Let me tell you why I’m one of those humourless Feminazis who doesn’t feel sorry for Chris Gayle
Do you feel sorry for Chris Gayle, the West Indies cricket star who interrupted journalist Mel McLaughlin’s questions on-air to ask her out for a drink and then, when she was stunned into silence, told her, “Don’t blush, baby”?
If you do, you’re not the only one. After Gayle was criticised for his behaviour and subsequently fined 10,000 Australian dollars, the “it’s just banter” mob came out in force to defend him. The most high-profile of these was Piers Morgan, who Gayle retweeted saying: “I’m absolutely outraged that everyone’s so absolutely outraged by [Chris Gayle] being a bit cheeky to a female reporter”.
Who are these harried social justice warriors, these bitter “Feminazis” who make life so much less fun for the lads by opposing cheeky chat?
Well, perhaps they’re the hordes of women who are told to “smile” by passing strangers on the street during their daily commute, an occurrence so common that it became the central demand of supervillain Kilgrave in the Netflix and Marvel series Jessica Jones.
Perhaps they’re the women who are told to “stop being bossy” for the same behaviour praised in their male counterparts as “assertive”.
Perhaps they’re the women talked over in meetings, dismissed as “tokens” in universities and top jobs, forgotten in Parliament, taxed on their “luxury” tampons, catcalled and wolf-whistled at in the street, asked inappropriate or illegal questions in their job interviews at three times the rate of men. All of which leads us to the inevitable question: what on earth are they so angry about?
Of course Chris Gayle isn’t the misogynist anti-Christ – but he did interrupt a woman in the middle of her job to make a sexist comment. Whichever way you look at it, that’s unprofessional. And the simple fact is that these incidents matter, because altogether they build up a tapestry of relentless sexism that can wear a woman down throughout her life.
“It happens, situations like that, 10 times a day when you’re female in this sports industry and that’s just a fact,” a former colleague of McLaughlin’s told Grandstand when commenting on the Chris Gayle incident. “Whether it’s the fact that the women’s toilets aren’t open and the men’s toilets are, whether it’s somebody saying something slightly inappropriate as you walk down the hallway, 10 times a day, without fail.”
Sport is a difficult area for women, particularly where cricket is concerned; in the Indian Premier League, of which Chris Gayle is a representative, the most you’ll usually see of them is in the cheerleading squad. And it was particularly uninspiring that back in 2009, the England women’s cricket team was barely reported upon in UK newspapers – despite winning the world cup. Again and again, women are quite literally relegated to the sidelines.
So it’s hard to feel too sorry for Chris Gayle, a moneyed celebrity who has already had other moneyed celebrities leap to his aid. If you do, however, I won’t blame you. I’ve felt sorry for people who have done sexist things before – and I definitely felt a twinge when the Rosetta scientist Dr Matt Taylor was reduced to tears by a Twitter mob laying into him for doing a media appearance in a short festooned with half-naked cartoon women.
Was it appropriate for him to wear that shirt while making announcements about a comet? Of course not. Do I feel sympathy for a man in tears over a barrage of nasty comments to do with his unfortunate wardrobe malfunction? Undoubtedly.
But I feel sorrier for the teenage girls who say, “I just don’t get on with other girls – they’re so bitchy”, or the women who stand outside abortion clinics to call family planning murder, or the women who call other women sluts, cows, whales and prudes. Internalising social sexism to the extent that you start believing your own gender is inferior – that’s a real tragedy.
The truth is that all of us – male and female – can be guilty of sexist actions; most of us have been. And to men, Chris Gayle’s interruption may have looked like an isolated episode of “cheekiness”. But to women, it was just another sentence in a life-long monologue: smile, look pretty, sit down, shut up, kiss me, know your place, show me your legs, answer me, submit, come on baby, perform.
Fortunately, Mel McLaughlin failed to perform on cue. She just stared stonily back at the man who demanded it of her, and, with classic poise and understandable resignation, later stated that she merely found the entire conversation “disappointing”. Thank God for that.