Thursday, 2 August 2012

In which Andrew Brown writes sexist nonsense

I fear that the successes of women athletes in the recent days of the Olympics, and perhaps the general progress made by all women in the last 100 years, have somewhat passed you by.

Women now – in the UK at least – enjoy the right to vote, to own property, to be paid the same as men for doing the same job (ostensibly. Don’t get me started). And these are the first Games ever in which every nation has sent female athletes to compete. These are people at the very peak of their fitness and ability, doing things with bodies – and mental fortitude – that the rest of us can only laud from our sofas.

And yet you seem to be stuck in some Godforsaken past where our main purpose is to remain in the background, cossetted, with no other purpose than to appear feminine and attractive for the pleasure of men. Do fuck off, would you?

The utter drivel you wrote about Gemma Gibbons, the frankly inspirational athlete who today won an Olympic silver medal, was misogynist, supercilious nonsense.

Yes, Gemma and her opponents showed pure, naked, fierce, animalistic aggression: that’s what they do – they’re professional athletes. That they’re female doesn’t come into it. And if women showing such passion for their careers makes you feel unsettled, then maybe you need to examine your own prehistoric attitudes rather than putting your sexist fingers to the keyboard and writing about those attitudes, because your slightly breathless – and almost certainly incorrect – references to these athletes’ soft limbs is so leering as to be entirely repulsive.

Here’s a thing: I bet Gemma Gibbons couldn’t give a flying fuck whether you think she should be competing or not. I very much doubt, with the large silver medal hanging round her talented neck, she cares whether you think her sport is wholesome or not. To paraphrase the words of another brilliant athlete from earlier this week – she doesn’t fight so you can feel good about yourself.

Your not-very-well-disguised undertone is that you would prefer these little women, these pretty little darlings who shouldn’t be worrying about nasty things like professional sport, to be back in their pinnies in their kitchens, ironing their husbands’ shirts and concentrating on providing a son.

So no, Mr. Brown, your cretinous piece doesn’t just sound sexist: is IS sexist. There are no two ways about it. You’re saying that women shouldn’t compete in professional judo because it isn’t ladylike. If that isn’t sexist and condescending, I don’t know what is. And you can’t laugh it off by admitting that, chuckle, what you’re saying probably doesn’t sound particularly appropriate for intelligent company. Because it’s not funny.

I suggest you try rewriting your ‘article’ to suggest that it’s not ‘wholesome’ for black or gay athletes to compete in sport. Not so amusing now, is it?


UPDATE: I sent a version of this to the Telegraph’s head of comment, and received a very swift response. I don’t agree with him, but I do appreciate the fact that he took the time to address the issue, thus:

Many thanks for your email. I do appreciate you getting in touch. First, let me say that it certainly wasn't Andrew's intention to undermine the fantastic successes of women athletes over the past week, which we've all been celebrating. And, in truth, and despite your very clear anger, I don't really feel the piece does that, or that it merits all the accusations you make.

Andrew gave an honest and frank reaction to watching a specific event that gave him pause for thought. In his second paragraph, he admits that those thoughts "will probably sound appallingly sexist"; he asks whether it would bother him to see one of his own daughters taking part in such an event - answer: " I'm really not sure. Possibly. On the other hand I might be proud of her skill."; and he adds: "I know full well that, as a bloke, it's none of my business, but it's what I thought and felt."

This doesn't strike me as being either misogynistic or prehistoric. And shouldn't we should be free to say what we think and feel, as you have so eloquently in your email to me and in your own blogpost?

It's a busy Friday today, there's a newspaper to get out (including yet another brilliant women's victory in the rowing to report...) and so I don't have time to go back and forward on this, but I did want to respond.

All the best.


Please Don't Eat With Your Mouth Open said...

Is this man on crack? Seriously? On the Daily Telegraph? That kind of bilge belongs underneath Liz Jones' name on the DM. Disturbing to see women playing sport at Olympic level?

I'm enraged. But perhaps that's the point of his article.

That said, this comment on the article did make me chuckle.

"Given the writer's evident concern for women's soft limbs etc etc, I assume that he also finds childbirth disturbing, and thinks we should just put a stop to the human race right now, in the interests of public decency?"

I am Sean Fleming said...

I'm of a similar age to Andrew Brown and although I doubt it, we may even have had similar upbringings.

We were certainly witnessed the same changes in society - here in the UK as well as elsewhere.

Which is why I find his opinions regarding the women's judo he watched so very difficult to comprehend. He doesn't come from the kind of "Godforsaken past" that you refer to. Of course, even if he did that wouldn't be an acceptable excuse for such opinions.

But, for me, it just says that his outlook is all about preference (on his part) not on the circumstances of the society he grew up in.

He chooses to find such things distasteful.

Mind you, I find the thought of a man of my age (or thereabouts) watching women athletes and "wondering about their soft limbs battered black and blue with bruises" distasteful.

I watched some of the women's judo this week, including the Gibbons/Harrison final. I will no doubt watch some of the women's boxing at the weekend too.

Earlier this week I watched Zoe Smith in the weightlifting and was blown away by her ability and attitude. She's not just a role model for young women, or women, or the young... but for all of us. By and large, I think that's true of all athletes regardless of gender, regardless of event, regardless of age.

That anyone could argue it's a bad thing that women participate in all sports, at all levels, is ridiculous.

And as a footnote to all of this, I've got two sons. I want them to inherit a world where it is taken for granted that women are equal members of society with the same opportunities for achievement (and disappointment) as men. said...

My flatmate and I had a conversation last night about how infinitely more mouth-frothing the Telegraph has got recently. The website used to be fairly well-balanced, but this, and the absurd comment piece accusing the (then as-yet unseen) Opening Ceremony of being too working class, is just mental.

I am Sean Fleming said...

My take on the response you got....

It's not acceptable to caveat one's unacceptable views by saying "this might sound unacceptable, but..."

Redbookish said...

Excellent blog post, and congratulations for writing to protest. I thought the response you got was pretty condescending. Patting the little "angry" woman on the head and telling her she's wrong. Why I only read the Guardian ...

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