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The Tayla Harris statue: More than just a kick

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Tayla Harris stands proudly before her newly-unveiled statue (Screenshot via YouTube)

The recently unveiled statue of Tayla Harris is a symbol of the fight against bullying and misogyny, writes Noely Neate.

RECENTLY, I wandered through the lounge, glanced at the TV and was stopped in my tracks by the story of Myra Taylor on Aussie Inventions That Changed the World. This woman was a genius who revolutionised how women dressed with her invention of the boneless corset.

Now, for many of you out there, the corset that women used to wear was stifling, boned and not just uncomfortable but a downright health hazard. It not only suffocated women and caused pelvic injuries amongst other damage, but it also limited their movement and lives.

Unusually so for the time, Myra not only invented this amazing, life-changing piece of clothing, she patented it in 1911, went on to patent 24 of her inventions and sold it all around the world. This patent literally changed women’s lives massively with better, pain-free health outcomes and, importantly, gave them the freedom of movement to work more easily — something men most likely appreciated during WWI when women stepped up to the plate in the workplace.

It is hard looking back now to fully appreciate how revolutionary this invention was for women, yet Myra and her inventions are barely known.

Sadly, a lot of history is like that — if it was not invented by a man or something that a male could benefit from, it rarely has prominence or is appreciated for the genius it may be, either at the time or as a historical event. 

Many life-changing moments happen that go unnoticed until after the fact. Many, though, can inadvertently set off a chain reaction where you know – you just know – a turning point has been reached. 

“That” kick by AFLW player Tayla Harris and the ensuing drama that unfolded when the photo was posted online was one of those moments of change.

Even though I love watching sport, AFL is not one of the sports I understand nor follow, but, in case you were living under a rock at the time, the whole drama unfolded as follows.

Photographer Michael Willson captured an amazing photo of Carlton AFLW player Tayla Harris kicking a goal in a match against the Bulldogs. A sensational action shot — full flight, both feet off the ground and toe pointed towards the sky. You didn’t need to follow AFL to appreciate the athleticism.

Seven, the broadcaster, put the photo up on social media. Instead of overwhelming sporting appreciation, what followed was misogynistic bile of the vilest nature.

Instead of Seven removing the vile comments and reporting the most violent and abusive to police, they just deleted the post.

Women raged. That action was right up there with the whole “well, if you were not out that night, you might not have been raped” vibe that permeates society. They may as well have said, “look, too many blokes are not happy with the photo and sexualising it so we took temptation away.”

Young Tayla was having none of it. She reposted the photo herself, with this caption:

After much outrage, Seven did repost the image with an apology saying the removal had sent the wrong message. 

It had absolutely sent the wrong message. Women, many who did not even care about AFLW or “sportsball” in general, had had enough. Tayla became an instant hero for standing up for herself, taking a stand against trolls and bullies online and actually calling it what it was — “sexual abuse on social media”. Tayla didn’t get back in her box, she did a press conference which raised “that” photo to a whole new level for women.

At her press conference, Tayla said:

These people need to be called out by the AFL, yes, but take it further. This is the start of domestic violence, maybe this is the start of abuse and the comments that I saw were sexual abuse. It was repulsive and it made me uncomfortable.

 

Whether it's Victoria Police or whatever it is, need to contact these people and give them some sort of warning. Facebook need to delete them and something needs to happen.

Something did happen — she copped more abuse. Although something else also happened; it emboldened a lot more women. It started a conversation that had been a long time coming. Many men were faced with a real example of how women are often treated. The message was sent out that this would not be accepted anymore and many women were emboldened. 

Emboldened to say:

No! You can’t speak to me like this.

No! I don’t have to cop abuse and the authorities better deal with it.

No! I deserve to play football or whatever sport I like.

No! I deserve to be safe and free from abuse in my workplace.

The Tayla Harris photo drama was a massive turning point for many Australians, it was much more than an iconic sporting moment for women in sport, it was a flashpoint from which there is no turning back now and media, both traditional and social, are slowly – very slowly – being dragged along in its wake.

This is back in the news again due to “that” kick being immortalised in a statue that was unveiled in Federation Square recently. The inevitable screeches of trolls and misogynists ensued and, for all I know, many are still screaming into the aether about this massive injustice and insult to manhood, the game and past champions as I type.

No, Tayla Harris is not yet a “legend of AFL” as yet. And yes, of course, there are many women sporting legends who deserve statues. It's a shame those yelling this didn’t care that women, not just sporting stars, are missing when it comes to the whole statue business in general.

Though just like the original posting of the photo, most of those screeching have missed the point again. In fact, even many in media have, too, though I wonder if this was done on purpose just to ramp up the sensationalist clickbait.

At the base of the statue, the plaque reads: ‘More than a kick’.

I have read quite a few pieces written about this statue since it was unveiled; unsurprisingly, most pieces don’t include what is on the plaque. Even though the sculptor, Terrance Plowright, said he was ‘inspired to make the statue after hearing Harris engage in the debate on social media and its perils’, so even if those reporting were too lazy to actually bend down and read the plaque, they know exactly where this piece of artwork is coming from. 

Tayla herself said:

“This is going to help people, whether it's in a small way, in a big way and that's all I and people that have their heads screwed on care about, that it's giving people a feeling of empowerment.”

So yes, this statue happens to be of a very young talented AFLW player who stood up to bullying, who called it out for what it is and demanded the right to ply her trade without abuse, it was more than a kick.

Many young girls and boys will get photos in front of that statue. Yes, boys too. Sorry to break it to you knuckle-draggers, but young boys who have not been perverted by misogynistic adults actually like female sport, too. I see them at the netball pretending to pivot like Laura Langman, backflip like Sam Kerr or bowl and bat like Ellyse Perry; they don’t really care if the sportsperson is male or female, they just innately know they are watching someone at the top of their game and want to emulate.

How many will walk past that statue and discuss online bullying? Or wonder about their own actions in past? Or be inspired to walk into work that day and make an appointment with HR to demand the harassment they have been tolerating from a co-worker cease? Or maybe it just might be a little girl wondering if maybe she can kick a ball that far like Tayla did one day?

This statue and “that” photo is more than a kick and let us hope, for the sake of our society, we are not waiting decades for the dinosaurs to actually get it.

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink?, or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

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