also discovered that at no time did the girl in question describe her sexual encounter with Montagna as anything but consensual. It’s no wonder women despair at their depiction in the media.
There’s one more profound lesson in the Des Headland story. Led by Leigh Matthews, who said footballers must show iron discipline, AFL coaches are concerned that players will now exploit the provocation defence. How ironic that a defence used so effectively by men who kill their wives should be condemned by one of the hard men of AFL football. If only I’d had him by my side during the campaign against the provocation law, which was abolished in Victoria in 2005!
What turned out as a farce at the AFL tribunal is far more than a story about Des Headland’s daughter. This is a story about women and how they are depicted in the football culture. Sam Newman can prattle on all he likes on The Footy Show in defence of sexual taunts but the world is quickly leaving him behind. Young women no longer accept physical or sexual assault at the hands of a partner as part of life. So too are they sick of being lampooned as being liars or promiscuous and treated like a piece of meat whenever it suits some bloke.
Just as we obliterated racial abuse on the football field so too must we extinguish the voices that belittle and denigrate the sisters, mothers and daughters who support football and footballers en masse.