Dear BBC Newsnight,
You describe yourself as “late night in-depth news” and so what I tend to expect is a pre-bedtime grilling of notable events and issues. But last night I felt as though I was somewhat short-changed.
You interviewed Michelle Gayle about the ‘culture’ young footballers are immersed in, and it was implied that this was a culture which leads to the sexual assault of women. You explained that the reason you were interviewing Michelle, and not, for instance, a spokesperson for rape crisis, a footballer or perhaps a behavioural expert, was because she had been married to a footballer for ten years and is trying to sell a book about that experience. So, with those two facts in mind, there could be some bias in what she says; resulting from both her relationship with said ex-husband AND in the motivation to sell her book. Neither of those things was mentioned or challenged though Newnight. An example of BBC reporting that’s so neutral it could feature on a Farrow and Ball paint chart.
Michelle went on to describe how difficult it was to go out with a footballer. She said “girls” made themselves “very readily available” and suggested that “it will warp the view of women for those footballers” and “this is the culture that is manifesting itself here and now”. Evan Davies (the BBC reporter) then helpfully added “because they get confused and a twisted view of what femininity is about”. By this point steam is coming out of my ears and I can’t believe what I’m hearing. You went on to say that you are not making excuses for footballers, just describing a culture…but then you continued to make great honking excuses for footballers. Not only that, but ‘readily available’ and so drunk they are unresponsive, are two very different things; young men with stacks of cash meeting women eager to have sex with them is one, the events leading to Ched Evan’s conviction, entirely another. Let’s not conflate the two.
It’s important to say here, that I do not blame Michelle. We all live under a festering patriarchal umbrella and therefore may all participate in the oppression of women, no matter what gender or sex we ascribe to. By all means empathise with the difficulties she may have had married to a famous footballer, but because of his behaviour, or of other footballers, not that of young women primed by our culture to seek self-worth by association. The person with power in this situation was you BBC Newsnight, you and your presenter with his smartly pressed jacket of white, male privilege. You chose to run this story on the day that a footballer who admits to penetrating a woman too intoxicated to audibly consent, is cleared of rape, OF ALL DAYS. You chose how to present it and what language to use. Now let me tell you this BBC Newsnight, that was victim blaming, the de facto language of rape culture; and victim blaming is not in-depth or news, it is sexism, not-so-pure and simple. Might discussing the admission of an alleged rape victim’s sexual history into court have been a good thing to tackle? Per-bloody-haps? The reasons so many victims never come forward at all? No?
It’s all about context. So much of the toss we wade through in our experience of Sexist Newsing is. Context and power relationships. You see, in the relationship between the footballers and WOMEN (hopefully not girls), the power certainly lies with the extremely well paid, often famous, male footballer. Until female footballers are afforded the same spoils, and female success and status is on parr with that of males, this will be the case. And that’s a really crucial bit of information to discuss if you want to look at what is behind the so-called ‘culture of football’. But I would suggest that what is what is behind the ‘culture of football’ is what is behind everything in our society. The bloody, seamless wallpaper of patriarchy. It objectifies and devalues women. It excuses sexual assault and blames women. It treats us as second class citizens.
So next time you want to do some “in-depth analysis” of this kind; contact a feminist and do it properly.