This round’s clash is the AFL’s annual Women’s Round, where the contribution of women to Australian football’s wonderful and diverse culture is celebrated.

At least, it is if you’re not watching the Fox Footy channel.

Since its colonial beginnings, women have always been a significant part of Australian Rules football and its culture. As early as the 1800s, women passionately barracked of the clubs they loved. One of my favourite stories about that early influence comes from a writer for The Argus in 1896, complaining about how involved female fans had become:

“The woman ‘barracker’, indeed, has become one of the most objectionable football surroundings. On some grounds they actually spit in the faces of players as they come to the dressing-rooms, or wreak their spite much more maliciously with long hat pins. In the heights of this melee some of the women screamed with fear. Others screamed ‘Kill Him’. One of these gentle maidens at the close of the struggle remarked regretfully that it was a pity they ‘let off’ the umpire in the Geelong match, as they should have killed him.”

Naturally, I’m not suggesting we revoke to anything that barbaric, but it really is important to realise and to celebrate that women have always been passionate Australian Rules football supporters, and are a big part of the vibrancy, charm and longevity of our regional game.

Which is why it’s so disappointing that Fox Footy, instead of devoting this week to celebrating Women’s Round, have instead re-dubbed Round 17 “Christmas in July”, and have focused all their advertising around men dressed up in Santa hats.

I don’t suppose it’s really that surprising from network that does not have a single woman in a regular commentator or panelist role, but it does seem a fairly egregious example of how little respect Fox Footy shows to the women who love our game.

Imagine, for a comparable example, the outrage if Fox Footy had chosen to ignore Indigenous Round, and instead called it “May Madness”. It’s unfathomable that they would even consider doing such a thing in the 21st Century, yet Women’s Round has been disrespected in a similar manner. As a Club Member, and a Foxtel subscriber specifically in order to maximize the number of AFL games I can watch every weekend, I am particularly disappointed.

There’s an argument that inevitably comes up in this kind of conversation: that things like Women’s Round are some kind of reverse sexism, and by ignoring it, Fox Footy are doing the cause of equality some great service. The problem with that argument is that it ignores the tremendous structural inequality in sport broadly, and specifically in Australian Football.

Structural inequality is about recognising that often it isn’t any single act or appointment that is specifically sexist, but that when you consider the sum total of the way groups and organizations act toward women, the culture more broadly favours men. It’s not the appointment of, say, Andrew Ireland, but the fact no AFL club has a female CEO. It’s not the appointment of Gerard Whateley, but the fact there is no regular commentator or panelist on any of Fox Footy’s shows.

Things like Women’s Round help to draw attention to that inequality and celebrate the often-overlooked contributions of women to Australia’s football culture. By making a conscious decision to ignore it, Fox Footy have been incredibly disrespectful to women and to the 43.1% of the AFL audience that is female.

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