Monday nights in pubs was games night. My father was in the dominoes’ team (5s & 3s) at his local at the bottom of the street, and I was in the pool team at my local at the top of the street. This was a strictly male affair, at least in the way traditions don’t change. We played pool across the city; it was the one time you could go to the roughest pubs and not fear a beating – sometimes the locals left that to taking chunks out of each other. The main fear however, was when the opposing team had a female member, sometimes even two, out of the eight. In that male repressed world of banter, if you drew the ‘bird’, you were in a no-win situation – you get the picture.
Society has been set up for men; whether in their increasingly outdated role of breadwinner, although this is still the predominant form of gender relations, or in social activities – pubs, sports events and team sports. Participation rates in sport between the genders has been massively skewed. In the US for example, 40% of boys played basketball compared with 25% for girls, and that’s one of the better examples. Walk around your local park on a Saturday or Sunday morning and you will see it populated by boys and men, from six to their mid-fifties, playing football. Things are however, improving; women’s football is becoming more prominent, and other sports such as swimming and cycling are being given a certain level of equal coverage.
Katherine Owen’s evocative poem, “Winner Stays On,” depicts a night when a woman takes on the men at pool in their habitat, similar to my own experience back in the 80s. “It’s winner stays on at The Brown Jack./ But after our game, Graham and I slip back/ to the shadows./ Not good enough to play the regulars.” On hearing this poem at the Swindon Poetry Festival, Katherine explained how she had been recovering from ill-health, and simply being able to stand at a pool table was a personal advance. “The balls go down in a slow, consistent way./ Now all eyes are on the table:/ the only woman in the pub shoots pool./ Inwardly, I laugh./Even to walk is something new.” I won’t give the game away (sic) by saying how it turns out, but as with any good poem, there is a lot more going on than appears on the surface; much the same as happens in a game of pool, of football, or more generally when looking at the gender make-up and politics of sport.
Katherine Owen started dictating poems during the 14 years of her life she spent bedbound with severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. A prize winning poet, Katherine is published in various anthologies, including The Book of Love and Loss. She is author of Be Loved Beloved– a collection of spiritual poetry. Katherine has given talks and readings throughout the country, as well as radio and blog interviews. She runs the popular websites: www.healingcfsme.com and www.a-spiritual-journey-of-healing.com.
Winner Stays On
It’s winner stays on at The Brown Jack.
But after our game, Graham and I slip back
to the shadows.
Not good enough to play the regulars
we invite up someone new.
But the man insists
so I, the winner, step up
apologising for ineptitude.
The balls go down in a slow, consistent way.
Now all eyes are on the table:
the only woman in the pub shoots pool.
Inwardly, I laugh.
Even to walk is something new.
The man gets anxious.
“Don’t let a girl win,”
shouts a voice from the crowd.
But she does.
Another man takes his place.
Now the atmosphere builds.
I resist apologies for misses,
‘I can pot the balls’,
‘I can pot the balls’.
And I do
benefit from mistakes made by a man
in fear of losing to
Another fills his place.
This time, at last, I lose and take my seat.
My friend smiles,
sharing the extraordinary.
Months later, back at The Brown Jack,
I chat to a regular.
“I was there that night.”
That night a woman walked
I enjoyed this a lot. And although I’m an escapee from the sports shoe industry where every aspect of life is a competition, I do recall in the late 1990s Nike ran an ad campaign in the US called ‘If you let me play’, featuring little girls listing all the benefits of sport and active participation (sounds a bit dry but it was very emotive – I still love it now – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZZhLjmNC3c). The idea was to encourage more girls into sport – and yes, OK, buying sports shoes – but nonetheless I was proud of being part of the brand that tried putting over such a message. Interesting from your stats (I presume these are American?) that more boys now play soccer than girls. When I was there, soccer was very much a girls’ sport.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks Robin. That’s interesting about Nike. They got into the whole social responsibility agenda during the late 90s, through pressure about their supply chains. On the US soccer stats, I think the effect of David Beckham going to LA Galaxy and big money into the MSL, saw that change in male participation.
LikeLiked by 1 person