I wanted to get something off my chest, and I figure that this is the perfect forum for it. It’s my blog after all, and haven’t I been going on about how I want it to be a bit more personal than it has become of late?
Since Saturday I’ve been following the fallout from the Sky Sports sexism row. For those who don’t know, on Saturday, a female linesman officiated at Liverpool v. Wolves. She was, I believe I’m right in saying, only the second female to officiate at a Premier League match. Just before the game was due to start, Richard Keys and Andy Gray, two Sky Sports presenters, discussed her involvement in the game. The two men suggested that someone ought to explain the offside rule to her, the implication being that, as a woman, she would be unable to understand it. Sian Massey went on, in the game, to allow a goal that was very close to being offside, and indeed, many believed it was. Repeated viewings of the goal confirm that it was, in fact, perfectly legal, and Massey was correct in her decision.
The conversation that took place between Keys and Gray was made public, as the two of them spoke whilst their microphones were still recording. Gray has since been sacked, and Keys has resigned as a result of the furore, which included videos being made public of apparently sexist behaviour.
I’m in two minds as to how I feel about the whole thing. The first thing I thought, when I heard, was that they shouldn’t be punished for a private conversation which should not have been made public. They are entitled to their opinions, and as long as they aren’t using Sky Sports as a platform to do so (from Sky Sports point of view at least), they should be allowed to keep their jobs. Then I actually heard the tape. Something that was initially described as ‘banter’ between the men, sounds to me anything but. I have a lot of gay friends, and frequently engage in banter with them, banter that if taken out of context may be seen as offensive. What I listened to didn’t sound like banter to me, in or out of context, it sounded like two middle-aged, sexist men, having a genuine problem with the very idea that the F.A. would dare to give the oh-so-important job of running the line in a football match… to a woman! How dare they! Everyone knows that there is a part of the brain that understands the offside rule, and that women inherently lack that part. Having removed my tongue from my cheek, I can honestly say that, yes, as a female football fan, that very notion offends me. I understand the offside rule because someone once explained it to me, and I, being an intelligent person, retained that information and am able to apply it to a football match. I don’t need it explained to me in terms of shoes or bags, or however the analogy goes. I understand it.
Getting back to the point, I’ve seen the video of Andy Gray which seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Whilst getting ready for a broadcast, he seems to be adjusting his microphone, and gestures to the young (attractive) woman and asks her for help, whilst seemingly holding his flies. The whole thing leaves a slightly nasty taste in the mouth, because it seems as though he is making some sort of sexual advance to her in a crass kind of way. There is a further video of Richard Keys showing him talking to Jamie Redknapp about a former girlfriend of Redknapp’, in which he says “Did you smash it?” The subtext here of course, is that he is asking Redknapp if he slept with the girl. Again, this leaves a slightly bitter taste in the mouth, especially as Jamie Redknapp, who is, as far as a I know, a happily married man, and seems to be slightly embarrassed by Keys’ comments.
My problem with the Gray video is that he is shown treating a colleague of his as a sexual object, just because she is a woman. This is sexist. He wouldn’t have said that to Richard Keys or Jamie Redknapp or any other man. He did it because she’s a woman, and seemingly little more than a sexual object to him. The fact that she was a work colleague, as far as I am concerned, is what makes this a sackable offence. If I was treated that way in a work environment, if it made me feel uncomfortable, I would reserve the right to complain about that and expect action to be taken. The other video, in which Richard Keys says “Did you smash it?” is, to my mind, a slightly different kettle of fish. Who are we kidding if we don’t think that men talk like that about their sexual conquests? Whilst it’s not particularly nice to hear them talking that way, I don’t think that it is news to many people that lots of them do. And, while we’re talking about it, there are of course plenty of women that talk that way too (I can confirm that I’m not one of them). I’m certainly not sure that Richard Keys should have been fired over it, and as it was, he wasn’t, he chose to resign.
So, as I said, I just can’t decide how I feel about the whole thing. A small part of me thinks it has been blown out of proportion. I hear that “Political correctness gone mad” argument being bandied about quite a lot, and yes, I think that in many ways, political correctness has gone mad. But I think that the phrase is thrown around too much. Countering sexism isn’t political correctness gone mad. When Ron Atkinson made offensive comments about a black footballer a few years ago, he was fired. And quite rightly. He was using offensive terms, and there was no question as to whether or not he should have been fired, he was, and that was that. There was, as far as I know, no suggestion of this being ‘political correctness gone mad.’ If this has been a conversation between Keys and Gray about a black official, or a homosexual official, and they had questioned his ability to do his job as a result of his race or sexuality, would there be such a loud voice questioning if they should be disciplined? If they hadn’t used any offensive terms, if they had just said, “Look, it’s a gay official, let’s go down and explain the offside rule to him, because he probably doesn’t understand it”, how would this issue be discussed then? It seems to me that sexism is often brushed under the carpet, as a lesser discrimination. All discrimination is wrong. Nobody should be made to feel inferior because of their gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, age, appearance or anything. Sian Massey was deemed qualified to do her job as fourth official because the F.A. were confident in her ability to run the line at a football match.
I would welcome comments about this, if you feel so inclined, because, like I said, I don’t know how I feel about it. If you look at it as a wider issue, without thinking about it in terms of Richard Keys or Andy Gray, I stand by what I said: sexism is wrong and nobody should be judged on anything other than their ability to do the job set out. I just cannot decide how I feel about a private conversation being used against these two particular men.
I’m sorry that this was such a long post, but like I said, I really wanted to get it off my chest, and in writing it down I think I managed that, and I managed to organise my thoughts on it all!