Outskirts online journal

Juliet Watson

Further information

About the author

Juliet Watson is a lecturer in Social Work, College of Arts, at Victoria University. Her PhD explores young women’s experiences of intimate relationships and survival sex while homeless. Current research interests include violence against women, bodies in society and structural gendered inequality.


juliet.watson@vu.edu.au
 

Publication details

Volume 30, May 2014

‘I’m Just a 17-year-old Girl. … I Can’t Take on the AFL’: The St Kilda Schoolgirl and the Contemporary Neoliberal Subject


  

Introduction

In 2010, a young woman aged seventeen received widespread media attention after she posted photographs on social networking site Facebook of AFL (Australian Football League)1 players, two of whom were naked, with the message, ‘Merry Christmas courtesy of the St Kilda schoolgirl’ (Pierik np). This article investigates how the series of incidents that became known as the ‘St Kilda Schoolgirl Sex Scandal’, and the ensuing maelstrom that played out in the media and on social networking sites, connects to contemporary understandings of neoliberalism and postfeminism. It further demonstrates how societal anxiety heightens when a young woman does not adhere to prescribed social roles. In neoliberal society, the structural context is often disregarded in the examination of social dispositions in favour of the construction of binaries that portray young women as successful or failing, as strong or vulnerable. For the contemporary neoliberal subject, responsibility sits with the individual and success is aligned with flexibility, adaptability, and being able to recognise and exploit opportunities as they arise, whereas failure is understood to be the result of poor management of the self. Under neoliberalism, postfeminist discourse adds a gendered dimension to notions of personal responsibility for young women that is often associated with their sexuality. It is argued here that neoliberal constructions of young women’s social roles inadequately reflect their experiences as they neglect the social complexities involved in young women’s interactions with societal institutions. This is exemplified by Kim Duthie, the St Kilda schoolgirl who, through her resourcefulness and initiative, in many ways personified the archetypal neoliberal subject, yet who was also discursively positioned as a ‘disturbed girl’. By examining the socio-sexual roles that have emerged for young women within the hegemonically masculine (Connell and Messerschmidt 833) environment of AFL through the context of the ‘St Kilda Schoolgirl Sex Scandal’, this article explores how subject positions are constructed for, and ascribed to, young women under neoliberalism in relation to AFL; the inadequacy of these roles in reflecting the complexity of young women’s lives; and how these roles were destabilised when they were contested by a young woman.

The ‘St Kilda Schoolgirl’ Sex Scandal

In February 2010, two AFL players from the St Kilda Football Club visited a Melbourne school to conduct a football clinic. In May 2010 a police investigation was carried out following a sixteen year old young woman from the school telling her school principal that she had become pregnant to Sam Gilbert, one of two footballers with whom she had been involved sexually (Robinson and Warner np). There were no charges laid as a result of the investigation, which found that the contact with the footballers had occurred subsequent to the school visit and that no illegal activity had been involved. In December 2010, the young woman, then aged seventeen and later identified as Kim Duthie, posted nude and semi-nude photographs on Facebook of St Kilda footballers Nick Riewoldt, Nick Dal Santo and Zac Dawson with the message, ‘Merry Christmas courtesy of the St Kilda schoolgirl’. When an interim order from the Federal Court directed that the photographs be removed from Facebook, Duthie then posted a link to the photographs on Twitter and embarked on a media and social networking campaign that included interviews across television, radio and print media. She also provided updates on social and digital media such as Twitter, Facebook, formspring, YouTube, and a blog titled, ‘The small girl with the big voice’ (Duthie np). In regard to her actions, Duthie declared to WHO magazine, ‘I have had so many emails praising me for taking a stand for other women who have been treated like crap. All I wanted was an apology’ (Martin np). Duthie initially claimed that she took the photographs herself but later said that Gilbert had emailed them to her. Gilbert countered that Duthie had stolen the photographs from his computer. Duthie also posted a photograph of herself in which she appeared to be pregnant and alleged that she had subsequently miscarried twins. She later stated that the photograph had been doctored and that she had not been pregnant. In February 2011, Duthie, still aged seventeen, released video footage of Ricky Nixon, a player manager who represented two of the St Kilda players involved in this matter. Duthie’s video footage showed Nixon in a hotel room that was paid for by the St Kilda Football Club, in his underwear, and with what appeared to be drugs. Duthie implied that she was in a sexual relationship with Nixon. Nixon denied any sexual involvement but later commented that he had had ‘inappropriate dealings’ with Duthie (Munro np). He was later stripped of his players’ manager licence by the AFL Players’ Association and barred from reapplying for two years due to a conflict of interest between the relationship with Duthie and the St Kilda players he represented (Caldwell np).

