Tag Archives: Natalie Bennett

Why Proudman is both right and wrong on sexism in sport

In September this year feminist barrister Charlotte Proudman made the news when she stood up to sexism. She sent a professional LinkedIn request to fellow lawyer Alexander Carter-Silk who responded by accepting her request. However Carter-Silk also praised her “stunning picture” on LinkedIn. That was blatantly sexist – he would not have said that to a man – and also sinister as Carter-Silk is 30 years older than Proudman. Proudman quite rightly called him out for his sexism and in return copped a load of sexist abuse which sadly is not a surprise in the UK. The Daily Mail called her a “feminazi*” and she revived death threats by e mail. All for exposing a guy for his sexist and perverted remarks. Pathetic.

Now a less brave person would lie low for a while. But not Proudman. Instead she has gone where very few women dare to tread by challenging gender segregation in sport. After Michelle Payne became the first woman to win the Melbourne Cup horse race in Australia Proudman wrote an article on the Daily Telegraph’s website entitled “Michelle Payne’s stunning victory proves why sexual apartheid in sport must end”. She was advocating mixed sport – where the sexes play with and against each other. Now Proudman is not the first person to advocate mixed sport – before she became leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett wrote an article in the Guardian’s “Comment is free” section titled “Give Waynetta Rooney** a chance” making the same points as Proudman is now. But are they right? Well yes and no.

First of all where they are right. No woman should be banned from competing with men solely because of their gender***. The FIFA/English FA rule banning mixed competitive football has to go. The UK government must repeal the exemption clause for sport that was put into both the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act and its successor law the 2010 Equality Act. I know why it was brought in – in 1975 the UK government had a majority of only 3 seats and applying sex discrimination law in sport in 1975 would have been controversial probably not made it through Parliament and might have caused the Sex Discrimination Bill to be defeated. In effect sportswomen were sacrificed to protect the rights of other women. But this is 2015 not 1975. In an age where consenting adults are free to do more or less what they want together the ban on mixed sport is a ridiculous anomoly.

That said Proudman and Bennett are wrong if they want all sport to be mixed gender. Coercive integration is as bad as coercive segregation. Plus it could have unintended consequences for women as two sports that are in theory mixed but in practice are highly gendered show.

The first example is the sport that led to Proudman’s article horse racing. As Proudman herself wrote Payne was only the fourth female jockey to ride in the Melbourne Cup an event that is 155 years old. This as Proudman says is due to institutional sexism. Payne herself said that “it is such a chauvinistic sport, a lot of the owners wanted to kick me off”.

Another example is Formula One motor racing. In theory this sport is mixed. In practice the sport’s only female driver Susie Wolff retired yesterday. Not that she drove in a race – she was only the Williams test driver. Even so sexists said that she only got the test driver’s job because her husband Toto Wolff is a shareholder in Williams. There has not been a woman driver in Formula One since Lella Lombardi of Italy in the 1970s. Lombardi is the only female driver to score a World Championship point – actually half a point as the Spanish Grand Prix of ironically 1975 was cut short by a crash that killed five spectators. If a woman could drive in a Grand Prix in the 1970s why can’t one do it now? The answer of course is that there is no reason and the only reason there is not a woman driver in Formula One is institutional sexism.

My point is that if only mixed sport existed women would be kept out because of sexist prejudice. If that happens in horse racing and Formula One where women have shown they can compete what chance would they have in a sexist sport like football?

Luckily there is a simple solution. Separate events for women only should remain. But what is now the men’s events should be open to all competitors. This would leave the talented female with a choice. She can choose to compete in the women only events or choose to compete in the open events against men.**** In the case of say football if a male football club ever wanted to sign a woman – as a Mexican club wanted to do with Maribel Dominguez in 2004 – they would be fully entitled to. If she turned out not to be good enough well as Liverpool fans know with Mario Balotelli that can apply to male players too!

Some people say that is unfair to men. But in sport this has always applied in the case of age. Sport has under 16, under 18 and under 21 teams from which older players are excluded. However young players can play in older age group teams and even adult competitions. The classic example being Wayne Rooney who made his Premier League debut n 2002 aged 16. The idea of Rooney being banned from the Premier League because of his age would be absurd. Why shouldn’t it apply to gender?

To my mind this is the best way to approach gender equality in the playing side of sport. Coercive segregation is blatantly discriminatory and should have no place in a civilised country. But coercive integration – as horse racing and Formula One have shown – leads to mixed sport only in theory as sexist prejudice and the absence of women’s events means there are fewer women in these sports than gender segregated sports. Giving women the opportunity to compete with men – while keeping the protection of female only events as an insurance policy against sexism – is the best way for sport to go.

*”Feminazi” is a combination of feminist and Nazi. The very fact that people who want human beings to be treated equally are being compared to people who sent millions to the gas chambers shows how pathetic and ridiculous that phrase is.

**”Waynetta Rooney” was the name of a fictional sister of England football star Wayne Rooney that Natalie Bennett used to illustrate the difference in wages and opportunities between male and female footballers.

