‘Casual Feminism’ – Is the Bar Set Too Low?

Earlier this month, Andy Murray announced his looming retirement. It was an emotional press conference, as Murray explained he fears that he will not be fit enough to play at the Wimbledon Championships in the summer. However, instead of journalists focusing on the highlights of Murray’s career and commending him for the many titles he has won, including three Grand Slams, they instead decided to praise him for his ‘casual feminism’.

The term ‘casual sexism’ has been in circulation over the past few years; and refers to non-aggressive sexism which is normalised. It is categorised as behaviour which may not necessarily be intended to be directly sexist. However, it is casual sexism which perpetuates patriarchal ideologies and feeds the power imbalance between men and women in society. The acceptance of casual sexism makes it difficult to address more pressing issues when it comes to sexism, as it legitimises the misogynistic foundation that society is built on. Laura Bates’ creation of the Everyday Sexism Project (everydaysexism.com) allows women to anonymously post examples of sexist behaviour that they have fallen victim to, many include casual sexism.

‘Casual feminism’ is a new term that, quite frankly, sounds synonymous with being a decent human being. Of course, it is positive that Murray has spoken out against the difference in pay between male and female players, argued that “ideally you would have two men’s and two women’s [matches] on Centre [court]” instead of there being more men’s, and despite raising eyebrows in 2014 for appointing Amelie Mauresmo, a woman, as his coach, he wrote in a BBC column “working with Amelie was, for me, because she was the right person for the job, and not a question of her sex at all.”

Although his actions illustrate that he is using his platform to support women in sport and is an inspiring role model, commending him for his ‘casual feminism’ cannot help but illustrate that the bar is set far too low. If he is a ‘casual’ feminist, then what is a ‘formal’ feminist? Pointing out that women should be treated as equal to their male counterparts in tennis, including being paid the same and having equal centre court time, should not be seen as heroic or medal-worthy. He is simply drawing attention to the obvious, however, perhaps he is being listened to and getting more recognition for his ‘casual feminism’ because he is a man, and in a position of power. This perfectly evidences why women in sport need to be handed a stronger microphone because although they are arguing the same points as Murray, unfortunately they are not being heard. However, back in 2012, British female player Heather Watson was asked about her views regarding equal pay, when it comes to prize money in tennis, and stated that “I don’t really have much of an opinion on it.”

The need for the clear distinction of Murray’s feminism as ‘casual’ is a problem in itself, as it highlights people’s discomfort when it comes to identifying themselves as a feminist. In the words of Kate Nash, “feminism is not a dirty word.” The sooner we can get rid of the militant feminazi stereotype that surrounds feminism, the sooner we can make real progress with gender equality.

Perhaps women in sport, and other sectors, could learn from the ‘casual’ aspect of Murray’s feminism. The praise he is receiving suggests that women who are feminists should keep things cool, calm and collected, after all, it is much easier for men to listen to you when you are not getting ‘emotional.’ Or perhaps the years and years of fighting for equality have beaten women down so much that we need a man to pick us up and show us how to be effective, yet casual, feminists.

Annabel Martin


Image: Michael Dodge