It is significant that Duthie applied the moniker of the ‘St Kilda schoolgirl’ as a marker of public identification. Duthie’s title, in association with the photographs, contributes to a media culture in which sportsmen’s sexual conduct ‘becomes an overt part of their public profile’ (Albury and Lumby 289). Kacen contends that ‘the title of a work serves as a key to its comprehension’ and that the one providing the title ‘has the power to guide the reader in understanding the text and its significance’ (4). The title is part of the account and acts as an elucidation of the themes of the narrative as understood by the storyteller. Hence, the title functions as both text and illumination. Duthie’s positioning of herself as ‘the St Kilda schoolgirl’ offered a key to how the posting of the nude photographs should be read. By linking nude photographs of professional footballers with her public identification as a schoolgirl she embarked on a narrative of scandal, an interpretation that was duly adopted by the media. That Duthie named the football club involved as St Kilda is also important due to a previous public scandal that resulted from allegations of sexual assault against one of its players and accusations of a police cover up that subsequently received widespread media coverage (Lazzaro np).2 

Professional sport, like certain other occupations, exists in an environment that is favourable to the construction of celebrity (Parker 152). This is evident when there is greater public interest in a, usually male, sportsperson’s private life rather than his public occupation (Turner, ‘Celebrity’ 310). This blurring of public and private is characterised by the binding of sport and sex that has been encouraged by sustained media attention (Albury and Lumby 289). In Victoria, no other team sport garners as much interest nor produces as many celebrity sportsmen as the AFL. This generates a socio-cultural context in which ‘society likes a scandal’ (Lonie and Toffoletti np), and in which scandal is strongly connected to culturally and historically specific codes of conduct (Cover 48). Therefore, Duthie’s naming of herself as the St Kilda schoolgirl, accompanied by the photographs, could not fail to get a reaction. Furthermore, Cover argues, Duthie’s skilful and persistent utilisation of digital media circumvented the traditional narrative of the sporting sex scandal by positioning her as active and subverting the customary discourse (52).

Subject Positions

Skeggs defines subjectivity as ‘the conditions of being subjected to frameworks of regulation, knowledge and discourse and constructing subjectivity in the process’ (Formations 12). Moreover, adopting a subject position, or identity, is an alignment with, or rejection of, discourses produced through societal institutions. How a subject position manifests is thus reliant on both its location within the wider discourse and how it is undertaken (Skeggs, Formations 12). Recognition is a crucial factor in the construction of subject positions which comes from being able to situate oneself within the available discourses. It is the recognition that occurs when experiences are named and categorised that provides legitimacy and therefore greater subjectivity stability. In order for a subject position to attain recognition, it needs to have an identifiable public value (Skeggs, Class 178). Thus, as Butler argues, a person must qualify as a subject ‘before representation can be extended’ (Gender Trouble 2). Subject positions that are available for young women within the sphere of the AFL are limited and usually of secondary status to men, and changing this requires recognition and support at an institutional level.

The Neoliberal Subject

In Australia, like many post-industrial capitalist societies, there has been a shift from being a welfare state to one which is governed by neoliberal ideology. Activities that were once located in the public sector domain (for example, education, health, housing, transport and welfare) are now regarded as more efficiently and effectively managed by market mechanisms, through which they are subject to profit and monetary incentives. In a neoliberal society, therefore, the emphasis is on market principles such as choice, competition and individual responsibility, and the retreat of the state has occurred in favour of self-regulation. It has been well documented that neoliberalism has extended beyond the purely economic to pervade other aspects of life, promoting a responsibility of the self (Brown np). As such, neoliberalism has not only shaped modern social conditions, it has also influenced dispositions which can be observed through the emergence of the contemporary neoliberal subject. Rose employs Foucault’s ‘technologies of the self’ to elucidate how self-regulation is understood to be a matter of personal responsibility and choice (78). Furthermore, the regulatory consequences of neoliberalism prescribe that it is the individual’s ethical responsibility to live as though he/she has the freedom to choose despite the constraints that might be encountered (Rose 20).

Sociologists who theorise individualisation processes suggest that people in post-industrial capitalist society have more individualised relationships with social structures (e.g. Beck; Beck and Beck-Gernsheim; Bauman; Giddens). The increasing instability and complexity of post-industrial capitalist society, and the decline in collective ways of understanding the world, have contributed to young people relating to society (including the structures which create inequality) as individuals (Farrugia and Watson 145). The individualising processes of neoliberal society and the accompanying postfeminist discourses require young women to take responsibility for their circumstances, which includes their sexual encounters, and ignores the fact that they occur within a landscape of sexual, political and economic inequality.

