[…]

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.