By Anna Park
This summer, with funding from the department of undergraduate advising and research, I traveled to Christchurch, New Zealand to research gender biases and stereotypes in rugby culture. On a day-to-day basis, this meant going to practices and games of a local rugby club where I participated, observed, and talked to as many people as possible about all aspects of rugby, focusing on how and why they are involved in the sport, and what challenges they face as a result of that. As someone who has completely fallen in love with the sport since joining Stanford Women’s Rugby two years ago, it was a dream come true to be able to play and study rugby in New Zealand, where rugby is the national sport.
My main research questions focused on the experience of female rugby players at the amateur level. I asked a lot of women why they play rugby, and a common theme in their responses was empowerment. “Playing rugby makes me feel confident” one teammate told me, because “even though I’m a small woman, I know I could take you down.” But the empowerment that the women describe is not just due to the physical aspects of rugby. For many female players, rugby is a way of redefining what it means to be a woman, questioning the boundaries of traditional masculinity and femininity. After a game, they walk off the field covered head to toe in mud, comparing bruises and scrapes, but later that night at the clubrooms they are dressed up in heels and makeup. These two pictures – at odds with one another – represent a resistance by the women to be put into labeled “masculine” or “feminine.”
A rejection of traditional notions of masculinity and femininity does not mean that rugby culture is free of gender-based stereotypes and biases. In fact, the club culture that I experienced revolved around the men’s teams, and the women’s team was repeatedly overlooked. Some evenings after games, we would be invited back to the clubrooms for speeches, where people of all ages would come together and socialize. The women’s team would sit off to the side, not really a part of the speeches and traditions of the club. Integrating a women’s rugby team into an old boys’ rugby club will also take more effort on the part of the women. It means participating in the traditions and interacting more with the other members. “Until we get a woman standing up there, talking to the club, it’s not going to change” a former player told me over coffee one morning.
Despite the male-centric rugby club culture, the community surrounding rugby in New Zealand had a way of bringing people of all ages together. On the field I played side by side with women 20 years older than me, becoming good friends with a few of them. Rugby brought us together in a way that no other group or community could.
After my season of club rugby in Christchurch, I feel lucky to come back to Stanford where we are fortunate to have a club that’s equally supportive of the women’s and men’s teams. I am also looking forward to being able to share some of the highlights of my experience in New Zealand with our club. Although gender biases persist within rugby culture, female involvement in rugby is rapidly increasing on a global scale, and with it the perceived masculinity of rugby as a sport is changing. It’s an exciting time for women’s rugby.
Stanford 31 UC Davis 14
Tries – K. Herson (2)
O. Bernadel Huey
Conversions – O. Bernadel-Huey (3)
Stanford Women’s Rugby hosted two-time defending USA Rugby Spring Champions UC Davis under the Friday night lights. UC Davis jumped out to 14-0 with two converted tries in the first 15 minutes. However, SWR refused to roll over and replied with a try to winger Kara Herson ’21 in the 23rd minute. The Cardinal continued to build the pressure as they spent the rest of the half camped in the UC Davis 22m. The pressure paid off with points as flyhalf Olivia Bernadel-Huey ’18 collected her own kick to score under the posts. The successful conversion locked the scores up at 14-14. The teams headed into halftime with the game finely balanced.
In the second half, SWR looked to retain the momentum and used a varied attack to put pressure on UC Davis. A strong kicking game from Bernadel-Huey, impressive ball retention and the ability to attack the width of the park kept UC Davis on the backfoot. When UC Davis had possession, SWR showed relentless defense and strong tackling to stall the Aggies go forward. In the end, the Cardinal attack led to 3 more tries in the second half from Herson, Avery Tallman 20′ and Lia Ferguson ’18. Bernadel-Huey slotted two more conversions, and SWR ran out winners 31-14. While there were many noteworthy performers, special mention goes to the back row of Anna Park ’20, Kathryn Treder ’18 and Ferguson. Their high work rate on attack and defense set the tone for the team performance.
Stanford 48 Humboldt 41
Tries – O. Bernadel-Huey (2)
L. Ferguson (2)
Conversions – O. Bernadel-Huey (4)
Only 12 hours after the final whistle against UC Davis, Stanford Women’s Rugby were back at Steuber Stadium warming up to face a big and physical Humboldt State. Humboldt State jumped out to a quick start, scoring four tries for a 26-0 lead after just 20 minutes. The game paused due to an unfortunate injury to Cardinal wing, Nicole Almanzar ’18. The delay gave SWR a chance to refocus. The Cardinal came back scoring three quick tries before the break through Olivia Bernadel-Huey ’18 (2) and Isis Anderson ’21. At halftime, the score was 26-19.
The second half began with an energized Humboldt State building their lead. SWR stayed composed by working the connections and processes they have been practicing since the start of the season. Through teamwork and patience, the Cardinal were able to wrest the momentum. SWR built pressure with a good kicking game, strong ball carries and long periods of possession into a 48-31 lead. The points came on tries from Tatiana Balabanis ’19, Lia Ferguson ’18 (2), Anna Park ’20, Haley O’Brien ’20. However, Humboldt State launched a furious last 10 minutes, punching in two more tries. In the end, SWR squeaked out the win in a very exciting and physical game.
(Photo credit: Hector Garcia-Molina)
Stanford 51 Cal 17
Tries – O. Bernadel-Huey X3
A. Seth X2
Conversions – Olivia Bernadel-Huey X3
Stanford Women’s Rugby bounced back from last week’s defeat to Chico State with an emphatic victory over long time rival Cal.
Stanford came out firing right from the kick off with a break away from second row Haley O’Brien ’20 which saw her held up over the line. The ensuing scrum led to Olivia Bernadel-Huey’s ’18 1st of her 3 tries for the day. It was one way traffic for the rest of the first half with further tries from Ash Seth ’19 , Lia Ferguson ’18 and Kara Herson ’21. Halftime score 41-0 Stanford.
The second half saw Cal come out with greater intensity as they maintained possesion and put Stanford under increased pressure. Cal got the 1st try of the second half, but Stanford immediately replied with a try from Jett Hayward ’19. The second half continued to be more back and forth with Cal adding 2 more tries and Lia Ferguson ’18 adding one more for Stanford. This was a much improved performance both on Attack and Defense and saw further improvement from our new players who continue to grow every time they step on the field.
Next weekend Stanford hosts a double header at Steuber Rugby Stadium! UC Davis comes on Friday evening at 7:00PM, and Saturday sees us face of against Humboldt at 11:00AM.
(Photo credit: Hector Garcia-Molina)