Saturday, 29 January 2011

Gray and Keys

There have been, and generally continue to be, though to a lesser degree, occupations traditionally dominated by women and by men. There is no need, I think, to produce too many examples: cosmetics has been generally a woman's job, removing your bins a man's. There is no theoretical reason it should be so but I would be making a pretty sure bet if I gambled on the next refuse disposal officer turning up at the house being male and the next beauty parlour worker being female.

In these occupations it is natural for there to be a certain banter and even expression of playful, or, more rarely, real contempt for the other sex. How banter passes over into playful contempt or real contempt is hard to tell. No doubt there are tensions between women and men, and always have been, tensions and misunderstandings that find a social outlet one way or another, most often in jokes. Jokes naturally employ stereotypes, because jokes about specific individuals will only work when referring to stereotype. It is no secret that jokes are relief valves in oppressive societies: the dark jokes of what used to be Eastern Europe are collected in many books, some of them novels and poems.

The nineteenth century fishwives of Great Yarmouth or Grimsby or Hull will have made such jokes about their husbands and about the male sex in general. In each other's company they will have given vent to playful and real contempt. Nor do they need to have been fishwives back in history. I don't have to quote too many instances of women expressing contempt for men. Television, radio and the press are full of it. Most of it is friendly enough banter, the letting off of steam, especially when among friends when a certain competition may arise about having the most outrageous complaint, which is then also a cause of laughter.

In the same way, though different in manner, the miners and navvies of the same period would have talked about women to much the same purpose. The jokes would have been perpetuated in working men's clubs as much as in upper class clubs, or indeed anywhere men were gathered together without women present.

The situation becomes more complicated when a member, or few members - yet still a great minority - of the opposite sex is employed in the same workplace. It makes no difference whether these are men or women providing their rank is roughly equal and one or other is in a clear minority.

This is, as will be clear by now, about the sacking of the two Sky Sports presenters who doubted the ability of women officials to understand the offside rule and, in Gray's case, because he made a faintly lewd suggestion to a female colleague.

I don't have Sky, I don't therefore watch Sky Sports, nor do I have any liking for the two presenters judging by what little I have heard of them.

As concerns the remark about women officials and the offside rule, it is of course a stupid, disparaging thing to say, but it is not about contempt for women as a whole: it is about women's competence in a traditionally male profession. Stupid and disparaging, as I say, though how serious is hard to tell from the clip.

The second offence, which, I imagine, was the more serious, though again clearly not very serious, as there are many people in the studio, is more the kind of thing that might have gone on, and might still, on the shopfloor with either sex, women teasing men, men teasing women. Gray is a working class man, more shopfloor than office (nevertheless currently working in an office of sorts)

It is quite right that the two presenters should have been punished in some way, and quite right that they should apologise. Primarily, they should both apologise to the female assistant referee, and Gray to the woman to whom the lewd remark was made, Whether they then apologise to the world is neither here nor there - that kind of apology is pure hypocrisy both on their part and the world's. They should certainly undertake not to make such remarks again while at work. Why, because cumulatively such remarks might be intimidating.

Whether the men should have been sacked is another question. This morning Jim Naughtie pushed a female interviewee as to whether two women in an office corridor, making similar remarks about men, should be sacked. She didn't answer of course, but clearly thought they shouldn't. It was a one-way street to her.

But you needn't go to the corridor, Jim. There is no secret about the female disparagement of men - men's general incompetence and unsuitability for anything. It is the daily business of the press, the television, the radio and film. I have been through all this before so I won't go over the territory again. Nothing of the opposite is permitted to men about women. It is, in effect, a thought crime.

I don't even feel particularly strongly about the sacking, but I do register the round ripe loud condemnations of Gray and Keys as a particularly splendid piece of twenty-first century piety.

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