Okay, so I’m gonna be clear on this. I think this issue benefits from folks saying it in no uncertain terms.
Chris Gayle’s interview with Mel McLaughlin reeks of sexism. The reason some folks don’t smell it, though, it because they’re used to the smell, and they’ve been led to think it’s a good scent.
On Monday, in an interview at the Big Bash League, Gayle was questioned about his batting by McLaughlin for TEN Sport. Instead of simply answering the question, he complimented her on her eyes, told her she was the only reason he had agreed to be interviewed, said he hoped they could have a drink later, and told her ‘don’t blush, baby.’ Really, that’s what he said, in chronological order. In case you think I’m lying, you can see it here for yourself.
And, because the 24-hour news cycle is its own animal, and because Gayle is a big name in cricket, it made waves all over the world. Some think that it was a flagrant disregard for the comfort level and professionalism of a woman doing her job. Others thought it was just Gayle being Gayle – he has a history of being flirtatious, not just with female reporters but with women in general.
So lemme set the record straight. It was sexist.
Oh, wait…that’s not enough for most folks. Totally forgot that most folks go through their entire lives thinking that sexism is normal behavior…let me put a little more effort into this…
I think the energy of sport brings with it a little braggadocio, which is more than welcome to me as a performer at least. But even if I thought that Gayle was just having some fun, his alleged habit of harassing women in any field reveals a bigger problem, and one that doesn’t just rest in sport. It’s rooted in men’s socialized understanding of women as sexualized bodies first and competent workers (or even whole human beings) second. It’s fed by expectations of men as sexual hunters always on the prowl. It’s justified by the notion that all men do this to women – interrupt their days with attempts to flirt – and that it’s either benign or benevolent. That it’s either a joke or a compliment.
In this particular context, it’s further justified by the idea that Caribbean culture is more easy-going and flirtatious than others…with which it’s hard to reason. It’s great news, though, that folks get past the first barrier to this conversation – that this is a learned behavior, a product of socialization, that apparently affects men in ways that most Caribbean women don’t outwardly portray. Definitely not in TV interviews.
In response to the idea that it was just a harmless joke…I agree with exactly half of that. I have no doubt that it was a joke, and one that Gayle has a habit of making. But that doesn’t mean it’s harmless. At best, it was inappropriate and out of place, but even that can be harmful. Harmful to both of their careers. Harmful in terms of how people approach them in future. And, most importantly, it can create the harmful notion that this sort of behavior is in fact acceptable and appropriate. When it’s not.
To the folks who think that Gayle was just giving a compliment, I have difficulty taking that wholesale. ‘Baby’ is not a compliment. ‘Baby’ is a term of endearment. It means that either the two people speaking are already close, or someone wants them both to be. And where an interviewer and an interviewee are concerned, terms of endearment are not appropriate. In fact, it’s a toe right up against the line of harassment. It doesn’t help that women are hardly complimented on her skill and intellect. It’s always about their attractiveness.
So, in sum, a sportsman – a man often credited for his skill – was approached by a reporter while both of them are theoretically at their respective jobs, and responded to her not as a competent worker but simply an attractive woman. Let’s keep in mind, this was live on air.
There are some still that argue that women like Maria Sharapova can do things like this and get away with it…I am at least willing to engage that thought. The video above is at least one instance where Sharapova did something that can be considered inappropriate. Depending on how you listen to it, you don’t get the same sleazy feeling from Sharapova’s comments (I certainly didn’t), but that doesn’t matter. Anyone can sexually harass anyone. Anyone can be inappropriate.
I think that it’s just as serious as some media houses have made it out to be, and maybe even bigger. Gayle basically disregarded McLaughlin’s work for the sake of his arousal. Or his humor, if we want to be nice to him. I would’ve conceded that fining Chris Gayle $10,000 may not be the best way to go (that is, before reading that he might have harassed other women in more inexcusable ways). I’m not convinced a fine would teach him anything, and might just make him resent ‘that one woman who couldn’t take a joke’. I think, instead, that this is a perfect time to use Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo (and even Maria Sharapova, if you feel the need) to highlight the prevalence of harassment in society and remind folks that it is never acceptable.
This is what I think, simply put; your arousal by someone is not more important than someone’s comfort level, or their professionalism, or anything for that matter. Your arousal is only important to those who are also interested in you. And, for Love’s sake, wait until the cameras are off.
Bat in yuh crease.