At the risk of overkill on the issue of Gray and Keys’s conduct (or possibly giving the impression I care more about it than a strong minded lass apparently should), I’d like to recommend a few more articles that have surfaced about it over the last couple of days. I’d also like to offer a last-minute heads-up to the radio debate about it that I took part in on Jason Mohammad’s BBC Radio Wales programme (available to listen to until 2pm on Wednesday 2 Feb).

One recent piece well worth reading would be Sian and crooked rib’s post tackling some of the central media misconceptions surrounding the story. I very much agree with what Sian says here in response to popular media claims that Keys and Gray’s angry musings were “just banter”:

…As it was, (Gray and Keys) were talking in a deadly serious tone about how the quality of the match was at risk precisely and only because the person watching the line was a woman. They weren’t making a joke about it or discussing a bad call. They weren’t having a laugh with a colleague who they respected. They were very deliberately and very angrily expressing the sexist belief that a woman cannot do a job because she is a woman. To move from this to bitterly telling Karren Brady off for daring to address sexism in sport, to calling her ‘love’, was not banter…

Another piece offering a thought-provoking perspective is Mihir Bose’s latest Inside World Football post, where he says that we “do not walk the walk” when it comes to giving power to women and minorities and suggests that an English equivalent of the former general secretary of the Norwegian FA, Karen Espelund, would have prevented the sexism in the first place. For this to have a chance of happening, there surely needs to be -as Martha Richler says– political change in the workplace:

As more women come forward, not all of them at Sky, it is clear that… sexism is thriving in the already stifling atmosphere of the recession, and we need clearer guidelines, so long as they are not so prescriptive as to stifle the spontaneous repartee that makes sports commentary so engaging. But to be engaging, our best commentators cannot afford to be out of touch, and sexism is very old-fashioned.

Richler also talks about India Knight’s recent Times article (unfortunately not available online for free), where Knight “invokes the rather tired ‘boys will be boys’ argument” and urges women to “grow balls”. In keeping with this, Claire Black observes that many of the women in the Question Time discussion on the issue were dismissive, saying “I don’t know what the fuss is about” and Dame Joan Bakewell has been quoted in a Telegraph article as saying that a joke of the type made by Gray “wouldn’t have been unusual in a 1960s office” but that “the girls were quite strong-minded so they gave as good as they got”. Bakewell even makes references to people being “quite a highly sexed lot in the Sixties, so there was a lot of teasing and joking and quite a few liaisons”. (Does being highly sexed automatically make one more accepting of antiquated attitudes? In my experience, being horny, on the pull and keen to get off on one’s own terms, rather than fulfil some stereotypical role tends to make traditional attitudes extremely frustrating.) The implication seems to be that efforts to make workplace sexism unacceptable rather than something women must expect are a sign that women are not as strong minded or libidinous these days. Or maybe Bakewell is simply observing that the amount of sexism in the Sixties meant women had to be more strong-minded in order to get by, without trying to say that made it right? (I suppose men men ended up missing out on that particular Sixties character building exercise.)

As women, this whole media furore seems to have left us caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, we’re under pressure to take sexism in our stride, with accusations of acting like weak little flowers if we even care about it, let alone react to it. On the other, we’re under pressure to congratulate SKY for sacking Keys and Gray, thus perhaps allowing ourselves to be dragged into a hypocritical media whipping frenzy (see Matt Hill’s post) that leaves us caught up with an establishment that we have every reason not to trust. (I’ve heard plenty of convincing whisperings that there’s more to this reaction than meets the eye and am inclined to agree with the view that Sky have been “trying to win politically correct Brownie points”.) Then there are the claims that we are weak sisters if we give in to social pressure and don’t react. Gah.

This is not about some things being unable to be said anywhere. The point, in my view, is that context is everything and if people with influence and power in their field of work make discriminatory comments in their workplace (which Keys and Gray clearly were), this perpetuates an actively hostile environment that only welcomes those in the dominant group. I very much agreed with Jo Carnegie (on the BBC Radio Wales programme) that we should be wary of pushing bigotry under the radar and I do think any policing of general opinion -not that I’ve heard anyone suggesting such a thing- would be counterproductive. However, it also has to be said that people who are affected by workplace discrimination need to be able to to do something about it without this being held up as a sign of “weakness” that places them under yet more threat of bullying. I guess it remains to be seen whether the sacking of Gray and Keys will do anything to further that cause.

Photo by dr.Coop, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.

Comments From You

sianushka // Posted 2 February 2011 at 9:08 am

thank you for linking to my post!

i agree with you regarding the knots women are expected to tie themselves into, and especially resent the idea that because sky sacked a sexist presenter, we’re meant to be grateful to sky who are not a company i ever want to be allied with!

bakewell’s comments are upsetting too. a lot of things were acceptable in the 60s. such as homosexuality being illegal and race segregation in the US. surely we should be glad things have moved on?

childerowland // Posted 2 February 2011 at 11:47 am

context is everything and if people with influence and power in their field of work make discriminatory comments in their workplace (which Keys and Gray clearly were), this perpetuates an actively hostile environment that only welcomes those in the dominant group

Agreed. Context is hugely important. ‘Football culture’ is very male-dominated and the constant drip-drip-drip of sexist comments such as those made by Gray and Keys serves to turn women away from the sport and make life difficult to unbearable for those women working in men’s football. Their comments weren’t simply one-off comments. Those comments are frequently made by people who genuinely believe that women have no place in football, so they can’t be written off as a joke, or ‘banter’. So many people seem desperate to believe that men and women are now on a completely equal footing in society, so any adverse comments made about women as a group are exactly equivalent in terms of harm to adverse comments made about men. It’s not the case.

