Hello! I’ve been asked by The Anti Room to contribute a number of pieces over the coming months to offer a different voice and perspective on issues than might otherwise be found here. As a fairly recent convert to Twitter, and social media in general, I’m glad to do it, and, being interested in other perspectives myself, I’m looking forward to some robust debate!
To start I’ve been asked to reflect and respond to the general furore surrounding the accusations of sexism made against Richard Keys and Andy Gray of Sky Sports. Because a furore it has been. Column inches have turned into yards and on into miles. Calling it a storm in the teacup would be an understatement. Storm in a thimble, possibly. First of all let me declare I’m not a football fan. I don’t know the game; indeed I rarely watch it outside of World Cups (on the rare occasion when Ireland make it through!). And I wouldn’t know Ryan Giggs if he jogged past me on the street. But from my perspective, the media reaction over the past few days has been akin to a medieval witch-hunt. Quite clearly (to me anyway) a liberal media consensus has emerged with commentators hell-bent on ramming a feminist agenda down the throats of the public by punishing and humiliating two men who were simply caught off-guard in a moment of professional privacy. What was simply an instance of harmless male banter, the type one hears day-in day-out on building sites, offices and even houses of parliament, has somehow been upgraded to the status of a sexual assault.
Now don’t get me wrong, suggesting that Sian Massey can’t understand the offside rule because she’s a woman is clearly going to be insulting to a girl who tries very hard at her job. But how is the public interest being really served by the sort of affirmative action which results in these women being “promoted” to major roles in what is essentially a male realm? Do feminists want or need traction in every aspect of male society? If we are to believe, for example, that women should run and own clubs and even officiate at the games then why not take that thought process to its logical conclusion? Let’s see if women can play in the darned things! Of course nobody cares to mention this great big elephant in the room – you won’t see “Tina Down The Street” take on John Terry or Robbie Keane because of physiological reasons that go back to the very creation of the universe! Anybody who thinks otherwise is clearly living in Cloud Cuckoo Land – and let you tell me it’s getting very crowded there.
But I digress. Events like football matches have a proven sociological benefit – everyday, male aggression, which might otherwise emerge in more sinister forms like war and rape, can be expelled in the den of a stadium or in the cut-and-thrust of watching your favourite team on TV. This healthy, primordial urge harks right back to hunter-gathers and should not be denied in the name of some feminist liberal ideology. Men have a right to this private, albeit very public, space. I only wish our media would spend more time focusing on the real moral crisis in football culture: young men stuck in pubs all weekend; rampant hooliganism; the sex and pornography permeating TV advertising; not to mention extolling “role-models” like Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole – two philanderers who clearly don’t understand the real Offside Rule!
Oh, and speaking of which – my husband must have tried explaining the Offside Rule to me ten times over the years and guess what? Nope, cannot get my head around it! And I’m University educated! Something tells me that if you gathered together most regular Anti Room contributors or indeed any random female focus group to watch a game, many of them wouldn’t get it either, and let’s be honest, simply wouldn’t care. Richard Keys mentioned “dark forces” at work in the leaking of the offending clips to the media. In this instance, I must most forcefully agree.
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ATTENTION ALL MEN! This is an important news bulletin: you do not own the rights to football. Guess what? There are even some women out there who know more about football than you do, and I’m willing to wager that Sian Massey is one of them.
"What's that strange round object? My fragile ladybrain can't comprehend it.."
Sadly, the sort of snide sexist drivel spouted by Richard Keys and Andy Gray at the weekend is typical of many (not all, obviously) football-loving men, who scoff at the thought of women on a football pitch or cheering on their team down the pub.
And of course, inevitably Facebook, Twitter and various blogs are currently crammed with blokes thinking that they are the very epitome of wit by making patronising jokes about women’s knowledge of football. Like Keys and Gray, they’d probably bottle it at the thought of telling those jokes to a woman’s face. What if a woman had made an equally condescending comment about men being in the kitchen, the supposed traditional ‘place’ for a woman? Where does that leave the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver, Michel Roux and Heston Blumenthal?
I am a woman, and I am a football fan. I know more about football than most of my male friends, it’s me that badgers THEM to go to matches, and I could probably run rings around them on the pitch, too. I played at U-12 and U-14 level over a decade ago, and I would have continued to play if the team I was a member of had had provisions for U-16 and ladies’ teams. Unfortunately my playing career ended there, but my love of football didn’t. Oh, and yes, I know what the offside rule is. My miniscule brain occasionally makes room amidst all the recipes and thoughts of flowers and fluffy kittens to soak up such information.
I’ve been to some of the biggest stadiums in Europe, of my own volition – Old Trafford, the San Siro, the Nou Camp. I disappointed my Bohs-supporting Dad when I made Shelbourne my team as a 12-year-old, and I used to follow them up and down the country to matches, before work and studying got in the way of travelling. I might not be as big a football fan as I used to – music eventually replaced sport as the primary pleasure in my life. But I still enjoy watching a match as much as the next PERSON. Gender irrelevant.
But Keys and Gray shouldn’t be fired or fined – they should be taken out onto a pitch and publicly humiliated by the UK’s best women footballers, who undoubtedly have more metaphorical balls than either of them.
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Posted in Media, Sport, Television, Women, tagged Amy Rayner, Andy Gray, Karren Brady, Richard Keys, sexism, Sian Massey, Sky Sports on January 25, 2011|
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Football: A Game of Two Half-Wits
The sexist remarks made by Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray and Richard Keys off-camera during Saturday’s Wolverhampton Wanderers vs Liverpool FC match were appalling but hardly surprising. Soccer is notorious for its sexist attitudes towards women. Take Notts County banning Karren Brady from their boardroom and Luton Town manager Mike Newell giving referee Amy Rayner so much abuse that he made global headlines. Of course it’s brutish behaviour, but it makes me wonder if soccer is the last bastion of male chauvinism?
The belief that football is a man’s sport is all too prevalent both on and off the pitch. Which is precisely why we need women like Sian Massey – the official at the centre of the Keys/ Gray controversy – to effect change and bring much-needed balance to the sport. Bigots may try to push women like Sian out with their derision, but that’s all the more reason why more female officials are needed in football. Equality is always worth fighting for – especially in the face of such vile opposition.
Paradoxically, it was football that taught me to stand firm in my own convictions. A lifelong Liverpool FC fan, I have supported my team all the way from their golden era of the eighties through to the painful lows when they lost almost every accolade they had. Dark, devastating times.
And our opponents’ fans loved them.
There was nothing I could do to make Liverpool play better. But I wasn’t entirely powerless. Thanks to the fantasy football league in my workplace, I could exert some control over the weekly fixtures and use the knowledge I had built up over so many years. Yet, the better I played, the stronger the opposition I faced. This culminated when I won the league; the runner-up refused to pay his fees when he found out that the only female out of twenty new recruits had beaten him. It was a bittersweet victory. But a victory nonetheless.
Changing the status quo won’t ever be a smooth transition. Nor will it ever make you popular. But when it needs changing – as it does so badly in football now – all you can do is keep charging ahead.
Keep up the good work, Sian – you’re playing a blinder.
Regina de Búrca hails from the West of Ireland. She has been a Liverpool FC fan since the age of four. She writes books for teenagers and has a MA in writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. She currently lives in Dublin. Twitter: @Regina_dB
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