What Penalty For Sexism in Sport?

Anyone living in Britain at the moment would have to be hiding under a rock to have missed the current Sky news sexism row. It hasn’t quite got its own ‘-gate’  suffix yet but it’s surely only a matter of time, as what started as a few off-the-cuff comments has snowballed into a national debate.

Sky Sports presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray were commentating on a football (soccer) match last Saturday, when, believing their microphones to be switched off, they made sexist remarks about the female referee, Sian Massey. The game hadn’t even started when they were already criticising her ability to do her job, complaining that women “don’t know the offside rule” and that “the game’s gone mad.” They also complained about Karren Brady, one of football’s most prolific businesswomen, who had written a recent article about sexism in football.

Ironically, during the match, Massey correctly called a query which many sub-standard referees may have missed. She has kept fairly quiet throughout this time, accepting Keys’ and Gray’s apology. Brady, on the other hand, was outraged by the men’s comments.

What worries me the most is the reaction of the general public. The two men lost their jobs, though not straightaway; after a rather inadequate apology, Sky decided that heads had to roll. But there is a lack of support for this action from many Brits. They believe the two men have been unfairly treated and that this is another case of ‘political correctness gone mad’.

I find it hard to believe that this blasé attitude towards sexism still exists. Britain has made huge strides in the last 20 years in regards to racism and homophobia. It’s completely unacceptable to make a racist or homophobic joke in any context, and yet we still encounter sexism around each corner. As Anna Kessel, who writes for left-wing daily national The Guardian, said, ‘Try explaining the difference between an expletive-filled rant concerning the colour of a player’s skin affecting his ability to do a job, and an expletive-filled rant about a person’s gender affecting her ability to do her job.’ This is the problem in Britain today – one of these is not acceptable, and the other one is.

It’s not just in football where sexism is still institutionalized. What’s most worrying is society at large's attitude towards sexism. Many men nowadays believe that society is anti-men, and made up of men-hating, extreme feminists. They complain that when it comes to sexism, it’s labelled as ‘a bit of a laugh’ when the jokes are about men, and discrimination when women come under fire.

They may have a point. Personally, I feel it is just as unacceptable to make sexist remarks about men as about women, and I would like to see harsher penalties when this occurs in the media. However, we cannot forget that women are still the ones who need help here. We are still struggling for equality, and the fight is not helped by the attitudes of men like these. The sacking of Keys and Gray has caused an unfortunate backlash – I just hope that this is not a setback for women and for the issue of sexism to be taken seriously.

More articles by Category: Feminism, LGBTQIA, Media, Misogyny, Race/Ethnicity, Sports
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Rosamund C
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