Movement, music, and sport are a fundamental part of the human experience. They have the power to bring us joy, shape our identities, and empower us to expand our perception of self. As a drummer, and footballer, I have experienced the impact of these activities first-hand, both as a participant and a fan. However, at an industry level, access to both fields remains limited for women, and in the case of sport, this is reflected in participation across lifespans. The alienation of women from sport and movement has real-term implications for personal and public health and is something I have become fascinated in tackling through music.
Many benefits of music and sport are both based on movement and their benefits are widely recognised and complimentary. Listening to music while exercising has been shown to boost physical performance, improve resilience, and help strengthen the sense of connection between individuals, all enhancing a sense of community and the positive impact on mental health. Beyond the individual, the collective experience of following and attending live events reflects one of the most common vehicles through which identities are constructed and contested. At large, these practices form cultural production – from subcultures to national identities. Because of this, they hold real power. As a result, the common barriers women face in these fields means exclusion from areas of public life.
'Offer these girls the opportunity to create a playlist for the session and they are excited, energised and keen, but ask them to kick a football and they feel awkward and embarrassed.'
The barriers facing women’s engagement in music and sport are widely documented at a personal and national level, and best reflected in industry level research. Within the music industry, a 2021 study found that only 22% of music industry executives are women, and only 2% are women of colour, and despite the extensive campaigning, only 33.3% of festival headliners were female solo artists or all-female acts in the same year. A grim parallel is seen across sports industries despite the recent rise of women's sport accentuated by the Euros last summer. In positions of leadership and governing bodies we see under-representation of women in top positions.
Whilst these depressing statistics persist at an industry level, there is a marked distinction between the two fields when it comes to women’s involvement on a personal level. In my downtime from touring, I volunteered at a local community outreach programme which offers football coaching to young people. Through this work, I met fantastic groups of confident, powerful, intelligent young women, far more enlightened on issues of gender politics than I could have imagined at their age. Yet during the sessions, the pervasive norms of women not playing football create tangible barriers. Offer these girls the opportunity to create a playlist for the session and they are excited, energised and keen, but ask them to kick a football and they feel awkward and embarrassed. The ability to enjoy sport or exercise seems far more challenging for women than music. I faced a convoluted journey to recognising this impact personally.
'As a woman, I perceived references to exercise as inextricable from the oppressive pursuit of the ‘beach bod’ and politicisation of women’s bodies – as territories where comparison and competition between women is fostered and capitalism nurtured.'
Two years ago, with a break in my touring schedule imposed by COVID, I came to perceive the power of movement in my own life. Running every day became the coping mechanism through which I navigated the many lockdowns, show cancellations, and erosion of the identity I had moulded in the shape of my band. The physical experience of running through space rhythmically moving in time with my own breath, fulfilled a personal meditative function that drumming had always offered me. I gradually understood that the connections between music and movement in my own life to be linked to more than my external identity. It offered a crutch, and a key to developing a more resilient and happier sense of self. It was during this period that I came to reflect on my own exclusion from public conversations on sport and movement. As a woman, I perceived references to exercise as inextricable from the oppressive pursuit of the ‘beach bod’ and politicisation of women’s bodies – as territories where comparison and competition between women is fostered and capitalism nurtured. I accepted this as a truism and never considered the small influence I could have in shifting such conversations. Hyper-aware of the teenage girls that followed my social media through the band, I shied away from any reference to the gym or running – feeling them to be tarred with the same patriarchal brush, painting the pervasive masterpiece of female objectification.
And yet it was through moving my body physically – be that in running, lifting weights, yoga or simply walking – that I found the sense of flow and embodiment I had lost through being ‘locked down’ without my drum kit. I slowly realised the ways in which women’s movement has been subsumed into a patriarchal world, and the language surrounding it is often daunting and intimidating. Spaces are designed for men, and emphasis all too often lies on the end-goal – the male gaze. Like the music industry, the female perspective remains woefully under-represented, overly-sexualised, tokenised or packaged for consumption and product sales.
'Physical movement can hold transformational power to expand personal perception of what you are capable of, and music can provide a key to access.'
Recognising the potential of this, I set up INMOTION COLLECTIVE, a creative platform to celebrate women’s movement and expand access to movement for women and girls. Alongside my two co-founders, Monki, a DJ, and youth practitioner Ceylon Hickman, we identified the joy of movement being as intrinsic and instinctive to individuals as music. We seek to use music and an accessible entry-point for women. Through this cultural lens, we can share stories of the joy movement can bring and expand the narratives that we share in these spaces, broadening access – physically and tacitly widening participation. Through this work I’ve had the privilege of meeting a range of brilliant women and hearing their stories and relationships to movement. This experience has reaffirmed my belief that physical movement can hold transformational power to expand personal perception of what you are capable of, and music can provide a key to access.
In our post-pandemic moment of increasingly fragmented social and national identity, with an economy on its knees, creative collaboration across sectors is more important than ever. The cross-fertilisation of music and sport can facilitate more than storytelling – it offers a source of strength, empowerment, and self-expression, and a vehicle to transform individual lives and challenge gendered inequalities across political and cultural production.