I wrote an opinion about the Adam Goodes saga last year entitled “You’re All Missing the Point”, and whether the lack of creativity is mine or society’s, I have an overwhelming sense of deja vu. A lot of people seem to be missing the point again, this time in the Chris Gayle furore. There are people calling it an “overreaction” or “double standards”, and I want to address each of those ideas in turn, but for anyone saying anything remotely like this, for anyone who has felt the need to publicly defend Chris Gayle in the last 48 hours, I refer you to my original refrain:
Shut the fuck up.
A quick recap. Mel McLaughlin tried to be a cricket reporter on Monday night. Chris Gayle ignored her question and tried to flirt with her instead. McLaughlin was visibly uncomfortable at the exchange and ended the interview as soon as she could. Mark Howard apologised to TV viewers immediately afterwards, Gayle was rebuked and fined by cricket’s administrators for inappropriate conduct, and widely condemned for his actions.
That should be the end of it, except that it’s not.
It’s not because we are in the age of the internet and the interminable, unsolicited and inescapable opinions that come along with it. From the minute that it happened there were people defending Gayle. Telling McLaughlin to lighten up. Telling those who were offended to calm down. Getting #dontblushbaby trending on Twitter. Saying that she should be flattered, or she should expect it for being so pretty and on TV.
In other words: “I’m not offended, so you aren’t allowed to be either.”
The beauty, to call it that, of the internet is that we get to see exactly how many people, in 2016, are seemingly OK with this kind of thing. Exactly how many men, in 2016, continue to hold retrograde opinions about women and issues of gender. Which in turn forces women to explain why it’s out of line, why it’s not OK, why it matters. A myriad of female journos have spoken up about their own, eerily similar experiences with Gayle, to demonstrate both the character of the man and how it feels being a professional woman in a male-dominated field where these things happen routinely. These reporters were met with abuse, and again told to lighten up and take a bit of banter. They were called attention seekers or bandwagon jumpers, simply for adding their incredibly relevant voices to the conversation. They were told to appreciate a man’s sexual advances and take it as a compliment, or were even met with skepticism, as if they aren’t attractive enough to be hit on by a famous cricketer.
And you wonder why we need to have a conversation about sexism? The boorish reactions of bozos on social media has been exponentially worse than Gayle’s boorish behaviour in the first place!
And now after day two we’ve reached the “I’m sick of hearing about it!” whine. Let me tell you something. You know why there’s an overreaction? Because of the amount of people like you calling ANY reaction an overreaction! If you feel the need to dismiss people who have taken issue with it as “Social Justice Warriors” or “PC gorn mad”, you know why there are so many Social Justice Warriors on the internet? Because of the amount of people like you who act like Social Injustice Warriors and feel the need to shoot down or belittle ANY attempts by people to discuss or condemn discriminatory behaviour. (By the way, the fact that “SJW” exists as an insult is an unbelievable comment on our trollish society. Like it’s somehow a bad thing to be pro-human decency and equality, and it would be sexier if we were on the side of the assholes instead. But that’s a whole other kettle of beans.)
If we could all agree that Gayle acted like a prat and move on, we wouldn’t still be sitting here talking about it. But every Tweet, every comment, every opinion, every troll that diminishes the experience of McLaughlin, of the other reporters, or of the people who have taken offense just shows us EXACTLY why we need to keep talking about it. Apparently not everyone is on board with a female journalist being allowed to do her job in peace. Apparently not everyone is on board with a female journalist being worth more than her attractiveness to men. Apparently not everyone is on board with a woman not having to “just go along with” an unwanted sexual advance. So until then, we’ll have to keep talking about it. The day that something like this is a non-story is the day that it stops happening, and idiots stop feeling the need to defend it.
Nobody wants to be talking about this rubbish. This has been a landmark summer for women’s cricket in so many ways, from the launch of the WBBL and the incredible crowds and ratings the matches have garnered, to its promotion from ONE to Channel Ten after only a few games, to the announced Governor-General’s XI match, to the strong female presence in Ten’s broadcast of the BBL and the strong family presence in the crowds. We want to celebrate, not sit here feeling creeped out, but here we are again having to defend our existence as women in sport, because of one womanising twat and all of the keyboard warriors who enable his behaviour.
My favourite defense has been the “double standards!” cry from men, whereupon examples of females flirting on TV to no consequence are brought up as proof that women can get away with anything, while men are handcuffed by the PC brigade. The only way anyone can say this with a straight face is if they ignore an entire cultural history of women being treated as sexual objects by men. I mean, really guys. We’re right back to the same shit we had with Adam Goodes. How dare he call us racist when he brandishes invisible spears and calls Australia Day “Invasion Day”?! HE’S the racist because he says mean things to us! WOMEN are the sexists because they ogle men too and get away with it!
Do you hear yourselves? Honest to God.
Those who are in a position of privilege do not get to decide when people who are outside that privilege can or can’t feel marginalized. And they do not get to decide what the “right” way to react is when they do feel marginalized. You simply do not get to decide that.
Women have had to scratch and claw to be taken seriously as reporters (or any other kind of professionals, or just human beings for that matter) and routinely have to overcome this kind of disrespect. They have to be “attractive enough” to the men that hire them in the first place to even get a job on telly doing basically anything. Sexism, whether overt or casual, personal or institutional, is a fact of life that has to be dealt with by women, in a way that men simply do not experience. Mel McLaughlin stated yesterday that she’s always felt respected in her role. She’s one of the lucky ones, even though she’s now experienced disrespect in the most public way and this incident will define her for at least the immediate future.
The difference is that when a male reporter is unexpectedly flirted with when trying to ask a question (as in the case of Lachlan Wills and Maria Sharapova), he gets high fives. He gets pats on the back. He gets other men joking that they wish it happened to them. By Wills’ own admission, he enjoyed the exchange with Sharapova, and clearly it didn’t make him feel uncomfortable or disrespected in the slightest (and if it did, he’d be perfectly entitled to feel that way).
Which, at the end of the day, is really the point. Allow me to repeat my earlier brief recap of events on the sideline. Mel McLaughlin tried to be a cricket reporter on Monday night. Chris Gayle ignored her question and tried to flirt with her instead. McLaughlin was visibly uncomfortable at the exchange and ended the interview as soon as she could.
The key part of that precis is not “Gayle tried to flirt with her”. The key part is “McLaughlin was visibly uncomfortable”.
Mel McLaughlin was made to feel uncomfortable by Gayle while trying to do her job.
I feel like I can’t repeat that sentence enough, because it’s the one part that hasn’t seemed to truly sink in. Regardless of whether his comments were about her appearance or anything else, what he said made her feel uncomfortable. She is entitled to feel that way about it, and she is entitled to not have to be made to feel that way in the workplace. That’s where it should begin and end, with a bit of human decency, male or female.