Backlash to the backlash..

Andy Gray, Scottish footballer turned sports c...

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The Andy Gray and Richard Keys incident, which shows little sign of abating in terms of coverage, has shown us two sides of football. One, displayed by Gray and Keys, has highlighted the casual sexist culture that still exists within a game that is regarded even now as a bastion of masculinity (though this masculinity is changing and being challenged all the time). The other was the frankly glorious way that these two idiots were hounded out of the game via a lot of public pressure from fans who heard the comments and decided that was not what they wanted from people working at the public front of football. Though the judicious pulling away of ladders by disgruntled insiders at Sky Sports considerably helped matters.

We’ve seen Gray exposed as the rollicking fool and egotist that we all knew he was. We’ve also seen Keys display a disturbing lack of awareness of studio basics (that mics and cameras record even if they don’t broadcast) for someone who’s been in the business for 20 plus years. Plus we’ve been blessed with a cringeworthy radio interview where Keys tried to apologise, but by fundamentally not understanding that he’d done anything wrong made it even worse for himself. Oh, and the addition of the delightful phrase ‘smash it’ into the wider population’s lexicon.The fallout continues, and this post risks adding further nuclear waste onto a Chernobyl sized storm of acrimony. However the new theme emerging seems to the backlash against the backlash. There was some of this in the immediate aftermath, just witness Leon Knight’s twitter feed (@leonknight82) for a glimpse into the mind of a footballer who isn’t just a bit sexist but who has no respect for women.

But the backlash against the backlash is growing, with people attempting to defend Gray and Keys and looking like tools in the process. The Tory MP Dominic Raab tries to defend sexism but falls into all the typical derailing tactics that are evident when people (largely men) enter into the feminist/equality arena and fail to check their privilege and prejudice. This can be seen in comments on articles and blogs, as the seedy belly of the internet emerges. A typical comeback from the sexism defenders goes along the line of ‘butbutbut what about teh menzzz??!!!’ and whinging about ‘harmless banter’ and ‘PC brigades’, which makes it sound more like Welsh Nationalists going off to fight Franco in 1930s Spain. The problem is that this manages to absolutely fail to grasp the fundamental concept of equality, which is to strive for equality of opportunity rather than treating everybody the same. To say that there is sexism against women is not to argue that there is conversely no sexism against men. It’s just that the vast majority of sexism is directed against women and therefore we should try hardest to stop that. Throwing out false equivalents in an attempt to highlight sexism against men also falls short. If all you can find at first hand to provide a counterpoint to sexist comments made by two figurehead presenters on a channel covering one of the highest profile competitions of the most popular sport in the world is Loose Women, a light lunchtime ITV show, then you have nothing to worry about.

But back to the football. It’s very hard not to stop, look around and go ‘uh, seriously guys, there are like NO women involved here. Total sausage-fest’. One Karen Brady does not make it equal. A culture in football that says ‘female lino, cool, whatever’ is better than one that says ‘someone needs to tell her the offside rule’, (though a comment about telling the lino the offside rule could be applied to all linos, anywhere in the world). And it’s this relaxed culture that seems to be becoming mainstream if the general reaction to Gray and Keys is anything to go by. Good.

I have a niece who is soon to arrive and I plan to take her to the football as soon as she’s vaguely old enough to grasp the concept of football. Probably before. I want her to grow up with the knowledge that she has as much of a right to be at the game as the bloke who’s been going for 50 years. I want her to be able to be a true fan. To play the game if she wants to and for it not to feel at all weird that she wants to play a sport. To be fully involved in football as a coach, a physio, a referee, a journalist, a pundit, an owner, whatever she wants. That she has as much right to be involved as anyone else. That she has to fight and work as hard as anyone else has to in order to get where she wants to go in football and in life. And that she doesn’t have to work harder than others to get to the same level just because she’s female.

That is what equality is about. That is what feminism is about. That should be what football is about.

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4 Comments on “Backlash to the backlash..

  1. The only issue I have with women playing football is that they are laughably shit at it, does that make me a sexist?

    Total over reaction if you ask me, some throw away comments does not mean sexism is inherent in the sport as a whole. Sky have used it as an excuse to get rid of the old gits.

    • No, not sexist at all, women’s football is objectively of a lower standard to men’s football.
      But it’s sensible to ask why that is. If girls were submersed in the everyday culture of playing, training and being a footballer from a very young age as boys are, and if it was totally acceptable for women to do that and it had been acceptable for the past 50 years then there’d be a definite improvement in the standard. And if women’s football had the kind of history, glory, prestige and money attached to it that men’s football does then there would be the social and economic drivers to improve standards even further. If there was equality in that regard then the standards would be much more level. Historical, social, cultural, economic factors all play a part as much as innate physiological differences.

  2. The furore over this has seen a lot of rubbish spoken by a lot of people. I don’t hold that view because I think what Gray and Keys did was right – I don’t, it was stupid, rude, ignorant, etc. However, the things people are saying are simply badly thought out.

    1). Why is nobody asking why they were so comfortable talking in this way in the Sky studio. It’s Sky’s responsibility to ensure that their employees do not act in this way. From the footage it looks like this has been going on for some time and the producers MUST have been aware of it. They should have put a stop to it or passed it up the chain, and more senior people should have had a quiet word. If producers did not feel comfortable dealing with the issue or passing it up the line then that means that culturally Sky is not promoting the inclusive views that the Sky Chief Executive has said they are.

    2) Take a look at the content of Rupert Murdoch’s other media interests. What do we think about the content in The News of the World and The Sun? Topless women anybody? Bit of sexism? Why are we still talking about two middle aged men?

    3) Making this discussion into one about whether football is institutionally sexist and whether football needs to be more inclusive of women is distracting from this issue. Football didn’t make these comments and Andy Gray and Richard Keys are journalists working for Sky. Football is a game that has traditionally been played by men, consumed by men and officiated by men. That’s not because women were excluded, it’s because many women weren’t that interested. The ones that are interested go and watch it, or play it with their friends (male and female). The reason there aren’t more women active in men’s football is that women in the past haven’t generally been trying to be. You don’t see crowds of Mums down at your local park coaching their kids teams, officiating matches and yelling from the sidelines. Nor do you see hoards of women flocking through the turnstiles on a Saturday. Yes you see some and yes we’re starting to see more women interested in becoming involved in officiating the game, and some of those are making it to the top level.

    However, most women are simply not that interested in football. Just like I’m not that interested in shopping, or Grazia (I’m not stereotyping here, these are the things my wife is interested in). If I suddenly show an interest in dressing up in heels and a dress I’m sure my wife would be happy to let me join in, but it’s not the real world.

  3. Nice article.

    However, I would like to add a few points.

    Mace: completely agree with you.

    Giraffe Farmer: wouldn’t matter how steeped in football women were the women’s game would be inferior to the men’s game purely down to their physicality. I could use women tennis as an example. There is no exclusion there and womens tennis is terribly dull compared to the mens game.l

    Yes, there is a lack of women in mens football but there is a lack of men in children’s nurserys. I don’t see a campaign for men to have a 50/50 footing in the childcare industry.

    Whilst I have no doubt a female lineswoman or ref can do the same job as a bloke men and women are fundamentally different and no amount of legislation or wringing of hands is going to change that.

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