Ruby Slipper on Night Games: A Review

I am happy that Anna Krien wrote Night Games, and I am pleased that a young  Australian female writer can produce a tome that enjoys such strong media saturation and promotion. High five you, Anna Krien and more power to your pen (and publisher). From hearing Anna speak on 774 ABC Melbourne through to reading an excerpt of her book via The Monthly website and then seeing a cross-promotional talk at The Wheeler Centre featuring Anna and Helen Garner – this book was everywhere during its launch week.

The Garner-Krien relationship is a valuable one – one that (along with the excerpt and the interviews) compelled me to download Night Games, which I comfortably read in a couple of afternoons. Helen Garner’s long shadow hangs over Krien’s book, which is either an homage to Garner’s style of local investigative journalistic writing – or a shadow mimic. As I mature, I enjoy Garner’s writing more and more. Like a less-frightening Capote, Garner puts you in the sleuth-seat dealing with thorny issues of gender and power set in an unnervingly familiar setting. Krien focuses on similar topics (gender, power, criminality) in Night Games, but with less authority and cohesion than her mentor. 

Footballers, power, mateship, coercion. Young women, group sex, rape, the legal system. All these elements make Night Games an eminently alluring read, fast-paced and voyeuristic. Krien takes two main paths of discussion in this work, the main concerning the case of a young man accused of rape after a Collingwood-won Grand Final. She looks at the progress of the case, the broad brush-strokes of the way rape is identified and tried in Victoria. This is alarming and infuriating information, and I’m glad I know more on the topic now. So few rapes are brought to light and successfully tried – partly because in order for rape to be ‘rape’ – the raper must be cognisant of the fact he is ‘raping’. If he thinks it’s consensual, it’s something other than rape. Yep. Go figure that one out (and then work out how to make a jury convinced of it).

The second line of narrative interspersed between this rape case is an exploration of male behaviour in the AFL. Doubtless, this could easily be extrapolated out to the NRL and other male pack-sports. I found this line of inquiry much more compelling, although occasionally stitched together rather inelegantly. Krien looks at the ‘special world rules’ and normalcy (or lack thereof) that young males in team sports like AFL live in. She highlights the role that group sex and women play in team cohesion, and notes that – although times have changed and media-spin attempts to control misdemeanours of players – attitudes towards women haven’t truly improved.

The most powerful point that Krien makes in Night Games is that there is a relationship between the bad treatment of women and rape cultureEven if what you are doing to a woman (or planning on doing to a woman) isn’t technically rape and is rather coercion via expectation wielded with power, this bad treatment is only a very minuscule step away from rape. All the protections and ‘education’ given to sporting teams (or men more broadly, likely) means little if you only recognise consent as acquiescing.

Consent and acquiescing are not the same thing. As the young woman at the heart of the Collingwood Grand Final-night rape allegation stated “she felt compelled, but not forced” into her multiple sexual encounters on the night in question. How to teach these delicacies to those who think rape allegations can be avoided by paying for a girl’s taxi home is beyond me.

Read an excerpt of Night Games by clicking here.

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