Feminist scholars have utilised cultural criticism to analyse how postfeminism, particularly as appropriated by the media, is a mechanism for disciplining women through legitimation and pathologisation. However, postfeminist practices are presented as freely chosen (e.g. McRobbie; Gill, ‘Postfeminist’; Negra; Taylor). Gill refers to the existence of a postfeminist sensibility, linked to neoliberalism, which she describes as resulting from the entanglement of feminist and antifeminist discourses and as such is a reaction to feminism (‘Postfeminist’ 148; ‘Culture’ 442). The appropriation of a postfeminist critical analysis for this article is beneficial due to the profound resonance between postfeminism and neoliberalism. Both postfeminism and neoliberalism share an ethos of individualism at the expense of socio-political understandings of subjectivity (Gill, ‘Culture’ 443). Moreover, both postfeminist and neoliberal subjects are epitomised as free-choosing, autonomous and entrepreneurial beings reflecting that postfeminism is not simply a response to feminism but that there has also been a cross-pollination of neoliberal ideology (Gill, ‘Postfeminist’ 154; ‘Culture’ 442). Furthermore, the assumption that equality has been achieved means that when young women encounter difficulties associated with gender, these problems are to be managed individually rather than being located within a context of structural inequality and addressed through collective feminist action.

Taking into account the postfeminist expectation that young women should provide individual solutions to structural problems, it can be argued that Duthie responded to her circumstances in a manner appropriate for the neoliberal subject. In neoliberal society, responsibility sits with the individual and is aligned with flexibility, adaptability and being able to recognise and exploit opportunities as they arise, all qualities that Duthie exhibited. An association that has been made with the changes in societal structures and individuals’ relationships to them is that the objective of celebrity has become more of an expectation (Turner, ‘Mass Production’ 156; ‘Celebrity’ 309) for young people who have matured in an era where there is far more exposure to, and interaction with, different forms of media. A relationship with the media, and fame achieved through it, could be considered a conduit for recognition and thus serves as a process of potential legitimation of the neoliberal subject. Indeed, celebrity may even be considered a legitimate subject position in neoliberal society. In many ways, Duthie represented the modern celebrity and was therefore a successful neoliberal subject in that she did not win attention based on any particular achievement (Turner, ‘Celebrity’ 310) but rather on her ability to employ different media resources to enhance her visibility.

The Individual versus the Institution

As a form of governmentality, neoliberalism encourages the belief that power is attained through the choices that occur at the individual, rather than the structural, level. If the right choices are made, this allows for success within those structures (Davies 30). This has become crucial to how young women conceptualise their identities and their futures (Aapola, Gonick and Harris 67). Gill posits that the pressure to self-manage and transform the self is actually higher for women because they are subjected to greater regulation in all aspects of their conduct despite this being framed by postfeminism as free choice (‘Culture’ 441). A comparison of how Duthie, an individual young woman, and the St Kilda Football Club, an institution, managed their differences is illustrated in their responses to the ‘scandal’. Duthie declared, ‘I’m just a 17-year-old girl.[…] I can’t take on St Kilda, I can’t take on the AFL’ (Dowsley, ‘There’s More’ np) while deftly utilising the available traditional and social media to increase her public presence and attempt to assert an alternative subjectivity through the recognition afforded to celebrity.3 In contrast, the institution’s approach, as represented by the St Kilda Football Club vice president Ross Levin, was to threaten Duthie with legal action that would involve ‘suing her for damages and costs of breach of copyright, breach of confidence and also adding claims of deliberate infliction of mental distress and trespass’. Levin made it clear that she could be liable for the next 15 years for any damages that were awarded by the court (Le Grand np). These responses reflected the trouble that could be caused through individual endeavour; however, it ultimately did not carry the authority of the institution’s claim to legitimacy through legal process. Duthie’s conscious positioning of herself as powerless in relation to the AFL articulated Butler’s notion of resistance through parody (Bodies 7) whereby the ‘17-year-old girl’ actually derived power from her marginalisation by the institution, yet simultaneously re-established the institution’s dominance through her subversive actions.

Young Women, Subject Positions and the AFL

An examination of the subject positions available to women within the institution (the AFL), particularly young women, reveals that they still tend to be perceived and managed by the AFL as a homogenous group, regardless of the diversity of women who follow the AFL and the different ways in which they support the code and acquire space within it (Hindley 61; Mewett and Toffoletti ‘Rogue Men’ 167). Women have also been largely ignored in the broader cultural imagination of AFL (Mewett and Toffoletti ‘Introduction’ 1). This is despite women having a longstanding history of involvement with AFL as spectators and supporters (Hess). Women are also a significant economic resource for the AFL through ticket sales, memberships and television viewing audiences. Indeed, the AFL holds a unique position among the Australian football codes with a statistically higher percentage of female attendees at matches where women and girls represent around half the spectators at each game and one third of club memberships (Heenan, cited in Dyson 8). This suggests that there is considerable discord between the substantial presence of female fans and their continued subjective positioning as secondary within the hypermasculine AFL environment. It also tends to render invisible the variety of roles taken on by women in relation to football, although usually in smaller numbers or in subordinate positions to men, such as in administration, journalism, on clubs’ boards, as well as the day to day activities associated with football at a grassroots level (Hindley 117; Mewett and Toffoletti, ‘Voices’ np).

