A fortnight ago, a male cricket player said a sexist thing to a female sports journalist. She asked him questions about cricket, he talked about her beautiful eyes, asked her for a drink and when she was obviously not appreciating his overtures, he said: “Don’t blush baby”.
What he said was sexist. Whether you think that makes him a terrible bloke or a top bloke, or whether you think that everyone over-reacted, it’s clear that what Chris Gayle said to Mel McLaughlin, he would not have said to a male sports journalist. So, it was sexist. End of story.
But it that wasn’t the end of this story. Last night, in a post-match dissection of the game with Kevin Petersen and Mark Waugh, Mel McLaughlin called Waugh by the wrong name. McLaughlin apologised and said she would buy Waugh a beer to make up for it.
“DOUBLE STANDARDS!” whooped the internet joyfully. “HYPOCRISY!” “WHERE’S HER $10K FINE?” “It’s a two-way street, Mel”.
It seemed that no one was feeling sorry for poor old Mark Waugh who had been subject to the indignity of being called “Damien” on live television – and it didn’t really matter that McLaughlin would probably have said the same thing to any colleague, regardless of their gender – some people on Twitter were excited to discover a clear-cut case of sexism towards a MAN! Committed by the very woman who had been the subject of sexism the week before! What a lark!
It was the final piece of the puzzle that undermined every woman’s argument against sexism: Mel said she’d buy Mark a drink, which means that sometimes women are sexist to men! Ah-ha!
But here’s the gristle in your meat pie:
What Mel said to Mark wasn’t sexist.
Not only because what she said was not offensive or belittling. Not only because she was speaking to him as an equal. Not only because what Mel said was completely different to what Gayle said.
But also because: You can’t be sexist towards a man.
Sexism towards men (or reverse-sexism) simply does not exist.
Watch Mel McLaughlin offer to buy Mark Waugh a drink. Post continues after video.
You might be be cruel to a man. You might be insensitive. You might be offensive to and about a man.
But sexism against men isn’t possible.
When people say: “That’s sexist against men” or “That’s reverse sexism”, they tend to be pointing out a situation in which a man has been marginalised or overlooked or not treated the way they are usually treated.
But sexism isn’t about one grievance. It isn’t about a one-off situation where a man is offered a beer as an apology by a woman. Or a woman getting paid more than a man. Or a woman being chosen for a job over a man even though their qualifications are the same. Or boys not getting the maths prizes at school any more.
That’s not sexism against men. It’s not reverse sexism.
It might feel unlucky for the person that missed out. That person might feel sad, hurt or disappointed. It might be unexpected. But it’s not sexism.
This doesn’t mean men are missing out – they are just competing fairly with everyone else in a way that they haven’t had to in the past. That’s a good thing. It’s a sign that things are slowly edging towards equality. It means that we’re heading towards a place where both men and women share power. It means we’re starting to end discrimination against women – and that’s good for everyone.
So to all of the people who were outraged that Mel McLaughlin offered to buy Mark Waugh a drink in a context that was inappropriate; to everyone who is angry that Mel would treat her male colleague with such a lack of respect just because of his gender:
That’s a good thing.
Because now you know what the majority of women feel in their workplaces, on the street and in their homes.
Every single day. And that’s why we need to change.