Thursday, 27 January 2011

Why the "just banter" defence is pathetic (and dangerous)

The most regular (and vacuous) litany in defence of the comments made about women inside the Sky television environment, by Andy Gray and others, is that it's "just banter" and that people who don't like it should "lighten up" and "get a sense of humour". No it isn't "just banter". It's the social glue of a culture of routine bigotry and bullying, say those who have spoken to journalist Matt Scott. Three women who held prominent positions at Sky Sports independently describe a "lads' club" that has created a "climate of fear" for some within it - both women and those lower down the employment chain.

Fearing repercussions that could harm their careers if they were identified, the three spoke to the Guardian newspaper on condition of anonymity, says Scott. But despite talking separately, their views echoed each other's; each describing an intimidating and sexist culture cemented, they believe, by the behaviour of Gray and his co-presenter, Richard Keys. (There has been much speculation about who leaked the series of incriminating off-air tapes that have found their way to the media and onto YouTube. Those on the inside say that people on the receiving end of the "banter" and its associated behaviour finally had enough and decided to get their own back.)

One former Sky journalist said: "It came as absolutely no surprise to me to see this. The surprise is that we haven't seen more. It's the kind of language and vocabulary that is used within the Sky football department all the time."

Another, who still works for the organisation, declared: "There are many stories of their shocking behaviour... It's a climate of fear pervading. But as long as everyone is laughing and it's a joke it's all right isn't it? I believe sexism is systemic and not openly challenged but goes underground or disguised as jokes or 'just banter'."

The third separately cited how "just banter" is claimed as a defence, and explained why that claim holds no water. "Live football is well known as something everyone wants to work on. But no one wants to work with those two. They took the piss out of a runner for having no money. It's nasty bullying with an edge. It's not just banter."

The whole article is available here.

The other issue that has been raised concerns the due process (or lack of it) in Andy Gray's sacking. That may or may not get to an employment tribunal. I have no time for employers behaving in a high-handed or illegal way. But that is a distinct issue from the the question of degrading and insulting behaviour towards women in the media environment and across the football world.  That clearly needs tackling, and if these incidents bring us closer to stronger action of gender equality and respect within the game as a whole, so much the better.

Image acknowledgements and (c) Bryan Christie Design, whose work may be viewed and purchased here.

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