Sport, Lad Culture and what I’m learning as a journalist on the internet
Yesterday, Chris ‘Lad of the Lads’ Gayle played a strong knock at the Big Bash League.
Of course, this prompted journalist Mel McLaughlin to ask him about his performance and what he “looked forward to.”
“Looking forward to looking at your ass later” somehow seemed to Gayle an appropriate response.
He then proceeded to ask her out for a drink, telling her “not to blush.”
Despite her insistence that she was not, in fact, blushing, he continued. Of course, this made its way to the internet – as everything does now.
Unfortunately, it also saw Gayle’s behaviour repeatedly defended by ‘lads’ who saw his behaviour as a bit of ‘banter’ (I’m going to go crazy with the quotes because it appears to the only way to truly convey both sarcasm and utter disgust.)
I went onto the internet and attempted to address the issue by commenting on a BBC Sport article with my public profile. I expected abuse and backlash. I may not have been able to predict the sheer volume, though.
A couple of shining examples:
Not pictured are the ~50 more comments I got later, telling me I “don’t need to worry about needless sexualisation you c*nt, have you seen your own face? You don’t need to worry about any sexualisation” and “bitch, F1? Do you even know who Kimi is?”
Yes, because any F1 journalist worth their salt is completely unaware.
Internet abuse and trolls have been around since the inception of the internet. It’s easy, fun (for them), a quick way to attack someone and pass your day without having to worry about the consequences to someone on the other side of the screen.
What bothered me was not only how dismissive Gayle was of McLaughlin’s questions, but also how quick most people were to defend that behaviour. Among the various excuses I read: “he’s Jamaican,” “he was just flirting,” “it was innocent.”
Sadly, it’s not innocent when you’re trying to do your job and someone, like I said to my lovely internet trolls up there, neglects that entirely, instead choosing to focus on your sex, sexuality, and all things unrelated.
As an F1 and tennis editor (and obsessive enthusiast), I’ve had seemingly innocuous tweets directed at me that say things to the effect of “oh, you’re a chick who does motorsport? That’s really cool. Sorry if I sound sexist.”
I’m not sure the man was sorry at all.
(Here, I’d mention Jennie Gow, whom I look up to for Formula One – and a lot of my information.)
There seems to be a very pervasive attitude that what is between your legs dictates what is between your ears, what you enjoy, your skill.
Unfortunately, that seems not to have stopped the men who implied I went to the gargantuan effort of paying a man to ghostwrite for me so I would seem like a ‘cool chick’, which speaks more to me about the shallowness of the idiot who took time out of his day to send me that letter.
Flirting may be fun, and it’s human. Like everything else, it also has a time and place, neither of which is ‘on national television when you’re being interviewed.’
Still, the constant (and still continuing) comments that seem to suggest I am ‘frustrated because I’m not getting any’ anger and upset me in equal measure, and not for the reasons these men likely expect.
The behaviour implies somehow that my self-worth, and that of every other woman, is tied into the opposite (or same) sex finding us sexually attractive. It’s a malaise that has plagued society a long enough time that many women have grown up believing this to actually be true, with several self-esteem issues tied into various forms of perceived attractiveness.
I say this as someone who spent a majority of their youth being bullied and called exactly that – ugly – in addition to qualifying for another very undesirable label – the ‘nerd’.
Live television, and during someone’s work, is not an appropriate situation in any way to bring up wanting a ‘coffee’, a date, or being boastful of admiring someone’s posterior (not something to be proud of in any event).
Neither is shirking what the person (man, woman or otherwise) in front of you is asking you. Address the question, move on as every sportsperson does, as does everyone who has been on the news. There is humour and there is inappropriate creeping.
As anyone who has had to deal with unwanted advances has definitely experienced, all you want to do in that moment is extricate yourself from the situation entirely, which, given the nature of McLaughlin’s job, she was unable to do. It is to be admired that she continued to stand there and powered through Gayle’s continuously disgusting behaviour even as he asked her “not to blush” – something she did not even do.
To those who bring unrelated factors into Gayle’s advances – unwanted attention can come from any source whatsoever. If it is unwanted, it is unwanted. Mutual consent is really not that hard to understand, as is taking someone else and their job seriously.
Here, sadly, because McLaughlin is a woman, those factors somehow have culminated into it being ‘okay’ and ‘cool’ for Gayle to behave the way he did. As a person doing her job, I’m sure she simply wanted to be able to finish it effectively. Which, considering the circumstances, she did with aplomb.
I may not be at McLaughlin’s scale of reporting – but as a journalist who focuses on what people sadly consider a ‘male’ sport – Formula One – I have men emailing me saying I “don’t know”, “am pretending,” or quite simply am shit.
This is just to recount the experience of the many, many trolls who have tried (unsuccessfully) to break me down with expletives, implying my knowledge is somehow lacking because I am a woman, that I do not know my sport, that I am somehow lying about enjoying watching someone bat.
Considering the way the internet and attitudes are, to expect trolls to understand truly that their spite, their awful profanity, is actually reaching someone on the other end of a screen, is likely a big ask. [It still doesn’t mean you stop trying.]
Until then, we all need to Lean In and end yet another disgusting disease – that in 2015, there are still people who believe there are things women ‘can’t do.’
To the man who messaged me saying “goddamn feminist,” yes I am.
And darn proud of it.