suffragettes still needed?

I am still furious, and not getting any less so, about the behaviour of the FA and the Premier League.

I think I am just as angry with many of the women who have become involved in the fuss about Richard Scudamore’s private emails. The only woman who has had any publicity and has come out honourably is the temporary PA who prompted the storm in the first place. She claims (totally plausibly) that in order to do her job properly she was given access to three email accounts of Scudamore, including the personal one that contained the offending emails. She was, understandably, so horrified by the contents that she made them public via the national tabloid press. Entirely unsurprisingly she has now become the villain of the piece for many of the powerful men involved, who claim that she acted, at best, unprofessionally.

I would be horrified if I thought that any man that I knew well, as a colleague or friend, would ever refer to women as ‘gash’. This throwaway term is far more insulting than the puerile comment about keeping her ‘off your shaft’ – a phrase that I suppose one might possibly hear from 11y old boys taking delight in being smutty.

One dictionary offers this definition of ‘gash’:

Slang: Vulgar. a) the vagina. b) Extremely Disparaging and Offensive. a contemptuous term used to refer to a woman considered as a sex object.

The urban dictionary offers an extensive set of synonyms for gash, all referring to female genitalia. I have to confess that many were unknown to me, which probably shows that I associate with considerably more educated and enlightened men than Richard Scudamore.

Leaving aside for one moment the position that Scudamore holds, what sort of educated man, in the 21st century, can really contemplate using such derogatory language about half the human race? We live in a country where girls outperform boys in school, where more than half of medical school places go to girls purely on merit (to the dismay of many men established in the echelons of power in medicine); where it is likely that the rules for military service are about to be changed to enable women to serve alongside men in armed combat. If Scudamore has to see his GP, or needs cancer surgery, and both GP and surgeon are women, does he actually regard  them as ‘gash’? Does he hope that in private practice (which he almost certainly uses) there will be no women? I am afraid that he will be mistaken. If he ends up in court and is represented by one of the minority of women (thus far) who are QCs, does he ask to change his counsel?

What were the women who sent him messages of support and sympathy for his predicament thinking of? What possessed them to extend support to a man who thought of them only in terms of their genitalia? They did condemn his remarks in public, but the support given prior to that undermined their condemnation, and suggests that they were offering him sympathy for being found out.

Then we have the question of football and money, and of course the two go hand in hand. I love premier league football and pay lots of money to follow my team, but I am not blind to its many faults. It would be foolish to believe that the beautiful game did not have a pretty ugly side, and I think that this episode has shown two of the dark sides of football only too clearly.

Firstly, the lip service that is still being paid to equality. Yes, the BBC does now show women’s games, and they are reported on in the national press. The women’s national team gets a tiny amount of publicity. We have seen women linesmen at St Mary’s this season, and I’m proud to say that they weren’t subject to the comments that other grounds have made. Presumably we will see a woman refereeing a premier league match within the next decade. This is all incredibly slow progress. It is also a catch 22; there is little coverage given to women’s football because there is no money in it. It is a fair guess that some of the male football supporters around the country share the unreconstructed views of Scudamore, and would only pay to see women’s football if they play semi clothed or naked. Because there is no money in the women’s game there is no money for the players either, so that even the few professionals need to work part time to maintain an adequate income. Again, perhaps in the next decade, as more women come through from playing football competitively at school, things will slowly progress.

Which brings us to money, and the true reason that Scudamore is still in his job, and that powerful people have essentially supported his gross misogyny. He has brought unprecedented amounts of money into the premier league through media rights. In doing so he has of course widened the gap between the men’s and women’s games. He has also, indirectly, widened the gap between the top four (plus Manchester United) clubs and the rest of the premier league. The big clubs have huge amounts of money to spend to deepen and strengthen their squads. Clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City have effectively got two complete first teams whereas clubs such as Hull, Crystal Palace, and even Southampton have a first team squad of about sixteen players. This means that the big clubs are much less vulnerable to injury and exhaustion and the odds are therefore significantly weighted in their favour in the second half of the season. It also means that smaller clubs find it difficult to resist predatory offers for their best players.

Scudamore is the CEO of premier league, and in the most basic terms has clearly done a very good job. They have no wish to sack the man who has brought over £3.5 billion into the business. The FA have of course pleaded inability to actually do anything, since they do not employ Scudamore. Many people in both organisations have said what a good job Scudamore has done, that these emails were private, that he has apologised, that they were ‘only joking.’

I am sorry, but if you ‘only joke’ about race issues, or about Jewish people, then ‘only joking’ is not a defence. The guy who genuinely did ‘only joke’ on Twitter about blowing up an airport actually got convicted and had to go to appeal to get his conviction quashed. In his case it really seems pretty obvious that he was not harbouring deep seated desires to become a terrorist. However if you make sexist or racist or anti-Semitic jokes then I think that this is a reflection of your (possibly subconscious) beliefs.

Women have come a long way since the Suffragettes suffered imprisonment in their battle for the vote, a hundred years ago. Clearly there is still a very long way to go.

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