Media hypocrisy over sexist football jibes

// 28 January 2011

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Guest post by Matt Hill, who thinks men can – and should – be feminists too. He helps edit the politics and music website Green Wedge, and writes for various sites.

suncover.jpgPersonally I find it hard to get too exercised about the scandal that’s erupted over the last few days, surrounding two Sky Sports pundits who have lost their jobs for making sexist comments about a female official. Richard Keys and Andy Gray, who presented Sky’s flagship football coverage, were caught out on Saturday when some comments they made about Sian Massey were passed to the Mail on Sunday:

Keys: Well, somebody better get down there to explain offside to her.

Gray: Yeah, I know. Female linesman. Can you believe that? [. . .] They probably don’t know the offside rule.

Keys: Course they don’t.

Gray: Why is there a female linesman? Somebody’s fucked up big.

(There’s more, and those in need of edification can hear the whole thing here.) ‘The comments were pathetic, but the media ritual of punishment and debasement that follows such incidents is almost as insulting. First there’s the manufactured ‘outrage’ from those crusading feminists at the Mail on Sunday. Then the insincere ‘sincere apology’, which nobody is even expected to take seriously. Finally expect a period of purdah for both men before, a decent interval elapsed, they sign a big contract with one of Sky’s rivals. And we all learn a very important lesson about turning your microphone off before speaking your mind.

Anyone who’s spent any time in an all-male environment will hardly be shocked by what the tapes reveal (though I admit some more footage of Keys, where he describes sex with a woman as “hanging out the back of it”, is as vile as anything I’ve heard in a football changing room).

I finally decided I’d had enough of playing football and the pitiful bravado that goes with it on my way to a university match a few years ago. Evidently mistaking me for some species of reptile, a team-mate boasted of how he’d invited a girl back to his house the previous night, only to throw her out in the street at 2am when the main business of the evening was finished. “What a legend,” somebody else added. (These weren’t uneducated kids but students at a famous university: one is a doctor now and the other a lawyer.)

But my all-too-extensive experience of male-only culture – over many years of playing football, and two harrowing years at an all-boys school – taught me one thing: the main driver of sexist attitudes in male-dominated spaces is fear of women. Inside every nasty sexist bully is a little boy who wishes he could talk to girls, but doesn’t know how. After all, it’s easier to retreat into a familiar male world, where everyone can unite in deriding women, than to try and understand them.

Look at the video of Keys’s remarks, if you can bear to. You’ll see an archetypal beta-male trying to impress the cool kids by outdoing them in sexist abuse (with a vaguely homoerotic sexual compliment thrown in for good measure). It’s a classic case of a group reinforcing its identity and self-esteem by picking on those who are outside it, with the weakest member gaining most from such ‘bonding’.

To say that the men’s behaviour is pitiful rather than threatening isn’t to excuse it. There are too many terrified little boys who’ve risen to positions of influence in society – think of the lawyer and the doctor – where they can menace others with their antediluvian attitudes and leaden ‘banter’.

But it does mean there’s nothing inevitable about such behaviour. In a more equal society where men and women are taught to respect rather than fear each other, occupying the same spaces at school and work, I believe such attitudes will largely wither away.

That day would come sooner if the media spent more time focusing on issues like the gender pay gap and sexual violence, to name just two. The travails of Richard Keys and Andy Gray bespeak a media culture that’s much more concerned with regulating its own language about gender than in describing the real lives of women.

That’s not to say such taboos aren’t useful. As comedian Stewart Lee says, political correctness is an “often clumsy negotiation towards a formally inclusive language”. The fact that Richard Littlejohn is upset shows the system’s working – see his next column for more entirely predictable effusions on the subject. And hopefully a few common-or-garden office bullies will now think twice before imitating such micro-aggressions.

But I suspect many women will react to these events with a sigh rather than the outrage mandated by the press. After all, ordinary women have more important things to worry about than the puerile nonsense of two contemptible men.

Comments From You

PEM // Posted 28 January 2011 at 2:29 pm

That “party girl” on the cover – how is she related to the story? Don’t tell me that’s the lineswoman they were talking about and someone actually dug up a personal picture of her! If so, that’s sickening. I can’t for the life of me see what that picture, whoever it is, has to do with football, refereeing or this story.

Hannah // Posted 28 January 2011 at 3:28 pm

PEM – yes that’s her! They took the photo from her Myspace account. I believe that another paper were using picture of her on the beach on holiday as well. It makes such a mockery of any outrage at the sexism that they might have been displaying.

Kit // Posted 28 January 2011 at 4:12 pm

There’s a group on Facebook something along the lines of saying they shouldn’t have been sacked, the female official should have, I /facepalmed and unfriended my cousin when I saw he’d joined it…

I think there’s more to the two guys and why they (or at least one of them) was fired. My so was telling me about the story the other day and had found there were other incidents of sexual harassment in the workplace and stuff. I think from listening to different videos and commentary things, it seemed like the one guy who wasn’t being fired (at the time, if both are now…) was actually worse in the kind of things he’d say to people. It’s pretty crap if they do have a history of such things and only now they’ve been publicly caught out they’re getting “punished” for it…

CerealDave // Posted 28 January 2011 at 5:34 pm

I agree that Andy Gray was stitched up. He is currently suing News of the World over the phone hacking business, which Lord Murdoch can’t have been too happy about. Far from defending or excusing his remarks however, this factor compounds his stupidity in making these remarks. It doesn’t take a genius to see that taking legal action against a company so closely associated with the one you work for would make your life difficult. Murdoch and his minions would have been waiting for an opportunity to discredit Andy Gray and he handed it to them on a plate. He may as well have stuck a bow on it. And I don’t think Murdoch would be above throwing Keys under the bus if it gets him what he wants.