WAGS

The public roles ascribed to young women are, in the main, limited to their intimate relationships with footballers. This is typified by the persona of the WAG, a media appellation that originated in the United Kingdom (Robinson 220) and is applied to the wives and girlfriends of sportsmen. Mewett and Toffoletti contend that gender is ‘a continual process of negotiation with outcomes contingent on time, place and the relative power of the people involved’ (‘Introduction’ 4) This suggests that certain articulations of gender are privileged over others. The WAG has traditionally been positioned as an accessory to the footballers (Hindley and Brabazon np; Toffoletti 429; Wedgwood 315). This was demonstrated as recently as the 2011 Brownlow Medal award ceremony, a televised annual event to honour the fairest and best player in the AFL, where the footballers’ accompanying partners were presented on the television broadcast being slowly spun around on a circular platform that resembled a rotisserie and that was referred to in the media as a ‘WAG-On-Wheel’ (Devlin np; Langmaid and Vickery np). However, by adhering to the frameworks of regulation according to the masculinised football culture, the WAG’s subject position has greater security over other subject positions available to young women, particularly groupies, because she provides an identifiable public value to the AFL. She serves a purpose by supporting the escalating commercialisation of AFL where players are increasingly perceived as ‘brands’ (Hindley 53; Albury and Lumby 289). The legitimisation of heteronormative gendered roles occurs through what Nurka describes as the ‘ritualised performances of heterosexual belonging, both on and off the field’ (43). The visibility and recognition (albeit ambivalent) attached to the role of the footballers’ intimate partners (always as part of heterosexual relationships) actually serves to reinforce the hypermasculinity of this territory by enhancing their partners’ heterosexual capital as well as contributing to the ongoing celebritisation of footballers. In relation to NRL (National Rugby League), but also applicable to AFL, Albury et al. argue that through the processes of football, ‘[p]layers’ bodies become central to their understanding of their manhood and masculinity’ (345). Institutional recognition of WAGs further reinforces the masculinised bodies of footballers through their heterosexual intimate relationships. Therefore, the posting of the nude photographs by Duthie challenged the masculine hegemony of AFL as represented by footballers’ bodies by disrupting they ways in which their off-field/ private bodies are viewed in public.

Sexual Assault Complainant

Over the past decade, another role for young women has emerged in regard to their interactions with footballers - the sexual assault complainant. Across both the AFL and the NRL there have been at least twenty sexual assault cases that have been reported in the media, with the vast majority of cases not reaching trial (Waterhouse-Watson, ‘(Un)reasonable Doubt’ np; Athletes 187-93). Providing a temporal context for the St Kilda Schoolgirl Scandal is that two months prior to the distribution of the photographs by Duthie, two Collingwood footballers were involved in a police investigation that commenced in relation to a complaint of sexual assault by multiple perpetrators on grand final night, following Collingwood’s premiership victory (Millar and Silvester np). This received widespread media coverage, with commentators from within and external to the football world commenting on the situation. Two high profile respondents that garnered much attention were Peter ‘Spida’ Everitt, a former footballer and media commentator, and media personality Kerry-Anne Kennerley. Kennerley, in a radio conversation with Everitt commented, ‘But [the players] put themselves in harm’s way by picking up strays’ (Silvester np). She later released a media statement clarifying that, ‘In relation to the “stray” term used, responsibility cuts both ways with these sort of things, and not with just one party. [...] The responsibility lies with the girls as well as the guys when you’re talking about alcohol-fuelled situations at three o’clock in the morning’ (Hunter np). Kennerley’s ‘strays’ comment took place the day after Everitt had posted on his Twitter account, ‘Girls!! When will you learn! At 3am when you are blind drunk & you decide to go home with a guy ITS NOT FOR A CUP OF MILO! Allegedly’ (Hunter and Brodie np). This was followed by, ‘Yet another alleged girl, making alleged allegations, after she awoke with an alleged hangover and I take it an alleged guilty conscience’ (Hunter and Brodie np).

