Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Women's football - and women everywhere - deserve better than Richard Scudamore

It’s 23 days until the World Cup! Woo! So what good timing to have a row about sexism in football! Oy oy! 

As someone with very little interest in football, it seems the only contact I ever have with the sport is when a sexism or racism storm kicks off. As a result my view of the game is seen through a prism of dead labourers building a stadium in a country where homosexuality is illegal, sexist pundits, racist players, and rapist players. So you’ll forgive me if I struggle to see the beauty in this beautiful game. 

The latest sexism row to erupt in football features the Premier League boss, Richard Scudamore, who, among other things, swapped emails with others which referred to women as ‘gash’, and an ex girlfriend as a 'double decker' . Only, the word ‘personal’ is a bit of a misnomer, seeing as they were sent from his work account. Oops. He also talked about women being irrational:

'Scudamore started talking about China’s one child policy being a way to stop women becoming more irrational after having children. I thought, he’s had five children – he’s talking about his wife. How does his wife feel? His wife has been humiliated, so has his daughters.'

Thankfully, the guys (mostly men but some women) at the Premier League have been called in to sort this mess out. And sort it out they have. By doing exactly…nothing. Nothing. No disciplinary action. No censure. It’s business as usual and can we all just forget about how utterly dehumanising it is to refer to women as ‘gash’ now please? 

Scudamore has, of course, apologised, in a way that the term ‘mealy-mouthed’ was invented for. The emails, he explains, were ‘received and sent from my private and confidential email’ (they were from his Premier League address) and he argues that no one should have seen them except the recipient. However, Scudamore goes on to say:

I accept the contents are inappropriate and apologise for any offence caused, particularly to the temporary employee. It was an error of judgement that I will not make again.’

It’s not clear whether the error of judgement was in the view of women as ‘gash’ or that the view was written down in an email. 

You know what the problem is with this apology? It isn’t an apology. 

Scudamore, like so many men who express sexist views, seems sorry he got caught. Having been caught, he now accepts the ‘contents are inappropriate’. Before being caught, he clearly considered the contents perfectly fine otherwise he wouldn’t have written it. It’s quite simple – people who actually find sexism and misogyny offensive tend not to write emails dehumanising and mocking women. 

I know this from my own experience of dealing with online harassment. It’s AMAZING how quickly men switch from wanting to 'kick you in the vagina' to being snivellingly sorry when you tell them you know their full name and the town they live in, and will pass that information on to the police. Just like those men, Scudamore seems sorry the emails were seen – those ‘personal’ emails. He’s apologised not for being offensive, but for ‘offence caused’ to his employee. There’s a difference. A subtle one, but it is an important difference all the same. 

What this apology tells us is that it’s ok to be sexist and to dehumanise women and to think women are stupid and irrational, to exchange emails where woman are referred to as ‘big-titted broads’ and ‘joke’ about fending a female member ‘off their shaft’ – but only so long as it’s done in private where women can’t see it. The apology tells us that you can say what you like about women in your own personal time. The offensiveness only occurs when a woman hears it and calls it out. It’s like the tree that falls in a forest. If there’s no woman to hear you talk about ‘big-titted broads’, then it’s just ‘classic bantz’. 

Now, of course, this story has been met with the argument that they were personal emails and therefore Scudamore’s views don’t interfere with his role as boss of the Premier League. No one should be criticising the head of the Premier League – the man who is responsible for promoting equality in the league – because the story goes that you can call women whatever names you like in your personal life, it probably won’t affect your professional life. 

But this is just nonsense. 

If you think of women as ‘gash’, if you think women are ‘irrational’ or that women are just there for your sexual titillation, then you don’t wipe those views from your mind every time you step into your office. There isn’t a sexism-amnesia formula that misogynists can take every time they go to work – the effects wearing off just in time to let them send some personal emails packed full of their actual views of women. If you dehumanise women in your personal communications, if you reduce women to objects and orifices, then that will impact on your ability to see them as fully human in your professional AND your personal environment. 

Scudamore, as boss of the Premier League, is responsible for promoting equality in football. It’s up to him to support efforts to ‘kick out sexism’ from the game. How can he do this, when he holds such nasty and offensive views of women? How can a man who seems happy to join in with the utter dehumanisation women that the word ‘gash’ evokes be at all qualified to lead efforts to end sexism in football? 

You cannot be a champion for women’s equality in your professional life and discuss women in terms as big-titted irrational gash in your personal life. How can someone who thinks of women in these terms be trusted to promote equality in a sport where inequality between male and female teams is already such a huge problem? And it is a big problem. The Jane Martinson post on the Guardian reports that 2/3 of women employed in football had experienced discrimination. She explained that only £2.4 million has been invested in the new FA Women and Girls programme over the last two years – a sum roughly equivalent to Scudamore’s basic salary. She also quotes Sue Tibballs, the former head of Women’s Sports and Fitness Federation, who calls the Premier League’s support for women’s sports ‘nonsense’ and Scudamore a ‘dinosaur’. She explains: 

My own view is that the Premier League has taken very little interest in women’s football despite a huge opportunity to get behind them.’

Scudamore can clearly talk the talk about raising the profile of women’s football in front of the cameras. But his personal views of women betray him as seeing us as objects or fools. 

The word ‘gash’ literally reduces women to a hole. It’s a horrible, nasty, violent and disturbing word. A man who happily exchanges emails where women are referred to as ‘gash’ should not be in charge of promoting equality anywhere – let alone in an already grossly unequal industry. Women footballers – and women everywhere – deserve better than this. We deserve better than a non-apology. Women Premier League footballers and wannabe footballers in particular deserve a boss who sees them as fully human. They deserve better.

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