Society Magazine

It’s Time To Stop Excusing Sexism As A “Joke.”

Posted on the 29 January 2016 by Juliez
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Mel McLaughlin and Chris Gayle

Mel McLaughlin, a well-known and respected Australian sports commentator, was recently tasked with conducting a post-match interview with cricketer Chris Gayle. The reporter asked professional, thoughtful questions about the match — which Gayle ignored. The athlete instead took the opportunity to comment on McLaughlin’s appearance.

“Don’t blush, baby,” he said after asking her out on the air, commenting on her eyes, and making a number of other inappropriate comments. Although clearly uncomfortable, McLaughlin remained extremely professional throughout the ordeal. She ignored Gayle’s comments and asked more questions about the match. Unfortunately, her professionalism did little to deter Gayle from continuing to make unwanted advances.

After the clip aired, many expressed outrage on social media and Gayle’s own club even reprimanded him. But Gayle hardly internalized these responses, calling the exchange a “simple joke” that got “out of proportion.” He was “sorry” if McLaughlin felt disrespected, he added, but “there wasn’t any harm meant. It was a simple joke … In entertainment, things get out of proportion. But these things happen and there wasn’t any harm done.”

The incident highlights the persistent reality that men’s inappropriate behavior towards women can still be accepted, and diminished, as a “joke.” Instead of acknowledging his offensive behavior, Gayle effectively apologized for others’ reactions to it. Suggesting that he didn’t see his behavior as harmful — and moreover saw it as funny — just normalizes the sexism at its core.

Gayle’s behavior was all the more damaging considering it took place in a professional and public context. It’s highly unlikely that Gayle would have behaved similarly with a male reporter. It’s even more unlikely that if he had a dismissed a man in this way that others would support him for doing so. Additionally, this exchange played out in front of a vast audience. Hiding behind the excuse that he was only joking and that backlash was an unwarranted act of political correctness and over-sensitivity further makes this behavior seem acceptable to viewers and fans.

Women make up only 40% of the nightly broadcasters on  ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS, and facing harassment and unprofessional behavior on the job, like McLaughlin did from Gayle, is perhaps a significant reason why. Rather than dismiss this interaction, we must recognize it as an example of the way sexism is still ingrained in our society and refuse to accept the inevitable occurrence of similar incidents in the future.

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