I had made the conscious decision not to wade into the Andy Gray/Richard Keys debate. I’d hate to end up waffling into the ether, only regurgitating clichés and hackneyed ideas. I thought other people were doing a pretty decent job of responding and I might as well leave them to it.
And then today Mrs Keys decides to add her twopenn’orth. You can see her in a number of quality tabloids, tray of teacups in hand, hurrying towards the hacks camped outside her home. With a big smile she chirrups:
"As a man, there are bits of you that never grow up."
I was pleased to see that The Sun, not known for its considered and subtle approach to gender issues (see its website feature ‘hottest girls of the week’), recognised that she “risked being a little guilty of sexist stereotyping herself” in dismissing her husband’s remarks as “boys’ banter”.
Gender stereotypes work both ways and I have no doubt that the projection of such ideas as the macho, brave and muscle‑bound man, or indeed the silly, useless, hopeless male, are every bit as unhelpful and unwanted as the traditional stereotypes of the ideal woman.
However, I fear the remarks of Mrs Keys have more disturbing consequences for gender relations. Stereotyping sexist remarks as male ‘boisterous behaviour’ grants men the permission to be sexist. Because, you know, those silly boys, they can’t help it, can they?
This sort of glib comment undermines any opportunity for women to claim an equal footing with men. It reinforces the idea of a gender divide; that we are simply different from each other and must accept things as so; that there’s nothing we can do about any adverse effects arising out of such differences.
I believe that if we gave Mrs Keys the right to reply she might suggest a sort of female empowerment in her remarks, that she is acknowledging an inherent, more mature female strength. In doing so she perpetuates the idea that boys will be boys and there’s nothing we can do about the injustices they inflict on women. Indeed, these boys in men’s bodies need all sorts of looking after: they’ll be useless in the home, they won’t be able to cook or clean or sort the kids out so we women better make sure we are in charge of that. And you know, if they let their tempers get the better of them, well, they’re only testosterone fuelled men, what we can we expect? At what point does such a justification become absurd?
Never mind winning the hearts and minds of men. There’s no hope if we can’t even change women’s own perspective.
(By the by, some of my year 11 boys questioned whether Gray’s and Keys’ remarks were sexist at all, challenging me to explain the offside rule, which I duly did with aplomb. Score!)