The Minister for Sport and Equalities, Helen Grant, has been criticised for suggesting women should be encouraged to take up “feminine” sports like cheerleading and ballet.

She made the comments during a discussion about low female participation in sport and exercise.

Speaking to the Telegraph, the Conservative MP suggested that gymnastics and ballet would leave women looking “absolutely radiant”.

“We really need to take a step back and actually ask women what they want and give it to them,” she said. “That can be whether it’s a Zumba class or a game of Rounders after they’ve dropped the kids off.

“That’s the approach we need to take – what works for them.”

“It’s having a good spread on offer,” the minister said. “For example some girls may well not like doing very traditional hockey, tennis or athletics, others might, so for those who don’t want to, how about considering maybe gym, ballet, cheerleading?

“It’s not just schools, it’s clubs, it’s being innovative. Actually looking at our women and our girls and asking, what do they want?”

“You don’t have to feel unfeminine,” Mrs Grant stressed. “There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller-skating.”

Campaigners from the equality project Everyday Sexism have called the comments “discouraging”.

Laura Bates, the founder of the campaign, told the Telegraph: “It’s really the wrong approach to suggest that the only way for women to get involved in sports is to be girlie and feminine

“It’s actually discouraging for a minister to say this.”

However, Mrs Grant, who is currently in Sochi at the Winter Olympics supporting Team GB, has hit back at the criticism.

“Disappointing to see comments I made to the Telegraph on women in sport now taken completely out of context,” she tweeted.

Mrs Grant, who once was an under-16 judo champion for the north of England, then listed a range of different sports.