Backwards, and in high heels
January 24, 2011 § 7 Comments
Richard Keys: Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.
Andy Gray: Yeah, I know. Can you believe that? Female linesman. Forget what I said – they probably don’t know the offside rule.
RK: Course they don’t.
AG: Why is there a female linesman? Somebody’s fucked up big.
RK: I can guarantee you there’ll be a big one today. Kenny [Dalglish, Liverpool's manager] will go potty. This is not the first time. Didn’t we have one before?
RK: Wendy Toms.
AG: Wendy Toms, something like that. She was fucking hopeless as well.
RK: [exasperated groan]
RK: No, no, it’s got to be done, it’s good. The game’s gone mad. See charming Karren Brady this morning complaining about sexism? Yeah. Do me a favour, love.
It is worth listening to Andy Gray and Richard Keys’ mind-numbingly moronic off-air musings on the capacity of referee’s assistant Sian Massey – though you should first brace for impending fury – simply because “exasperated groan” in the transcript above doesn’t quite convey the staggering contempt with which Keys transmits his disquiet. Suitably angry, we can then address some fundamentals: they should be sacked; they probably won’t be; they’ve got form. And the apology is weak, is unlikely to have been made to Massey herself, and is running alongside a breathtakingly ill-advised poll. [UPDATE: The poll - 'Is football a man's game? - has been removed.]
However, as well as exposing Keys and Gray as pillars of the retrograde muppet community, the transcript also provides an excellent insight into the general nature of gender discrimination within football, where at long last (off the pitch, at least) traditional norms of gender roles are being challenged by women having the nerve to attempt jobs for which they are entirely qualified but still remain, in the eyes of many, fundamentally unfit; as though football could only makes sense to those packing a Y-chromosone.
Abstractly, a woman attempting to do a “man’s job” is partaking in an institutionally imbalanced discourse, in which a man makes a mistake because he is incompetent, but a woman makes a mistake because her sex is incapable. A mistake by a woman is amplified into a mistake by all women; conversely, a correct call is never generalised in this way. It is, of course, reminiscent of the days when any slip by a black centre-half drew chuckles about the naïveté inherent in African defending, and it is reminiscent because it is structurally (and ethically) identical.
As such, while the focus on the fact that Massey got the major call of the day right might be seen to slightly beg the question, it is in fact key. Whether or not Massey had a good or a bad game, or got the big decisions right or wrong, should be beside the point; it isn’t, because the slanted discourse won’t allow it to be. Women have to face questions of competence that men do not, lest Keys, Gray and their ilk conclude that their views are correct. It is a quiet and persistent tragedy that women consistently have to over-perform to even be honoured with the right to be patronised for attempting to work alongisde men.
Yet sexism in football is tolerated — even condoned — in a way that racism, thankfully, finally isn’t. (At least overtly: the lack of black managers and Asian footballers remains a sub rosa scandal.) For this, football is perhaps not in itself to blame. British society at large remains hopelessly slanted towards the traditional gender-balance of power, as a quick glance at the comparative earnings of men and women will show. Most children learn gender stereotypes before they learn the offside rule.
Football is, nevertheless, remorseless in its reinforcement of those stereotypes. Whether it’s Soccer AM’s Soccerettes, or Football 365′s Wags World Cup (or even, while we’re there, the very concept of a WAG), or Sepp Blatter’s musings on promotion of the women’s game, the message is consistent: women in football are sexualised accoutrements rather than equal participants. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the whole affair is the sheer predictability; in a culture as ludicrously and reductively Neanderthal as football, should we reasonably expect anything else?
There is, perhaps, hope. Like all bigots, Keys and Gray’s nonsense is rooted in the fear that the comfortable, traditional world they understand and operate within is under threat. Behind the bluster of “Why is there a female linesman?” lies panic; look again at the question and a deep insecurity is revealed. Gray simply has no idea how the universe could allow such an offence against the righteous way of things. His very comprehension of the order of the world is under threat.
It is comforting to expose and reflect on this this fear. It consoles, in that it shows that Keys, Gray, and others like them — that curious and interchangeable club of sycophantic anchors and self-congratulatory ex-pros that dominate football broadcasting — are perhaps more under threat than anyone by the rise of women in football, and they know it, and it worries them. After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the more straightforwardly meritocratic football becomes, the less likely Keys or Gray will keep their jobs.