'Playing For Keeps' Actor Says Sport Is The Last Great Bastion Of Recognised Chauvinism
One of the stars of the series, Madeleine West, opened up about how a little drama about WAGs is so much more.
Season 2 of 'Playing for Keeps' shifts the core cast away slightly from the identities they were so tethered to in the first season.
"This time around none of us are actually WAGs," West told 10 daily, "we're either separated or hovering on the periphery of relationships. We're all kind of free-floating but still intrinsically connected to the world of Aussie Rules."
The explosive first season saw Kath (West), Maddy (Annie Maynard), Tahlia (Olympia Valance), Jessie (Isabella Giovinazzo) and Paige (Cece Peters) each at life's crossroads. Rocked by scandals, marriages and relationships falling apart, each were approaching new chapters as the second season kicked off.
But ultimately, this show was never just about the glossy world of WAGs.
"They're real people, real human stories," West said, "stories from a world that -- for viewers -- they know a little bit about because they see the Bec Judds of the world or they read the back pages of sports news. But to actually see it playing out in lounge rooms is such a voyeuristic joy."
For West, 'Playing for Keeps' is like a gift, wrapped in sleek paper and decorated with ribbons that, when opened, spills out the muck of the real world -- a modern-day Pandora's Box, if Pandora was dating a footy player.
It's an investigation into the tension of gender roles and of women's power, it's giving agency to men to own their vulnerabilities and faults and it critiques the structures of the sporting world.
And it's a show that she believes couldn't be more topical.
"We're in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement and it's really interesting seeing the way that roles of women are interpreted by different sectors of society," West said.
"Women have never been more conscientious of their representation in the media and the power that holds... and I think with a show like this, it is really important because we're diving into what is the last great bastion of recognised chauvinism, which is the sports world."
While great strides have been made in sport toward gender equality, there is still such a major gap in sponsorship, in recognition and in respect. In sport, there's always the sport itself, and then the gendered identifier tacked on to make sure you know it's AFL Women's.
"[Men] get the most coverage, they're celebrated and held up as gods, whereas women still struggle to be seen, to be heard," West said.
"They're still doing what men had to do 50 years ago, hold down a day job just to do the sport that they love. They're not getting the same opportunities."
West agreed that there are changes being made -- slowly -- but having 'Playing For Keeps' centre on the women who are tied to a world dominated by men "could not be more timely".
"It pays homage to the fact that the ultimate goal of #MeToo is not that women rise like the cream at the sacrifice of everything else," she said. "It's about celebrating the power and strength that women have to offer, and at the same time, celebrating the unique power and strength that comes with men and being a man.
"And for anyone else who identifies in between -- the wonderful contribution that they make."
Where Season 1 investigated the dynamics of the WAGs, the secrets and lies that tore them apart and brought them together, heading into the second season sees a huge shift for many of them, Kath especially.
"Kath decides to run for [board] president!" West said, "she decides to use her crude knowledge, compassion and deep psychological understanding of the game and the players and put it to good use.
"Suddenly, rather than being the hand that rocks the cradle, she's the power on the throne, not behind the throne."
"It was a really wonderful transition for me because Kath has always been a particularly poignant representation of a woman approaching her middle years," she said.
"Kath's grab for the top seat on the board shouldn't be a surprise -- she's tough but has also always held onto her fragility. She' still able to be a powerhouse but still capable of being broken," West said. "And she's not afraid to rock high-end couture and a sexy heel."
"I’ve always loved that about Kath and now she’s moving into the actual realms of power of this world, in which she’s been complicit for so long."
But in order to obtain that position of power, Kath also has to surrender to the fact that she has to sacrifice everything. It's as if the show is haunting its own characters with the adage "women can have it all". What does "all" even mean? And at what cost?
We can't do everything for everyone all the time. We're human.
The expectations of the women in the series -- to be perfect wives and girlfriends, to be perfect mothers, to hold down jobs, to look good, to keep a tidy house, to do it all and want it all but above all else to never falter or admit struggle -- West says hits home for the show's audience.
"There are strong storylines for Maddy who's a high-powered lawyer but still has to be the responsible one at home," she said, "to take care of the family."
"So her trying to divide her time between freshly minted Queen WAG and the realities of her work life. That speaks volumes about the roles of women at the moment. We really are at that nexus, we're being told we can have it all.
And it's really interesting to see how bloody hard it is, to the verge of it being almost impossible.
For West, 'Playing For Keeps' is one of those stories that needs to be told, to hold a mirror up to society and show the cracks in the facades of those we put on pedestals.
"This show is addressing, in a very subliminal way, that we’re striving to achieve a balance. That’s why it’s so very topical and it’s got its finger on the pulse from my perspective. This is what dramas do. They reflect things that show people what they’re feeling.
"So you know the woman -- the WAG who lives within a society of other WAGS or the indentured role of the supporting wife -- is allowed to go, 'actually this doesn’t fit, I want to become president. I want to take the reins'.
"And when you see it reflected on TV you go… she can do it, why can’t I?"