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“To see the end result at Northern Stage is equally exciting and terrifying – especially to hear reactions from the audience.” Laura Richards

October 28th, 2015


Performing ResearchLaura Richards has recently completed a Masters at Newcastle University. She investigated the new campaign This Girl Can by Sport England.

In this blog Laura tells us more about her research, what inspired her to do this project and what she found out.

What made you start looking at your research? 

The year before I started my research I was working for an NGO based in Cambodia, that used football as a tool to tackle gender inequality. One of the challenges we faced was in encouraging rural communities to let girls play football, as there was a genuine belief that playing sport would turn the girls into boys. This ‘change’ wasn’t an abstract idea, rather it was believed to be a bodily change – there was a belief that girls would physically change sex and wouldn’t be able to have children.

This really interested me, as it prompted me to think about my personal experiences of gender and sport: not being allowed to play football in P.E. classes because girls weren’t allowed to play in boys’ leagues, male players at a tennis club being told they were hitting like a girl in front of female players, etc.

Not long after I returned to the UK, Sport England launched their ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, to encourage more women and girls to participate in sport. The campaign received widespread positive feedback, but I found the videos and posters jarring. It made me wonder if women were embracing the ‘girl’ identity and if this was actively encouraging them to take up sports.

How do you conduct your research?

My research was carried out through an analysis of social media interactions, surrounding the hashtag #thisgirlcan on Twitter. A big part of Sport England’s campaign relied on social media participation, so it provided an opportunity to observe online conversations as they were happening.

I used a method of analysis which allowed me to pinpoint moments in interactions where social media users moved from being less powerful to more powerful. The method also recognised that gender is one of many competing discourses, which allowed me to analyse how gender was constructed online, in the context of sport and the campaign.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve found out from your research?

The most surprising thing I found was probably the individual instances where the This Girl Can social media campaign genuinely seemed to empower social media users. For example, one subject tweeted that they didn’t last long on a run, as a boy had commented on their appearance. By engaging with this user, Sport England successfully encouraged them to continue running. I wasn’t expecting to see such a clear and direct response to the campaign.

Other than that, it was surprising to find that there were three distinct gendered identities that were repeatedly performed by social media users. Of the three, the most interesting was that subjects who embodied the notion of ‘This Girl Can’, were not usually tweeting about sports. Those that tweeted about doing sport actually appeared to actively rejected a ‘girl’ identity.

Why did you sign up for Performing Research?

This is the third time I’ve joined Performing Research. I joined originally to do something a bit outside of my comfort zone and see how drama and research can intersect. This time, I’m looking forward to seeing how other people respond to my research and for the opportunity to explore those responses outside of a classroom setting.

How do you feel about the performance at Northern Stage?

It’ll be really interesting to see how my research develops and grows throughout the course of Performing Research, as others have an imput into it. To see the end result at Northern Stage is equally exciting and terrifying – especially to hear reactions from the audience.

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