Sarah // Posted 2 February 2011 at 5:25 pm

I’m fed up with double standards in this country. Women are constantly saying sexist banter against men; Jo Brand et al; Loose Women et al OH but that’s OK as women can do it to men right?? But men must never do it to women. As a woman I am fed up with some feminists wanting special treatment rather than true equality. And please don’t give me the usual argument (often used by many feminists) that women have had to put up with it for years since time began and that now it’s the men’s turn. The truth is, the men here now who are alive today are NOT to blame for what men did in the past (who are now dead). Yes women have suffered in history but the men who are here now are NOT the same men who did these things to women all those years ago. To give you an example, my son is 12; yes he’s a boy and was only born 12 years ago. Is it fair for him to pay now for what men (his accentors) did in the past?? He had no control of what men did in the past. Why should it be acceptable for him to have to put up with sexist banter or not be able to apply for a job because there are only women short lists due to what men did in the past?? NO, MY SON WHO WAS BORN A MALE SHOULD NOT BE TREATED LESS FAVOURABLY BECAUSE OF WHAT HIS ANCESTORS DID. HE WASN’T ALIVE THEN. Let’s STOP this bias against men once and for all. EQUALITY IS JUST THAT; EQUALITY.

Holly Combe // Posted 3 February 2011 at 12:23 am

@Sarah. I’m personally fed up with people putting words in feminists’ mouths and claiming we’re somehow always on hand to gloat and declare a mini victory every time a woman stereotypes a man. On the contrary, I think you’d be more likely to find us groaning and cringing in response to any kind of gender stereotyping we come across. As Sian says in one of the posts I linked:

Misconception 3 – what about the men, what about Loose Women, women are sexist too.

No shit Sherlock. And yet, curiously, most feminists I know don’t sit there watching Loose Women, cheering them on and going ‘hell yeah! This is my liberation! This must mean we have equality!’

In fact, most feminists believe that patriarchy hurts men too and that just as harmful stereotypes cause sexism against women, they also cause sexism against men.

I’d also suggest women-only short-lists tend not to be proposed as some churlish tit-for-tat punishment to men but as a way of giving women a voice in realms where years of assumptions that only men should be there continue to influence access. I accept there’s an argument that such moves could be counterproductive when people intent on upholding male privilege feel resentful but let’s not pretend we’re only talking about addressing patriarchal attitudes of the past. As Gray and Keys unfortunately demonstrated, we’re talking about attitudes that still exist in male dominated areas here and now.

sianushka // Posted 3 February 2011 at 9:24 am

Sarah – two wrongs don’t make a right. being sexist against women isn’t cancelled out by being sexist against men, or vice versa.

feminism, or my feminism, is about liberating everyone – male and female – from oppressions of patriarchy. this includes freeing men from gender stereotypes that are linked to sexist and homophobic outcomes, and liberating women from the same. ending the oppression of women will also help men – just look at the international situation where time and time again we have seen that educating women will lift whole families out of poverty and degradation.

we have to stop treating this situation as ‘the battle of the sexes’ – the idea that it’s men against women, and not women and men working together towards liberation is frankly ridiculous.

also, yes jo brand makes jokes about dead men. but god knows male comedians completely dominate the cultural stage and will happily make jokes about rape, dv and murdering women.

no-one is asking your son to apologise for the actions of other men. what i want, as a feminist, is for men and women to be equal, to be liberated from patriarchy.

Qubit // Posted 3 February 2011 at 1:25 pm

Sarah, it is a difficult scenario and I’m sorry you find it hurtful. However I don’t think it is realistic at the moment to say your son’s chance of getting a job or being a success will be significantly reduced because he is male.

I do agree all female shortlists are wrong, although I was under the impression that practice had stopped. At the moment women make up 22% of MPs, and around 15.2% of board seats on Fortune 500 companies. While I know this quite a large percentage it suggests that men still have a reasonable chance in employment.

As for Loose Women, I can’t really comment as I haven’t seen the show. I don’t think the football commentators should have been sacked. While their views were wrong they weren’t in a position where they could act upon them, and they didn’t mean to express them publicly. In the end people do hold opinions that are wrong and prejudiced but if this doesn’t impact on their ability to do the job (including employing people fairly) then I don’t think it is right to punish them for it.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 3 February 2011 at 2:17 pm

I don’t think Gray was sacked because he was caught being sexist on camera (although that contributed to it); he was sacked for sexually harrassing a female colleague- which in my view is something employers should take a hardline on. Especially as telling someone to put their hand down your trousers isn’t exactly a ‘grey area’! Keys resigned- he was not sacked.

Holly Combe // Posted 3 February 2011 at 2:24 pm

Sorry, my mistake. (Just saw that I referenced the sacking of both Gray and Keys when it was actually just Gray who was sacked.)

Qubit // Posted 3 February 2011 at 2:50 pm

Feminist Avatar I wasn’t aware of that, and if that is the case it does seem reasonable to sack him as his prejudice was negatively impacting on someone’s life.

sianushka // Posted 3 February 2011 at 3:51 pm

Qubit – altho i appreciate there are issues on the all female shortlist question, but we constantly face all male shortlists and no-one bats an eyelid.

those men aren’t always there on merit. they’re there because they are a safe choice, and a woman is a ‘risk’.

so as long as we have all male shortlists, i am in favour of all female ones too, until we start getting politicians there on merit and merit alone.

grey was sacked for sexual harassment rather than making the comments themselves. although there is a precedent for firing people over racist off the record comments in football.

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