Andy Murray, Virginia Wade and my experience of a small dose of Everyday Sexism

by Stephen Tall on July 8, 2013

So last night I tweeted this:

In response to this Times front page:

andy murray

It got a fair few retweets, including from Graham Linehan (@Glinner) and Danny Baker (@Prodnose), and my timeline started to get busy. Responses fell into two camps.

First, Pedants (and I mean this affectionately here), who pointed out it isn’t just Virginia Wade who’s been written out of history by The Times:

(Others highlighted the various doubles winners down the years, including Andy’s brother, Jamie.)

Secondly, Mostly Blokes, who reckoned The Times’ headline was fair dinkum. “Duh, it’s obvious they meant men’s tennis. WTF you going on about?” As if it would have killed the headline writer to say 36 years (accurate) instead of 77 (inaccurate).

This second response — which I’m going to file under, ‘If you don’t get why this is wrong, there really must be a lot of things you don’t get’ — put me in mind of a fascinating blog-post by Martin Belam at the end of last week: How my spoof BBC Question Time Twitter account showed me the level of abuse political women face on social media. Martin, who personated various figures from history using the @BBCExtraGhost handle to tweet during BBC1′s Question Time, found it attracted abuse only when he pretended to be tweeting as a woman:

Tweet a male spoof account during BBC Question Time using the #bbcqt hashtag, and I’d get some political joshing in return. Tweet a spoof account featuring a strong political woman like Pankhurst or Astor during BBC Question Time, and I’d get abusive tweets aimed at the gender of the politician.

This casual sexism reveals something. Some of the responsibility I’m going to shift to Twitter’s immediacy and enforced 140-character brevity, which brings out the worst in some people. At its best, this becomes quick-fire, intelligent banter down the pub. At its worst, it descends into knee-jerk, mindlessness at last orders.

For those, like me — I’m talking to the Mostly Blokes here — who barely ever see sexism up-close-and-personal it’s a reminder that it’s still alive and kicking. Suppressed most of the time, yes: the last 50 years has achieved some helpful social norming. But latent: ready, willing and able to be unleashed.

I’m sure The Times didn’t mean to produce an everyday sexist front page. They just didn’t think. And that’s the problem.

But let’s end positively. I was a Silver Jubilee baby, born 3 months before Virginia Wade’s victory. It feels good this morning to know now I’ve now lived through two Great British Wimbledon winners. So let’s hear it for them both…

wade murray

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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15 comments

[…] in The Times today which was ‘Murray ends 77-year wait for British win’ and exclaims As if it would have killed the headline writer to say 36 years (accurate) instead of 77 (inaccurate)… Well Stephen as you well know 36 is not accurate. It cannot be accurate. The only accurate […]

by The ‘casual sexism’ of Andy Murray’s win stopping 77 years of hurt. | The Rambles of Neil Monnery on July 8, 2013 at 10:57 am. Reply #

You're wrong I'm afraid and I'll tell you why. It's a classic mistake being made by a lot of people today who do not read or follow much sport (which is why the people pointing this out are mainly but by no means exclusively male). Assumptions are made when writing about sport regarding context (just as they in any other specialty, like politics). As such, the context of the event is everything. Murray and Wade are in different events, therefore it would make no sense, and in fact be wrong, to say that one had not won since the other. That is also why it is not disrespectful as a headline to Jonny Marray (mens doubles winner), Jamie Murray (mixed doubles winner), Laura Robson (junior girls winner). All can have been said to have "won Wimbledon", but none could have been said to have been the last winner since the other. When Laura Robson does win Wimbledon (which I believe she will), she will be the first British winner since Virginia Wade, and NOT since Andy Murray. This will not be of any disrespect to Andy, because they are in different events. Just as, if England win the football European championships this year, the press will not say "It was the first big trophy since 1966", because the European championships is women's football, which is a different event to the '66 World Cup.

by Tim Pollard on July 8, 2013 at 10:57 pm. Reply #

I was almost inclined to agree with Tim P because what he writes is absolutely correct but then I read the Headlines again – this is why casual sexism is alive and kicking today despite big changes in attitudes; it is subtle and sneaks into everyday life like a poisonous gas.

by Gill Jackson on July 9, 2013 at 7:30 am. Reply #

As an avid, male, Wimbledon fan, Tim, I think you're wrong. I've seen this argument a lot (from men). You say "Murray and Wade are in different events" – but that's the key point: they're not in different events. They both played in the same event: the Wimbledon single's championships. (Which is why also your point about the doubles' winners doesn't stack up either, nor indeed the football comparison).

The impact of the headline is quite straightforward: only the men's singles championship matters to Britain, it's the only one we've been waiting for, women playing at Wimbledon are irrelevant.

If you're looking for a comparison try this one: fast forward another 77 years to 2090 and an English guy (let's call him Tim) wins Wimbledon. And The Times runs a headline: "Tim ends 154 year wait for British win." It's as accurate as the headline the paper ran on Monday.

by Stephen Tall on July 9, 2013 at 9:05 am. Reply #

Wimbledon themselves state that there are five main events comprising of Men's Singles, Women's Singles, Men's Doubles, Women's Doubles and Mixed Doubles. So they are different events unless you of course know better than the organisers of the championships?

They cannot be the same event unless they play under the same rules and there is a mixed draw. That is basic common sense. So your defence in the previous comment is actually invalid and Tim is accurate.

Sorry to bring facts to an opinion based debate…

by Neil Monnery on July 9, 2013 at 11:48 am. Reply #

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