It also gives Sky as well as everyone else under Murdoch’s rule an opportunity to (try to) convince people that it takes prejudice and discrimination in their ranks seriously. As it is, up to this point the feminist movement has only given Sky an excuse to have pretty girls presenting Sky Sports News.

Josie // Posted 28 January 2011 at 7:27 pm

I know PEM, it’s so pathetic! Just what are they trying to prove by showing a photo of Sian Massey wearing (gasp) a short skirt and (shock horror) dancing. The whole thing turns my stomach – it’s time for these people to grow up

Charlotte // Posted 29 January 2011 at 1:43 am

Tellingly, the ubiquitously free Metro newspaper’s take on this the other day was a front page pic of Andy Gray at a fancy dress party wearing a dress; it was coupled with sneering homophobic/transphobic/yes also sexist watchwords like ‘fairy’ underneath it. When this is headlined in screaming bold with the rhetorical: “Who’s Wearing the Trousers Now”, and leafing through a few pages further you find yourself reading yet more about how this is all some ‘dark forces’ conspiracy against two ‘diamond geezer’ ‘cheeky chappies’, you don’t need a degree in gender studies to realise that as far as tabloidworld is concerned this totally bizarre out-of-the-blue sexism and verbal sexual harrassment against innocent bystanders who happen to be female is -in somehow, in some inexplicable way – definitely all teh feminist’s fault.

tom hulley // Posted 29 January 2011 at 9:15 am

I think you are playing this down, Matt. What you have written is not very different from the excuses I have heard from a lot of men in the last few days.

Also you are kidding yourself that rogue individuals and rogue attitudes cause the problem rather than a flawed system.

Gray was an embarrassment to his employers after a series of gaffes. Keys resigned having putting himself in jeopardy by insulting his employer. It was not really about sexism but about Sky.

Some influential men have commented about 2 blokes losing their jobs while completely ignoring how they wanted a whole group of women (football officials) to lose theirs.

This is more than sexism but about inequality at the root of our so-called enlightened society. I promise you, young man, it is steadily getting worse not better -I have been around a long time.

Did anyone hear how the pompous radio 4 presenter this morning tried to undermine his ‘guest’ Kay Banyard on this topic? Stuff like this happens every day. Radio 4 even called on Clarkson as their expert witness on sexism!

Matt Hill // Posted 29 January 2011 at 3:17 pm

Really, Tom? I’m surprised you read my piece as some kind of excuse for these men – I call them ‘pathetic’, ‘vile’ and ‘contemptible’. And I never once wrote that these were rogue individuals: in fact, I claim that such behaviour is endemic in all male environments, and try to explain some of the psychology behind it. To explain isn’t to excuse, as I point out in the piece. But you seem to expect women to walk around in a permanent state of fury over this kind of thing. That’s not how the women I know have reacted. Most women I’ve spoken to have found the comments ugly, albeit not particularly surprising. They’ve largely been glad to see the two men lose their jobs, and hope the events will send a message to other workplace bullies about what’s unacceptable. But few have been truly angry for more than a short period; most, quite understandably, find these men pitiably laughable. But much of the criticism I’ve heard has been delivered with a weary laugh, rather than in outrage. One of the benefits of blogging, where we don’t have to follow a news organisation’s official line, is that we can try to reflect such ordinary views rather than simply take parting in the mainstream media echo chamber.

tomhulley // Posted 30 January 2011 at 10:14 am

Matt, you say: ‘you seem to expect women to walk around in a permanent state of fury’.

I would not put my expectations on any woman never mind ‘women’ in general nor would I claim to know what ‘women’ think on any issue.

My intention was to say that condemning attitudes of some/many individuals avoids dealing with the inequalities in society that create these views.

I am afraid your conclusion implied that women have more (mysterious) things to worry about than being treated as unequal. This also let off the offenders.

Ashlye // Posted 31 January 2011 at 2:23 am

Matt I find your view very refreshing

I think you did an excellent job of explaining how things are “in the real world” and what those living there are likely to feel about it

masculinist // Posted 31 January 2011 at 1:35 pm

The Sun got it completly wrong with the picture of Sian on the front page. Not good. I dont think she has worked at a football match since this all happened, which is a big shame. She should not be denied doing the thing she likes to just because of what Andy and Richard said. I know it would be a ‘red top’ media frenzy, but after one game things should calm down for her. (hopefully) .

As for male sporting enviroment …..I played rugby and football for a number of years …….did we have a few beers afterwards ??? Yes ….were there some quite interesting songs sung ??? Yes ….

did we go around in packs lurching and lechuring after women ??? No …..

Not saying that does not happen …but not every all male enviroment is bad …

and actually I enjoyed the banter and laughs we had …..

are all women hockey/football/netball teams angels ????? sexism not exist in those enviroments ???????????????????

final point ……I wonder if the presenters on Loose Women are watching what they say ????

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