What is significant about how AFL clubs, the media and the public respond to complaints of sexual assaults at large are the roles ascribed to the young women who make them and how these reflect perceptions of young women in the football community more broadly. Waterhouse-Watson makes the point that these roles are constructed in the media through fragmented and incomplete accounts which generate uncontested ‘truth effects’ usually evoking ‘woman-blaming’ (Athletes 17). Furthermore, making a complaint of sexual assault signifies a transgression from acceptable articulations of femininity within the AFL. Nurka states that this is observable in the constitution of public emotion that demands the shaming of sexual assault complainants (45). Moreover, ‘shame abjects the feminine from the social order [while] disgrace offers masculinity the potential to reinvent itself to once again become the beloved object of identification’ (Nurka, 44).

Sexual Predator

One dominant stereotype that has been identified as commonly ascribed to women by the media and the football public when complaints of sexual assault have been made to the police about AFL (and NRL) players is the sexual predator (Mewett and Toffoletti, ‘Rogue Men’ 168-70; Toffoletti 432-33; Waterhouse-Watson, ‘(Un)reasonable Doubt’ np, Athletes 20-22). The sexual predator, actively pursuing sex with footballers, exists in a climate of increasingly complicated social rules surrounding female sexuality. Powell’s study of sexuality and young people in Australia found that the increased instability and fluidity of post-industrial capitalist society has produced a ‘new politics of choice’ which has impacted on young people’s sexual relationships with young women now expected to be empowered sexually while also adhering to the gendered sexual double standards that still exist regarding male and female sexuality and desire (13, 78). Despite having seemingly greater sexual freedom, young women continue to be categorised in binary terms as respectable or promiscuous, labels that, in the main, are not attached to young men (although this does not mean that young men do not also have their own dominant sexual discourses with which they must contend). Despite feminist challenges to heteronormative and oppressive labelling of female sexualities, the persistent archetype of the promiscuous young woman points to the ongoing struggle required to resist embedded discourses.

With regard to football, Toffoletti argues that the representation of young women as sexual predators is a strategic utilisation of individual agency discourse to both distance and contain deviant players within the football industry, and in doing so disguises the structural basis and dimensions of gender power relations both within the field of football and the broader social realm (435). Accordingly, stereotypes that polarise female sexuality are not solely the domain of the football world. Indeed, research investigating NRL player attitudes and behaviour towards women revealed that they were not markedly different from those of other young men in the community (Lumby 314). Mewett and Toffoletti argue that the positioning of female football fans ‘as sexually forward can be viewed as a mechanism to recast women as sexual agents rather than passive victims in a “postfeminist” world of female empowerment’ (‘Rogue Men’ 169). However, the stability of this subject position is less secure as demonstrated through its struggle for legitimacy, even among women. The participants in Mewett and Toffoletti’s study of female football fans revealed that they generally seemed to disapprove of such sexual assertiveness (‘Rogue Men’ 170). As such, criticisms of the predatory female who hunts down footballers still reproduces gendered stereotypes that position the female desiring subject as dangerous because she refuses to adhere to the socially prescribed model of legitimate femininity (Mewett and Toffoletti ‘Rogue Men’ 170). What is absent in this stereotype is a nuanced examination of how heterosexual sexual desire is constructed within the sphere of football (Wedgwood 316; Toffoletti and Mewett 99), particularly in relation to class and gender and, therefore, despite the postfeminist emphasis on young women actively pursuing their sexual desires, traditionally gendered sexual roles are still being reinscribed. Or, as McRobbie argues, the more change there is to the gender regime ‘the deeper is the anxiety on the part of the less visible “patriarchies”’ (95).

The sexual predator is dangerous in a way that the WAG is not. She does not hold a legitimate subject position by being publicly partnered in an intimate relationship with a footballer. Single women, argues Budgeon, are ‘a challenge to patriarchy and a disruption to gender norms’ (309). She stands outside the social organisation and regulatory practices of heteronormativity (Budgeon 309) as produced and maintained within AFL. Furthermore, Taylor contends that while contestation of single female subjectivity is nothing new, the context of postfeminism, and how in particular it is appropriated and reworked in media culture, creates new and problematic representations (3). She states that ‘[b]eing partnered remains crucial to women’s ability to become viable and visible subjects, and therefore viable citizens, in a way that it is not for men’ (3). This is represented in the hierarchy of women who are involved romantically with footballers, with wives and girlfriends having status over casual sexual partners, groupies, and at the bottom, those who make complaints of sexual assault and therefore challenge the heternormative status quo that reinforces footballers’ masculine capital.

