The “Me Too” Phenomenon

Gleaner column of October 18, 2017

“If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too.’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem,” read the Facebook update. So said, so done. Within a couple of days the #MeToo hashtag gathered so much momentum that women who didn’t post #MeToo as their status update on Facebook were in the minority.

It was the logical outcome of a wave of outings of famous men who have systematically assaulted women, using their power to extricate sexual services from their victims either without consent or by manufacturing it. Whether it was the drugging of victims by Bill Cosby or demands for sexual favors in return for Hollywood stardom by Harvey Weinstein, the public outcry has made it clear that such blatant abuse of power has to stop. If not  the perpetrators will be named and shamed in no uncertain terms.

Interestingly there were many who rushed to Cosby’s defense insinuating that he was the victim of a plot against black people, and that the increasing number of women accusing him of sexual abuse were lying. In the Harvey Weinstein case one has yet to hear of sinister plots against Jewish Hollywood producers but no doubt its a matter of time. In the meantime he is being pilloried in no uncertain terms, losing contracts, respect and prestigious positions left, right and centre.

Note too, that all of this is without benefit of police charges, trials in court and conviction by jury as was demanded by the Jamaican public when a small group of women here insisted that it was time to expose sexual predators by naming and shaming them. In the Weinstein case it was the New York Times that broke the story, after in-depth investigation and interviewing of some victims.

The outing of Weinstein is not only loosening the tongues of his victims, it is pushing other women around the world to talk out about the routine sexual harassment they face, particularly in show business. A former member of popular American band the Pussycat Dolls has claimed in a series of tweets that the girl group operated as a ‘prostitution ring’, with the members forced into sex with entertainment executives. “’To be a part of the team you must be a team player. Meaning sleep with whoever they say. If you don’t they have nothing on you to leverage,’ tweeted Kaya Jones who spent two years as a band member.

It’s bad enough to be sexually exploited but far worse to face denial and vilification when you try and report or talk about the offense committed. Instead of receiving help and sympathy the victim is often hounded and disparaged as Kaya Jones found out. In India Sheena Dabholkar, a Pune-based writer and blogger, started a thread on Twitter highlighting the harassment she experienced at popular bar and hangout spot High Spirits, as well as the response she got for calling it out.

Sheena’s tweets elicited social media testimony from many other women who had experienced the same disgusting behavior from the bar’s owner, Khodu Irani, who has been accused of groping, sending lewd messages, fat-shaming and harassing multiple patrons/employees of his cafe.

Sexual exploitation is not just an occupational hazard of show business and entertainment however. It abounds at universities too. John Rapley, who worked at University of the West Indies for many years, wrote an interesting blogpost titled ‘The Weinstein Syndrome’. Said Rapley:

“I once worked in an environment where this sort of thing was rife – a university, where most of the students were women and most of the teachers, men. The students were in the full flower of youth and the teachers, well, were not. But they had something more potent. The authority and aura that go with scholarship sometimes suffice to bring young students tumbling into a lecturer’s lap; but for those who lack charisma or charm, there is plain power. They determined grades, they assigned scholarships, they controlled promotions. And enough of them were ready to use that power to impose themselves on reluctant young women that it became what Weinstein called ‘the culture.’”

There is no institution that is immune from the abuse of power. Earlier this year the founders of the Tambourine Army and others found themselves the subject of hostile media attention after outing members of the Moravian Church for preying on underage girls. It is astonishing that outrage is reserved for those who find the courage to name and shame rather than the perverts who commit the crime of sexual exploitation.

“‘Humankind cannot bear very much reality,’ declared T. S. Eliot. But bear it we must, and stand alongside those for whom reality is too often a punch in the gut. I looked at my many sisters and friends declaring “me too” on their Facebook walls (knowing that for every “me too” said aloud, there are thousands-upon-thousands whispered or left unsaid) and I am floored. It shouldn’t be a surprise—and in many ways it isn’t—but to see the avalanche of evidence rushing down… Reality does feel like too much.”

If only more people thought like Garnette Cadogan, quoted above, one of the few men to respond compassionately to the #MeToo confessions. There is simply no excuse for demanding that women (or men) remain silent in the face of systematic sexual depredation.

