BREAKING NEWS: GIRL GOOD AT POOL

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Photograph: Ian Meeks

Esther Jewitt relates her experiences of sexism in bar sports.

I have worked hard to be good at pool for a few years now. I can remember playing doubles against a couple of old blokes with my mum (former Lonsdale captain) in a pub we stayed at for a wedding. Our opponents scoffed: “We won’t be beaten by girls!” My mum just smiled politely, and then proceeded to clear up the table. I remember being highly entertained by their dumbstruck faces; the look of smugness quickly replaced by awe and deep respect.

I am now vice captain of Furness Women’s Pool, and have dedicated myself to the cause of being a match for any competent pool player, male or female. On the whole, my male friends I practise with respect me as a good player and an equal, which is great. When playing strangers, I often still hear, “I’ll go easy on you because you’re a girl,” but that’s before they’ve seen me play!

Whilst I don’t mind a bit of friendly banter, sometimes sexist remarks are taken too far. I suppose I believed that if I became good enough at pool, I would become immune to disrespectful comments, however this is not the case.

Two weeks ago, I was playing one of the Furness pool boys in a friendly league game for a social. I took the lead early and potted several balls in a row. The girls were ecstatic for me, but unfortunately, I heard a spectating member of men’s pool hiss viciously at me, “stop potting, bitch.” I lost the game, and although my opponent graciously said I had played well, I felt frustrated, and as though the victory belonged to that spectator who had been so unnecessarily rude.

On Monday, Furness faced Cartmel in the college league. I played last, with the score standing at 4-4. After an extremely tense evening of close games, I was faced with the decider against Cartmel’s captain. It was the most pressure I had ever experienced in a game, as the team was counting on me for our overall victory. I had not lost a league game yet and I did not plan to! I fought down my nerves, and emerged victorious. I finished on a tricky longshot on the black, leaving two of her colours on the table, amid raucous cheers of my team.

I went home on a high, feeling immensely proud of myself. However, I received a message later in the evening from a course mate along the lines of: “My friend saw you playing pool tonight. Just been telling me how you have a nice arse haha.” I expressed my disappointment that this friend (who I have met once before) failed to notice the way I was dealing with the extremely tense game of pool being played. The response: “take it as a compliment haha.” I informed him I had not been playing for anyone’s opinion on my arse, and then added something a lot ruder.

I felt appalled that this was considered an acceptable thing to say to a woman, or indeed anyone playing a significant and professional game in a league. Perhaps it was because my opponent was also female, that this game was deemed unimportant to this spectator. This kind of treatment is sexist and degrading.

I wanted to become good at pool to earn respect, and not be treated as though secondary in a bar setting. Perhaps I am not yet good enough at pool to have earned this. Or perhaps something seriously needs to change.

Women who throw their all into a sport, at whatever level, deserve to be encouraged and treated with respect. It is not easy when faced with off-putting comments like these, however I plan to turn my frustration into renewed determination to prove that I can do it. I hope other women in similar situations can feel equally empowered.

‘This Girl Can’ is a campaign to help increase women’s confidence to take part in sport, and it’s coming to Lancaster University on Monday Week 9, with the hashtag #ThisLancsGirlCan. LUSU is organising special events to encourage and celebrate women’s participation in sports. Join the Facebook event ‘This BUCS Girl Can Week’ to keep up to date with the latest. Bailrigg FM will be featuring a discussion about the campaign, talking to some of the University’s sportswomen. Tune in on Tuesday Week 9 at 1pm to find out more about the campaign.