Other Roles

Waterhouse-Watson expands the discussion regarding the roles available to women who make complaints of sexual assault to include ‘the woman scorned’ who, out of revenge, makes a complaint due to being treated poorly after consensual sex; and the gold digger who lies about rape for financial gain (‘(Un)reasonable Doubt’ np; Athletes 23-24). Waterhouse-Watson discusses how these stereotypes, or ‘characters’, are ‘embedded in the collective cultural consciousness’ and provide a ‘narrative immunity’ for footballers accused of sexual assault as their defence is assured prior to a case ever reaching court (Athletes 20). However, these stereotypes also reflect how young women are positioned within the wider football community. This was demonstrated in the St Kilda Schoolgirl Sex Scandal with Duthie who was, at times, cast as all these characters despite never having alleged sexual assault (although it is interesting to consider the implications for both Duthie and Gilbert of taking and/or distributing naked photographs without the consent of the men involved within a feminist framework of sexual assault). At times, Duthie herself adopted the subject position of ‘the woman scorned’ and declared, ‘I hate the AFL and I hate St Kilda. […] Words can’t describe how I feel. […] I just want revenge. I want them to know what it’s like to have your reputation destroyed’ (Dowsley, ‘There’s More’ np). Yet by simply categorising Duthie as vengeful, as a young woman she is aligned with normative discontent, thereby reinscribing gender inequality and deflecting attention from any socio-political basis for her positioning (McRobbie 98).

The Disturbed Girl

During these events, another gendered role emerged – the disturbed girl – someone who is not classified as a victim, but rather someone who is pathologically unstable and requires psychological and institutional intervention. She is, therefore, responsible for her own downfall if she fails to accept the provisions that are offered to her. By trying to manage Duthie as a disturbed girl, the footballers, the club, the AFL and football culture in general are distanced from any culpability in this matter and therefore are not required to question embedded patriarchal discourses. This representation of Duthie as a disturbed girl gained further traction as her description of events became increasingly unreliable and tapped into neoliberal discourses of risk, a theme that I will be address shortly.

The AFL established the Respect and Responsibility Program in 2005 with the intention of ‘creating a safe and inclusive environment for women and girls at all levels of football’ (Dyson 4). Duthie’s actions directly tested the aims of this program and also challenged its efficacy and the AFL’s commitment to the program. Andrew Demetriou, CEO of the AFL, commenting just after the photographs were posted, described Duthie as a ‘very young girl who has obviously got some issues’ (Millar and Lynch np), yet did not consider the entrenched masculine hegemony of the AFL as having contributed to the emergence of these ‘issues’. Nor was there any critical engagement with how young women who are categorised as having ‘issues’ are positioned in broader society. Instead, in alignment with neoliberal society, Duthie’s problems were located with the individual rather than associated with the St Kilda Football Club, the AFL and structural gender oppression. Throughout these events, Demetriou maintained Duthie’s subject position as unstable by stating, ‘We’ve always been consistent in saying she needed help’ (Dowsley, ‘Andrew Demetriou’ np). In an opinion piece written for Melbourne newspaper The Age, titled ‘It’s Not Just Footy, AFL is concerned for a young girl’s welfare’, Demetriou positioned the AFL as the omnipotent and paternalistic force in Duthie’s life, acting as a form of case-manager that had co-ordinated her welfare support, while also calling on his own role ‘[a]s a father of three young girls and a boy’ to confirm to his authority (np). Furthermore, Demetriou’s discussion of the AFL’s interactions with various institutions to manage Duthie’s situation highlights the AFL’s institutional entitlement to direct the public discourse over Duthie’s right to confidentiality in matters of welfare support.

First, the AFL shares the community’s concerns for the welfare of this particular girl, as we do any young female or woman in the community. Despite some claims to the contrary, we have taken this matter extremely seriously. We have met, spoken with and had contact with her on numerous occasions since the matter first came to our attention last year. We have offered her support and we have also at various stages been in contact with the Education Department, Department of Human Services Child Protection, welfare support services and Victoria Police to see what assistance they could offer.

The positioning of Duthie as a disturbed girl was endorsed more widely than the AFL. For example, child and adolescent psychologist, and media commentator, Michael Carr-Gregg stated, ‘She’s a serial fantasist. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that there’s something not quite right there. … I’m not going to diagnose her long distance but she’s not a well girl’ (Lallo np). The classification of Duthie as a disturbed girl locates her narrative within a discourse of risk. The notion of risk needs to be troubled because such a categorisation, when applied to young women, involves (often hidden) political, ethical and moral judgments regarding gender. It is those with the resources and power who are able to define others despite the attempt of those being labelled to resist such categorisation (Cieslik and Pollock 2). As McRobbie argues, female individualisation processes signify that young women are intensively managed as subjects of ‘post-feminist, gender-aware, biopolitical practices of new governmentality’ (60). This occurs through the obfuscation of not only the inequality between professional male footballers and young female fans, but also between the young women and the institutions that protect the footballers such as the club, the AFL and, at times, the sports media (Toffoletti 433).

