Losing innocence: David Moyes and the Pandora’s Box of sexism

You’ve likely seen the video by now. You don’t need me to tell you how it goes. David Moyes’ words to the BBC’s Vicki Sparks have been endlessly debated since the footage entered the public domain on Monday.

“Just getting a wee bit naughty there at the end, so just watch yourself,” he tells Sparks. “You might get a … you still might get a slap, even though you’re a woman.”

Let’s make this clear from the outset: the entire incident is just shameful. There is nothing necessary, redeeming, justifiable in those comments. Moyes can’t salvage any credibility from that exchange. Commentators might rush to diminish his words as ‘banter’, or ‘an awkward joke’, or to try and brush out any hint of malice, but to do so is to assume Moyes’ comments weren’t serving a purpose.

Sparks did her job, and asked a question Moyes didn’t like. He tried to intimidate her because he wasn’t happy. In doing so, he brought in her gender. It was a needless, barely-veiled attempt at controlling the discourse, the conversation, her right to question. And the issue stretches across two panes, ultimately: how does football treat journalists, and how does football treat women?


David Moyes during the interview with Vicki Sparks, pictured right (Credit: Daily Mirror)
David Moyes during the interview with Vicki Sparks [pictured right] (Credit: Daily Mirror)
FA chairman Greg Clarke discussed the former on Tuesday night, and you can read his thoughts here. “We’re getting into a trend of people treating journalists doing their jobs badly, and I would like to see that stop,” he said. “Respect is respect for everybody. If a person wants to interview you, the least you could do is treat them with a bit of respect.”
He’s right. Sparks asks a valid question, Moyes cautions her. Letting that pattern become routine, the gender references aside, it is a slippery slope. What does it do to accountability if the power balance shifts entirely one-way?

There is danger in letting managers routinely bat questions, no matter how testing, away unanswered.
I’ve found that unsettling, but equally pressing has been the aftermath. Pandora’s Box has clunked open and out have popped anecdotes that have left me stunned, in limbo trying to work out whether this was a reality I was aware of – and if not, why not.

Maybe I’m being drawn of out innocence here. For background: I’m 19, a female (aspiring journalist? Journalist? Do what you will with the semantics), and I’ve spent the last four years covering football. I’ve done podcasts, hundreds of articles and reports, live texts, interviews, I’ve freelanced, been nominated for awards, have a paid job in journalism. I’ve done a lot for someone still in their teens, and I’ve done it well enough for the SJA to highly commend it.

When I read and hear testimonies from female reporters, it strikes me how far removed my experience has felt from theirs, for whatever reason. Jibes from players and managers, apparent tones of incredulity at a woman being able to talk about sport, are things I’ve never had to endure. I’ve interviewed scores of players and I’ve never felt like they were dumbing down talking to me. My experience has always been that hard work opens doors. I appreciate the parameters of my experiences are far narrower than most, but that’s not really the point.

I’ve always been taken seriously since I’ve been blogging about football. It feels like everyone I’ve dealt with has been universally helpful and polite, from players, to press officers, to national journalists, to readers, to editors – whoever. I’ve never, ever felt harshly done to, have never been judged differently to any male. My experiences have come from me doing the job well.

That’s fair, and that’s how it should be. My experience is normal. But normal, in this case, doesn’t equate to standard, or universal. I shouldn’t be the exception to the rule – but reading the responses from female journalists amidst the Moyes maelstrom, that’s how I’ve felt. I’m the odd one out. Equality is unique; sexism isn’t.

It’s best to let their words speak for themselves. Louise Taylor wrote in The Guardian, “All female reporters have their own ‘everyday sexism’ anecdotes and my own most notable cameo occurred more than a decade ago when I was in my late 30s. It was winter, seriously cold and I attended a post-match press conference wearing an admittedly slightly ridiculous, furry (fake!) hat. Perched behind his desk on a raised, authority-imposing, platform, a manager irritated by my written criticisms of his tactics surveyed it with withering disdain before telling me I soon would not be able to wear the hat as I’d be “too warm” and “having hot flushes”.”