The Chris Gayle Ambush, #Racesplaining and other Sticky Wickets

Some thoughts on the Chris Gayle-McLaughlin Affair, #Racesplaining, Sledging and sexual harrassment.

 

Mise-en-scène

By now most of us have seen the video clip of benighted cricketing superstar Chris Gayle–who happens to be Jamaican–flirting with Aussie journalist Mel McClaughlin as she attempts to interview him during a match down under.

Chris-Gayle-of-West-Indies-acknowledges-the-crowd-21

Former West Indies’ Test captain Gayle had just hit 41 runs from 15 deliveries during the Melbourne Renegades’ Big Bash League win over the Hobart Hurricanes.

The clip that’s gone viral (top of the post) is edited down to make it look as if Gayle had refused to answer the reporter’s question about his ‘smashing innings’, deflecting it by ‘lyric-sing’ her, saying HE had wanted to interview McLaughlin as well, for a chance to look into her beautiful eyes, oh and by the way how about a drink to celebrate after the match? When her cheeks turned red at the unexpected pass, Gayle compounded his faux pas by saying “Don’t blush baby”.

I thought from viewing the clip that Gayle had countered the reporter’s question with his flirtatious comments, refusing to stick to the subject of the game or even answer questions about it. But why did it start so abruptly I kept wondering. Why did her question seem truncated? Was it possible to view the interview (such as it is) in its entirety? Shouldn’t we examine what was said immediately before and after the edited clip before deciding Gayle’s behaviour is/was beyond the pale?

It didn’t take me long to find a clip with the entire interview on it (see video immediately above) and when you look at it you find that McLaughlin had already asked a couple of questions about the game, received appropriate answers from Gayle, and that it was towards the tail end of the brief q and a that Gayle slipped in his less than stellar advance to the reporter.

Somehow this casts a different light on the whole matter for me. Gayle’s comments were clearly inappropriate and deserve criticism but the kind of vituperative condemnation and hate that’s been directed at him and the amount of outrage the matter has generated seems like overkill. Retribution has been swift and vociferous and quite disproportionate to the gravamen of the offence.

Selective outrage?

Former Australian captain Ian Chappell seemed particularly incensed, calling for “a zero-tolerance message” to be sent immediately. Here’s what he told the Guardian:

“I wouldn’t have a problem if Cricket Australia said to the clubs, ‘he’s never to be contracted again in this country’,” Chappell said in Sydney, where he participated in an Optus SMB Cricket Legends event alongside Tom Moody.

“And I also wouldn’t have a problem if Cricket Australia said to the ICC, ‘what we’re doing should be worldwide’.”

Really? Well blow me down under! Is this the same skipper who, with his brother, presided over the blatant racism of Aussie cricket in the 70s with its notorious ‘sledging’ or what has been called “the dark art of verbal abuse in sport”? Where was his no tolerance policy then?

 

 

Actually mate? Your track record doesn’t warrant the high horse you’ve chosen to ride against Gayle. Read the following description of Aussie cricketing tactics and marvel at the absurdity of sleaze warriors such as Chappell and company turning into moral scolds on the subject of Chris Gayle’s lame pass at Mel McLaughlin.

Sledging has been widespread in cricket since the early 1960s when the Aussies first coined the term. In my view sledging is an entirely legitimate part of the game. When Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga called for a runner during a one-day international against Australia, wicketkeeper Ian Healey quipped: ‘You don’t get a runner for being an overweight, unfit, fat cunt.’ Sexual slurs about a player’s wife are favoured weapons in the sledger’s armoury. ‘How’s your wife and my kids?’ Rod Marsh famously asked Ian Botham.

If sport is ‘war minus the shooting’, as George Orwell once described it, then sledging is the sporting equivalent of ‘psy-ops’. The objective is to force your opponent to crack under pressure – ‘mental disintegration’ as former Aussie captain Steve Waugh’s memorably described it.