Harris posits that young women in neoliberal society are constructed as either the ‘can do’ girl, who is successful, confident and ambitious neoliberal subject, or the ‘at-risk’ girl, who is defined by her problems and that are depicted as the result of bad choices but are more likely to be structural in origin (14). This gendered binary is a manifestation of the anxieties relating to young women within contemporary societal conditions rather than a recognition of how young women’s identities are largely constructed by their interactions with institutions such as the education system, the family, the labour market, the welfare system (Harris, 14-16) and, in Duthie’s situation, the AFL and the media. As such, these archetypes fail to reflect the complexity of young women’s lives and how they negotiate structural disadvantage (Harris 32). For young women, risk is frequently associated with their sexual practices which are often labelled as ‘risky’ or ‘dangerous’ (Powell 4-5) and this was certainly the case for Duthie. This categorisation of ‘at-risk’ implies a lack of individual competencies and therefore defines Duthie according to her problems rather than providing recognition of the structural and material inequality of her situation as a single young woman challenging a patriarchal institution’s practices and processes.

Instead of simply identifying behaviours that would lead to a classification of Duthie as being ‘at-risk’ it is more useful to consider her actions within a feminist appropriation of Bourdieu’s social capital framework (128). This framework would suggest that rather than Duthie being a disturbed girl who exhibited risky behaviours, she was actually utilising the capital available to her as a young woman within her specific temporal and social location. For Duthie, this capital consisted of her knowledge of the power of social media and her ability to utilise postfeminist discourse within the context of a football sex scandal. However, the inadequacy of postfeminism to address matters of gender inequality could also explain the contradictions and unreliability of Duthie’s stance. Building on Butler’s notion of ‘gender melancholia’, McRobbie argues that for young women the loss of feminism (and its replacement with postfeminist discourses), while still trying to manage patriarchal institutions, has manifested in physical and psychological complaints. These are actually forms of ‘illegible rage’ (118). The individualised discourses that accompany neoliberalism and postfeminism dictate that when young women encounter difficulties associated with gender, these problems are to be managed individually leaving them without collective support. This results in seemingly self-destructive and counter-productive behaviours, which are actually expressions of resistance to gendered oppression.

Destabilisation

Although the ‘disturbed girl’ emerged as a categorisation to align Duthie with neoliberal ‘at-risk’ discourses, it was not altogether stable and identity slippage was evident. Despite attempts to present the AFL as a benevolent institution and to manage Duthie as an out of control teenager, this response was not endorsed by the entire football community. Foucault contends that power exists alongside resistance (96), and this could be observed in responses to the St Kilda Schoolgirl Sex Scandal along gender lines when female club directors expressed criticism of the AFL’s handling of the matter, particularly in relation to Demetriou’s comments that he was ‘disappointed’ (Lane np) with Nixon’s behaviour. Richmond board member Peggy Haines stated that Duthie had been cast as ‘a bit of a whacko and someone who could easily be dismissed’ and that the AFL needed to do more than make ‘motherhood statements’ (Lane np). Beverly Knight, former director of Essendon, stated that while she believed that the Respect and Responsibility Program was good in principle, ‘the AFL has to be much stronger when it comes to that policy if something doesn’t quite go their way’ (Lane np).

Resistance to the positioning of Duthie as not only a disturbed girl, but also as a sexual predator, a woman scorned and a gold digger, was also evident in the support Duthie garnered on social media where she was, at times, positioned as a strong young woman who was taking on a bastion of patriarchal power. An examination of Duthie’s formspring webpage finds reader comments that include:

  • You are amazing, such a strong person!
  • While a lot of people would say that you were in the wrong I completely disagree. I think you are brilliant in exposing the culture of ratbags in the AFL. You should be proud of who you are :)
  • good to see you standing up for yourself, i think you are beautiful and its awesome to see such a young woman take a stand against much bigger opponents:)
  • you know that one day, when all this is settled, you will be seen as the one woman who brought the macho, chauvinistic ‘i can get away with anything because i play AFL’ attitude to its knees – you sacrificed yourself so that other girls won’t get abused

It is notable that these comments were posted after Duthie appeared on the current affairs television program 60 Minutes stating that she had lied about various aspects of the scandal including being pregnant. This indicates that the (illegible) rage that Duthie expressed publicly, although erratic and contradictory, resonated at least with some people. It also indicates the details of the sex scandal were less important than the image of a young woman who was seen to be fighting against gendered oppression. Moreover, in contrast to being a disturbed girl, Cover describes Duthie as a media activist who, while not necessarily consciously enacting traditional political activist ideals, nevertheless strategically addressed ‘the ways in which women who have been assaulted or victimised by elite footballers traditionally are eradicated from public discourse or made invisible by institutions seeking to mitigate against scandal’ (48).

