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The irreprehensible Chris Gayle and women in sport

Gayle's treatment of Mel McLaughlin brought to light some worse issues underlining sport.

Chris Gayle Mel McLaughlin
The now infamous incident when Gayle interrupted journalist Mel McLaughlin

The past week has seen a slew of comments in defense of Chris Gayle, who made advances towards Australian reporter Mel McLaughlin whilst she was interviewing him following a knock at the Big Bash League that saw Gayle score a quick 41 runs off 15 deliveries.

Asked following the match what he looked forward to, instead of answering the question posed to him, Gayle chose instead to tell McLaughlin she had ‘beautiful eyes'.

Following this, the Jamaican cricketer asked her to ‘get a drink’, and not to blush at his requests – something she was not doing at all.

Visibly uneasy following Gayle’s advances on the pitch, McLaughlin continued with the interview, with the West Indian’s actions reviled and yet, surprisingly, supported across the internet.

Several excuses followed in defence of the batsman, saying he had “just been flirting,” “having a bit of harmless fun” and “just being himself.”

Whilst nobody expects a player to be devoid of personality in an interview, that personality should not extend to what is a wholly professional environment. Interrupting a journalist who was attempting to do her job, Gayle decided not to respond to the obvious discomfort McLaughlin showed. What also showed in the process was how dismissive the general public was of the batsman’s complete disregard for her job.

As a journalist myself, one who chose to speak out against the issue, I received a lot of backlash over the internet – a lot of it profanity-laced, and a significant amount implying I am not good at what I do (report on sport) because I am a woman.

Sexism in sport is rampant, and so is the sexualization of female sports figures. It shows not only in incidents like these, but in the lives of sportswomen and how sports functions.

It is evident in the fact that Maria Sharapova, who has won 5 Grand Slams, is than World No. 1 Serena Williams, who with 21 so far and counting has four times as many.

It is still the Russian who is on more billboards and regarded as an idol when Williams, who has been World No. 1 on six separate occasions, is quite obviously the superior player in every respect. In fact, WTA releases often feature Sharapova far more prominently than a woman whose name has become so synonymous with the sport that she has a record named after her - the Serena Slam.

Does this in itself not point to an inherent sexualisation of sport, when what is considered a ‘conventional’ ideal of sexualised ideal of beauty is ‘worth’ more in monetary or publicity terms than raw talent and hard work?

Meanwhile, most of the WTA’s promotional activity focuses on Sharapova.

This sexualisation continues in a vicious cycle when tournament organisers choose announcers and anchors based entirely on an ideal of beauty that they think will ‘appeal’ to viewers, rather than expertise that would add value – thereby also doing a disservice to the many experienced women who could provide sporting commentary, and to the image of women who are involved in sport, albeit not as active athletes.

Writing in support of McLaughlin, I personally received a large amount of hate mail – people telling me I ‘did not know how unattractive I was’, and that that was why I lashed out against Gayle.

Comments:

Some of the comments on the Facebook post
..and they continued much after this set, too

Several others made their way to my inboxes on social media, suggesting I was inept and not knowledgeable, and that my claims of even knowing a thing about cricket were fraudulent. Messages suggested women ‘know nothing about cricket and only like to comment for guys,’ with one man going so far as to suggest I pay a ghostwriter to write under my name, a tall claim by any means.

With this comes the revelation that many, even today in 2016, think that sporting knowledge, expertise and understanding are related in any way to a person’s gender, leading to that vicious cycle of female journalists not being taken seriously despite a strong repertoire of knowledge.

In fact, it was those remarks that displayed clearly a lack of regard for journalism, instead focusing on my gender. It is an attitude that sadly pervades most of the internet.

I am lucky in that, like McLaughlin, my workplace is nothing but positive in that regard, and most of the readers on our website are similarly minded. But the internet, and population at large, are not, and that is what needs to change.

And as small a thing as this may seem, maybe not so many of our Formula One readers will automatically assume, without looking at the editor’s name, that she is a she, and not ‘bro’, ‘dude’, or ‘man.’

Sports are something universally loved; bringing sex and gender is both unnecessary and damaging. There should not be such a disparity in men’s and women’s pay within sport (and outside it), but this is also routinely displayed in the staggering amounts men’s sporting leagues receive in terms of sponsorships, and their absolute domination of the airwaves, while women’s sport remains sidelined, highlighted as an afterthought rather than an actual issue.

Should sport, and audiences, become more accepting of women, we may even see more women in sport – sports such as Formula One, which describing as male-dominated would be a massive understatement.

The sexualisation and trivialisation of McLaughlin and other women in sport shows that women in sport, in general, are not regarded seriously, whilst men’s sports (and male athletes) are idolised.

We need to start both understanding women’s sport and how badly it is treated in the current context to make a change.

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