rugby women's team

“Don’t be a pussy”: Playing Women’s Contact Rugby in NTU

“Don’t be a pussy!” I remember the shock when my coach first flung those words at me after I had been tackled to the ground and was visibly shaken. My first thought was: “the audacity of her” my second, “I’m going to prove her wrong.” That’s the first thing about contact rugby, it’s perfect for rebels. From day one, we were convinced that we’re tougher than what we’re made to think we are.

Female contact rugby players are often stigmatised for being… women. I wish I got a dollar for every “you can play rugby meh?” comment I get whenever I tell people I’m a rugby player –– my wallet would be thicc. Therein lies the common misconception that contact rugby is a “masculine” sport. 

“Violence,” “aggression,” these are the traits those around me typically associate with rugby. In fact, there exists an obvious disparity between the treatment of boys and girls in Singapore’s contact rugby scene. While boys are encouraged to play the sport from a young age (as early as primary school), most girls are only given the opportunity to play contact rugby in university. There are clubs that cater to young girls –– but let’s face it, how many Singaporean parents would sign their little girls up for the sport? On top of that, there is also the concern that girls will become too muscular. 

First off, can we please retire the illusion of the stereotypical “feminine” body? Why is it okay for men to be big, small, thin or fat but women are only expected to be feminine? Gender norms such as these make it hard for women to be taken seriously in male-dominated sports like rugby. Our femininity is perceived as antithetic to masculinity –– therefore, we are seen as weaker and less adept at playing the sport. Such perceptions have resulted in a general lack of investment in women’s rugby in tertiary institutions. It's also kept the women’s rugby scene in Singapore relatively small. 

NTU women’s rugby for example has been self-funded since last year and is struggling to survive especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The men’s team, however, continues receiving support from the school. The hesitance to invest in the development of the women’s team strengthens the perception that our presence in the sport is dispensable, hence, we risk being erased from the scene. 

Secondly, equating masculinity to aggression and violence is not only problematic but also totally eludes the spirit of contact rugby. Like my coach used to say, “rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen.” Ignoring the obvious gender bias, the quote encapsulates how this is not a “masculine” game; but rather, a game of strategy, discipline and above all, respect for the rules. Women are just as capable as men in playing the sport; in fact, strong and skilled female rugby players are a common sight on the field. I think it is more accurate to say that the sport blurs the binaries of masculinity and femininity –– this should be celebrated more. 

women's rugby team tackle Original photo by Saraniyah Saravanan

My best experiences thus far have got to be representing NTU during the inter-club and international games (i.e. Hong Kong Invitational 7s). During the games we’d put on our most aggressive front, we’d be intimidating, and we’d charge at our opponents –– hard. It’s truly a display of perseverance and strength. We’d exhaust ourselves to our last breath getting the ball to the touchline, and we’d cheer as we’ve never known joy when we scored a try. 

Besides the spirit of the games, there’s so much to love about the culture of women’s contact rugby. Here are three key aspects:

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“The rugby scene in Singapore is pretty small and still developing, especially women’s rugby. A lot of support and development is needed. My hope is that we will be able to promote the sport even more as rugby, in general, is not very well known to the public audience.” - Anggit, NTU women’s rugby alumni

For anyone thinking of playing Rugby, I’d say that playing the sport has truly shown me that I am exceedingly stronger than I ever thought I could be, and I wish that for more girls/women. If this sounds like something up your alley, check out @ntuwomensrugby