The representation of Duthie as a psychologically unstable girl was also destabilised by her own self-assessment. While the nude photos could still be viewed on Facebook, Duthie reflected, ‘I think that I have handled the situation immaturely, but I would not say that I am mentally unstable’ (Millar and Lynch np). She later stated on formspring, subsequent to the publicity surrounding her contact with Ricky Nixon, that, ‘Not a day passes by where I [don’t] question what my motives were and why I did what I did. … Hey – That’s what made me who I am today, and I don’t have any regrets as to how it’s made me a wiser person, given me knowledge, perception and skills’ (Duthie). When questioned in the media about her involvement with Nixon, Duthie referenced the previous comments made by Spida Everitt in relation to sexual assault allegations against Collingwood footballers by responding, ‘You don’t come up for a cup of milo. If we were just going to talk why wouldn’t we meet in a café?’ (Munro np). Here, through humour, Duthie demonstrated reflexivity and awareness of the structural imbalance of power in gendered relationships that exist within the AFL as well as displaying her intention to in some way disrupt the discourse. In doing so she highlighted the rape myth endorsed by Everitt and thereby overtly challenged how young women are positioned by the AFL and consequently resisted the prescribed roles that have been discussed here.

However, despite Duthie’s resistance, it is vital not to overstate her capacity to transform the hypermasculine culture of football. Disenfranchisement from institutional support diminishes the influence of resistance. Challenging powerlessness is not interchangeable with acquiring power, but rather can also reflect a refusal to be positioned as powerless (Skeggs, Formations 11). Resistance may result from necessity, as a survival strategy, but it does not automatically provide the conditions for autonomy or empowerment. Philadelphoff-Puren, following Hannah Arendt, argues that:

Meaningful political activity and subjecthood is […] profoundly connected to the power of voicing one’s opinions, although simply uttering them is insufficient. The efficacious political subject must also be in possession of both a recognisable political ‘place’ in the world from which to utter their opinions, and an audience who might both hear and respect them (40).

Rewriting the narrative of young women in the AFL involves challenging the available gendered subject positions and developing alternative discourses that reflect young women’s experiences. Duthie’s contestation of the hegemonic masculinity within and surrounding AFL revealed inherent societal anxieties regarding young femininity and the inadequacy of the roles that are ascribed to young women. However, it is more difficult to discern whether Duthie fundamentally transformed gendered power relations within the AFL community. While Duthie was able to attract attention through the narrative of a football sex scandal, as an individual her performance was inconsistent. This undermined the coherency of her purpose and, thus, unsettled the legitimacy of her subject position. Although in many ways Duthie adhered to the ethos of neoliberalism and postfeminism, such a stance was without institutional support, other than the fickle and fleeting attention of the media, and thus her capacity to effect change was limited. Instead, it is quite possible that the framing of her situation as a sex scandal and the lack of collective political activity actually served to reinscribe structural gender inequality within the AFL.

Conclusion

An examination of the ‘St Kilda Schoolgirl Sex Scandal’ is significant because it provides a context-specific example of what can occur when a young woman in neoliberal society contests socially prescribed roles. The increasingly individualised discourses that have emerged under neoliberalism and its cross-pollination with postfeminism has meant that young women, as contemporary neoliberal subjects, are expected to be entrepreneurial, flexible and to seize opportunities when they arise. As a result, the structural context is often ignored, so that if a young woman is seen to be failing she is located within a discourse of risk which holds her individually responsible for problems that are more than likely to be of structural origin. Binary archetypes that categorise young women as successful or ‘at-risk’ neglect to address the complexity of young women’s lives.

The positioning of young women as neoliberal subjects provides a context for analysing the St Kilda Schoolgirl Sex Scandal. Kim Duthie, the self-titled St Kilda schoolgirl, in many ways, encompassed the successful neoliberal subject through her initiative and self-management throughout the events of the scandal. However, in doing so, Duthie transgressed acceptable models of femininity thus undermining the institutionalised masculine hegemony of AFL. Her actions were also often erratic and contradictory. This identity slippage resulted in Duthie being located by the AFL within a discourse of risk (the antithesis of the successful neoliberal subject) and she was consequently appointed the subject position of the disturbed girl. This enabled Duthie’s conflict with the AFL to be reduced to individual psychological disturbance rather than as a reaction to structural gendered inequality. However, the instability and limitations of the roles ascribed to Duthie, including the disturbed girl, were evidenced through Duthie’s steadfast refusal, and the support she garnered from others, to be positioned in that way, revealing the inadequacy of available social roles for you young women under neoliberalism.

 


1. AFL (Australian Football League) refers to both the sporting code and its governing body.
2. The police investigation was later reopened after the events discussed here and the matter is currently before the courts.
3. It is necessary to note that while the St Kilda football club and the AFL governing body are not the same entity, they are commingled in Duthie’s responses to her circumstances and also in the public mind demonstrating that the questioning of gender power dynamics in football extended beyond one club. 


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