Ian Herbert recalled, “It was in the 2012/13 season, in Moyes’ Everton days, that a woman had the temerity to ask a question which went against the grain of how he wanted a pre-match press conference to go, during the initial broadcasters’ section of the conversation. Moyes cut her down. There was a very uncomfortable moment, after the cameras and broadcasters had cleared and we got down to the more detailed untelevised discussion, when Moyes tried to break the ice in all-male company with a joke at the now departed woman’s expense. No-one wanted to be impolite but everyone stared at the floor.”

Emma John’s story is horrific: “A senior sports journalist I’d approached for work experience offered to give me some career advice over dinner, then tried to kiss me in his car. The fact that he was old enough to be my grandfather meant I never saw it coming.”

Maybe I was naïve, I don’t know. I knew sexism existed in sport – you can’t not know. Even I – less than a decade ago, for anyone who assumes this kind of mentality is entirely archaic, a relic of the unreachably distant past – had grown up playing football under the sometimes disproving gazes of my female peers. It’s worth reiterating that the majority of people I knew were accepting, supportive, didn’t mind. But plenty weren’t.

“That’s not ladylike.” “It’s weird.” “You must fancy the players.” Even when their mouths didn’t say, their eyes did. We were kids. They were enforcing stereotypes at full throttle, frighteningly. I think I might have felt a bit of anger back then, felt it was all a little unjustified, bizarre. Eight, nine years on, when the world is so conscious of encouraging young girls to take up sport, it rankles more. No 11 year old boy would ever be mocked for liking football. As a girl, I was.

Sport journalism: female reporters remain at a disadvantage (Credit: Sky Sports News)

But to hear all this – story after story after horrendous story – is heartbreaking. If the teasing I endured as a kid is forgivable, what’s everyone else’s excuse? Was I truly ignorant of all this? I can’t have been – I was 13 when Andy Gray and Richard Keys were sacked from Sky, and I remember following that intensely. I’d seen tweets to female sports journalists, and as much as any kitchen-based insult demonstrating little command of your/you’re hurts, I guess I’d felt they were opinions too inane to be worthy of challenge. Maybe that was the wrong mindset, but men are not the high watermark of sports journalism, of sports discourse. The whole logic that underpins that notion of inherent credibility is just stupid. For all our running, that mental asterisk, that mental disclaimer, sometimes remains: *for a woman.

But to see it on this scale? I’ve read so many pieces since Monday and the incidents have piled on top of each other like ugly Jenga blocks. I read that a study in 2013 revealed female bylines in the sports pages ran at an average of 1.8%. I’d never felt disadvantaged before, having been, as I am, surrounded by people who’ve never once mentioned my gender. Maybe I never thought about it. I can only assume that I genuinely did have my head in the sand. That, or I’d shrugged it off, stared ahead, like women often do, not wishing to be different, not wanting to cause a fuss, maybe even being too scared to. Perhaps that is why so much sexism goes unreported; why I read things this week while thinking, why do I only just know about this?

Don’t try and tell me this is par for the course – to say that feels like you’re trying to explain it away. None of this should be part of any job, any life. At the moment, clearly, it is.

I don’t want to be an idealist. I know, I’ll need thick skin. But I refuse to be called lucky for being the odd one out – call me that and everyone else’s experiences become normal. I’m not lucky people speak to me normally. I’m not lucky that I’ve never been assaulted. They’re basic rights. ‘Lucky’ is being in the right place at the right time. It’s not swimming and swimming to still earn no respect.

You might laugh at that, shake your head, brand me stupid, daft, whatever. In which case, the saddest thing about your response is that you’re essentially telling a young girl to ready herself for sexism. And if that’s your stock response, then that’s a truly damning indictment on how far this game still has to go.

Katie Whyatt

Featured Image: Associated Press

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