***The one exception I would make (as I wrote in previous post “Why Rousey v Mayweather must never happen”) is fight sports like boxing and wrestling for reasons I explained in that post.

****This is not my idea. UK sports lawyer David Pannick (in his 1983 booklet “Sex Discrimination in Sport”) advocated this policy.

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Should there be UK Election TV debates?

Today is a big milestone in the UK political calendar. There are 100 days of campaigning left before the country goes to the polls on May 7th in what is looking like the most unpredictable UK election since 1974. There are many questions to be answered including Will there be leader’s debates on TV? And if so who’ll take part?
Unlike in the US, leaders debates did not occur in the UK until the last election in 2010 where there were three debates – on ITV, Sky News and the BBC – between then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The debates attracted TV audiences of 9.3 million (ITV), 4.1 million (Sky News) and 8.1 million (BBC) (Dennis Kavanagh and Philip Cowley, the British General Election of 2010, page 266) and according to the same book (page 267) “The prevailing view among broadcasters and politicians…was that the debates had been a success and that they had come to stay”. So why with 100 days of the campaign left are the debates not a certainty to happen again? And would that be a good or a bad thing?
The event that has caused the problem has been the rise of a fourth party in UK politics, the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Since 2013 there have been seven by-elections in Great Britain. UKIP has won two, come second by less then 5% in two, and second in the other three. They also won last years European Parliament elections in the UK. The broadcasters (the three that covered the 2010 debates plus Channel 4) responded to the rise of UKIP by proposing a “4-3-2” plan. One debate would have four participants – the 2010 trio plus UKIP leader Nigel Farage – one would have the same participants as 2010 and the third would be a US style two headed debate between Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour Party leader Ed Miliband.
And then the problems started. The Green Party (who have one MP – who unlike UKIP’s two MPs* – won her seat at the 2010 Election as a Green) felt that if UKIP were in a debate, their leader Natalie Bennett should be too. And enter in a bizarre alliance, David Cameron, who said he would not take part in the debates unless the Greens were there. (I should explain that the reason we didn’t have debates in the UK pre 2010 is that the Prime Minister of the day always turned them down. We only got debates in 2010 because Gordon Brown was so far behind in the polls he felt he had nothing to lose.) So it looked like the debates were off.
So the broadcasters got their thinking caps on – and came up with a “7-7-2” plan. Two of the debates would include SEVEN parties – the four already in plus the Greens, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru – the latter two also wanting in despite the fact they are regional not national parties – while the third would be a Cameron v Miliband head to head. However, this plan is causing trouble too. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wants to take part in all three debates and other parties want in – among them the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland. Mebyon Kernow (Sons of Cornwall) the Cornish Nationalists also want in – even though they only stand in six seats out of 650 – and even more ridiculously the Monster Raving Loony Party want to take part. The debates are disintegrating into a shambles. The broadcasters – showing breath taking arrogance – are bullying parties into taking part saying if any party does not turn up the debates will go ahead with the absentee party represented by an empty chair. But should the debates take place? In my opinion no.
First of all five parties might be too many. Seven would be. As the British General Election of 2010 (page 265) put it “The debate format had its limitations. Chiefly arising from tackling eight or more substantial topics in under 90 minutes”. And that was with three participants. Imagine the chaos with seven politicians trying to get a word in. Also a debate works best with just two participants – which is why they work in US Presidential elections and also where there is a “Yes or No” choice like last year’s Scottish independence referendum. They are not suitable for the multi party democracy the UK has been since at least 1974.
However my third reason is most important. I was never for the debates and the events of 2010 proved that. They had the effect of totally overshadowing the rest of the campaign. More seriously they turned politics into a game show – the equivalent of reality TV shows like the X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent. But politics is too important for that. Being good on TV should not be the most important quality for a Prime Minister. And it isn’t. Being good on TV won’t help a Prime Minister when it comes to making the most important decision he/she has to make: Should I send my country’s troops into war? Two of the UK’s last three Prime Ministers -Tony Blair and Cameron – got this wrong, although in Cameron’s case he was rescued by Parliament refusing to back his plan to attack Syria.
The other point is that the UK does NOThave a Presidential system. On May 7th we are electing a Government for the next five years – not a Prime Minister. And the debates in 2010 had the effect of giving more publicity to party leaders who are over exposed anyway.
I hope the parties don’t succumb to the broadcasters’ bullying and the debates don’t happen. For those who use the US as an example, the first presidential debates in the US were between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960. They did not happen again until Ford debated Carter in 1976. There is no reason whatsoever why they have to become a regular event here. Remember the broadcasters only care about ratings. We have imported a lot of things from the US. But not everything that works in the US is suitable for the UK. TV debates are one of the things that aren’t.
*UKIP’s two MPs were elected in 2010 as Conservatives. Last year they defected to UKIP, resigning their seats to fight them under their new party’s colours. Both retained their seats.