It’s reassuring to know that if I get a bit ahead of myself and imagine a world in which people are judged on merit and merit alone, there will always be some pumped up little twat to remind me that sexism is still alive and kicking. Please, take a bow, Richard Keys and Andy Gray of Sky Sports – you have excelled yourselves. Your mothers must be very proud.
According to those alarmingly quick to defend, what they said was “a joke”. You see, I would laugh, but it sadly doesn’t fit with the stereotype that because I have a vagina I must have also had a sense of humour bypass, and I wouldn’t want to let people down. No, instead I’ll whip on my iron-clad feminist knickers and maintain the war-weary mantra that there is no earthly evidence to suggest men are more intelligent than women because they were born with a penis, and sexist jokes are the mothballed sad-sacks of comedy.
This wasn’t a joke, so let’s not do a disservice to the people who make their living out of peddling such wit whilst they’re fully aware their microphones are recording. No, this was just plain old-fashioned sexism, served up neat. The kind of sexism which results in women earning an average 16 percent less than their male colleagues; which results in only four female CEOs in the FTSE 100; which results in women becoming nine out of ten lone parents; which sees women occupying 64% of the lowest paid jobs; and which makes this country just that little bit less lovely to live in.
What’s this female politicking got to do with football, I hear your eyes roll? Doesn’t everything have something to do with football, in the Roman manner of all roads? Isn’t that why people talk about it when it’s happening, and talk about when it’s going to happen when it’s not, and why Saturday’s TV listings are 99.9 percent match fixtures, and why families bet their life savings on England winning the World Cup again before we colonize Mars, and name their first-born after some ‘70s mulleted penalty hero, and why we sent both our Prime Minister and Prince William to Switzerland to bring football home (and sulked when they failed)? People love football; they love it because it feels like it’s a part of their lives. When a sport goes that deep, there is a responsibility to use that power wisely.
I’d venture that responsible behaviour should be – at a minimum – without prejudice. Implying someone’s gender renders them incompetent sits near the time-warp side of misogyny, with a clear view of the 1950s. This seems to be the accusation levied at the unsuspecting lineswoman on Saturday’s match – that even if she had the mental capacity to understand the doggedly complex and nuanced offside rule (look away women, it’ll burn your eyes!), she’d be so biologically incapable of spotting it when it happened that she’d surely arse up the match entirely and ruin everyone’s life for ever and EVER.
Do Messers Keys and Gray hate women so much that they believe Sian Massey has deliberately and methodically worked her way through years of training, to be awarded a position in the Premier League purely so she can ruin it for All Men Ever Born, seemingly the only qualified purveyors and critics of this fine sport? Or do they just hate this particular woman because she has more authority than the men on the pitch? That’s the real problem, isn’t it? At a push, they’d probably be forced to admit that the offside rule could be understood by a trained chimp, as well as a woman, but they’d rather eat their own bollocks with blunt spoons than be given instruction from her.
As for the argument that this kind of sexism has been happening for years in football and we shouldn’t be surprised, then you’re a weak fool if you think that shoddy defence gives it license to remain. What about racism; are you unsurprised about that too? Or is that, as I seem to read on various comment threads, just different? Black men are entitled to play professional football, after years of misdirected abuse, but women are still too incalculably thick to even understand it? Good, I’m glad we’ve cleared that one up.
At the end of the day, this is about a general male unease of women entering a domain they have felt exclusively theirs for too long. Football is not a man’s game – I’m sorry to break it to you, guys. Women play it, they watch it, bet on it, commentate on it, manage it and they love it. There isn’t one job in semi- or professional football that a woman isn’t already doing, and doing well.
So my advice to Sian is to simply carry on what’s she’s already doing – a cool, calm remarkable job, resisting the jibes and abuse and making authoritative decisions in a sport she knows and loves. At some point the men who think she is incapable of these things will either wake up – or die off – and British football will deserve to be regarded as a national sport, representing the diversity and talents of this country. Not as some puerile willy-waving exercise of self-defeating sexism. As Keys said himself: Do me a favour, love.