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.