This morning I heard the news story about cricketer Chris Gayle being fined £10,000 for asking out sports reporter Mel McLaughlin during a post match TV interview. I’m going to be honest. My first reaction, knowing nothing about the news item other than those facts, not having seen the footage or heard anyone else’s bias, was “Woah, that seems a bit steep”. That reaction, shared by many, is why I am writing this post.
On further investigation, having watched the footage, I realised how wrong I was. The footage shows a person trying to do her job, on national TV, being reduced to sex object. She asks a serious question about the match and he responds by complimenting on her eyes, telling her “don’t blush baby” and asking her out for a drink. In the background you can hear cackles of laughter from her colleagues in the gallery. She understandably looks extremely uncomfortable and ends the interview abruptly.
The story seems to have divided opinion on social media. Fellow cricketer and former England captain Freddie Flintoff tweeted:
"Well played @Mel_Mclaughlin !! Big fan of @henrygayle but made himself look a bit of a chop there."
Whereas perhaps more predictably, Piers Morgan tweeted:
"I'm absolutely outraged that everyone's so absolutely outraged by @henrygayle being a bit cheeky to a female TV reporter."
Which was then retweeted by Gayle himself.
And therein lies the rub.
The attitude that it’s all “just a bit of fun”. Us girls need to just lighten up because it’s all just “bantz....lolz!”. He was having a LAUGH! He was making a JOKE! But hang on, what was the joke? He JOKINGLY asked her out? Or the joke was that he was asking her out on TV, whilst she was doing her job, in front of millions of people, because that’s funny right?! Wrong.
That’s such a lazy dismissal. It’s lazy and actually it’s dangerous. It’s the reason we don’t live in a gender equal society. If we keep “laughing off” incidents like these, because LADS, EH? Then nothing is ever going to change. It’s this type of latent sexist attitude that holds back progress for women. Whilst we’re still seen as silly little playthings to be complimented and flirted with how on earth are we going to move on? How are we going to reduce the pay gap? How are we going to encourage more women into sports reporting let alone competing?
Gayle responded to the furore by saying it was not supposed to be offensive. How could it not be? You humiliated a woman in her workplace doing her job. It was a complete lack of respect. My default thought during incidents like this is, what would happen if it had been a man? If it had been a male reporter, this wouldn’t have happened. So it shouldn’t have happened just because she was female.
Put another way, if he was in a court of law and the judge was a woman, however much he was attracted to the judge (ooh powerful women are SO sexy!) he wouldn’t have asked her out. He would have RESPECTED her position. Or he would be held in contempt of court. He would be legally bound to respect her.
This incident is not an isolated one obviously. It brought back shuddery memories of the Andy Gray / Richard Keys debacle where Gray was eventually sacked for this exact same attitude: Women are to be played with, fondled! Seconds before going on air! And the image of a sniggering, slimy Richard Keys is forever imprinted on my brain when he was filmed talking about Louise Redknapp, as if she were actually a piece of meat, discussing how he’d smash “it” and “imagine going round there any night...finding (Jamie) Redknapp hanging out the back of it” IT. Louise became an IT. I feel sick even thinking about it.
Which is ironic given that when I tweeted about it today I was met with a similar response:
@jasonmohammad @LilMissAshes @hillsdaffodils @JessHelicopter I can't even look at the word feminist without being sick!— LR88 (@Leytonrees1) January 5, 2016
It seems there are a lot of people out there who JUST.DON’T.GET.IT. I even came across this ridiculousness earlier. An opinion piece, written by a female “journalist” which starts “Poor Chris Gayle has become the latest sacrificial lamb for social justice warriors.” REALLY?
Come on people! This is the 21st Century! PLEASE can we just stop accepting “banter” where women are the scapegoats as “just a bit of fun”? PLEASE? We will never live in an equal society with respect to and from women and men whilst we keep thinking it’s OK to treat women like sex objects. And that is NOT OK.