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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.