Of course sledging can be turned into a fine art as well:

Then there is this episode from English county cricket that is regularly cited as the best of all time. Greg Thomas had been bowling at West Indian batsman Viv Richards, who kept playing and missing. Said Thomas: “It’s red, it’s round, it weighs about five ounces and you are supposed to hit it.” Viv Richards promptly hit the next delivery back over Thomas’ head for six, saying: “You know what it looks like man, now go and fetch it!”

Malcolm Knox #racesplains situation to Gayle

But let’s leave sledging where it belongs for now. One of the most egregious critiques of Gayle’s behaviour appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, lobbed by sports columnist Malcolm Knox. With the casual racism of the clueless, Knox, author of a novel titled Jamaica (!), attempts  to ‘racesplain’  the intricacies of intersectionality to Gayle in atrociously articulated Jamaican Patwa:

 I didn’t take offence when you were charming ole sparkly eyes, because me didn’t have the foggiest idea what was comin’ out you mouth. Is you even speaking English? Me rasta brethren too – me spend seven days and six nights on a Qantas Holiday at Negril one time – so me jive talk better than any white man, cha! But the Universe Boss go too fast even for the I. So no offence taken!

And your newspaper columns, too. They don’t make no sense. All that in-joke gibber between you and KP, all that fun about you being the best batsmen in the world, cha, me didn’t take no bombocloth offence to that neither. But see, I’m different from your average Australian. Me understand cultural differences. Unlike dem Australians wit their BS about PC, me know where you comin’ from, brethren. Me know you got a good lovin’ heart like all we Jamaican brethren. And Mel whatshername, she’ll come around, just you wait. Any woman be flattered to be asked out for a drink by you, boss. Just wait till she understand cultural differences. I’d go weak at the knees if you noticed my sparkly eyes, Chris. Some would call them penetrating.

Finally he lumbers to the point:

 Well, boss, if you’ve taken any offence, I’m sure I’m sorry, but can’t you take a joke? What? People like you have been used as free labour and second-class citizens and downtrodden just because of an accident of birth? And you don’t like being judged as a piece of meat, some kind of mere physical specimen? You don’t like me suggesting you is uneducated? You don’t like me pretending I understand where you comin’ from when I clearly have not the slightest idea?? Me thought me flattering you, Chris. Hey mon, me only jokin’ wit you.

I’m not sure what prompted  sometime back to plaintively tweet “Is “racesplaining” a thing? If it’s not, I think it should be.”  but yes it is baby, it definitely is, check out Malcolm Knox’s column if you don’t believe me.

I wish i could recommend Knox’s novel Jamaica (in which the country appears as backdrop to the antics of a group of white tourists) but with writing like this I might be opening myself up to a lawsuit:

He finger-combed his awning of orange hair–bloom of rust, the colour of heartbreak adolescence. Outside, the day was being dragged out of the dark, its rosy claws scratching the eastern blue;.

Let’s also leave Knox where he belongs. Peter Mattessi @pmattessi it was who got it right: Still can’t get over that Malcolm Knox piece. The written  equivalent of wearing blackface and dancing while singing Island In The Sun.

On the vexed subject of Chris Gayle and his amb(l)ush tactics I agree with Dale Hughes whose article Chris Gayle and our addiction to public shaming summed up the problem neatly:

We are living in the age of the social media lynch mob, where crime and punishment is dictated via the emotions of the masses. A cricketer makes a clumsy advance on a reporter and then we are subject to an entire week’s worth of analysis. The dirt file will be dug on Gayle’s past exploits, and no doubt other exaggerated claims of inappropriate comments and behaviour will be offered in a fine cornucopia of disgust to feed the insatiable appetites of the Twitter brigade.

The public reaction around these sorts of events is not healthy. It is, to quote from Gayle himself, blown out of proportion. Accepting that the comments were misplaced and apologising is not enough. He has to be dragged through the mud, fined, sanctioned, and sacked from contributing columns in the media. He is the modern day equivalent to the witch of Salem, forced to publicly repent his sins to satisfy the public’s thirst for blood.

Sexual harassment

The problem for us in the Caribbean is not Chris Gayle and his outlook per se. It’s the casual sexism of Caribbean masculinity in general that really needs taking in hand. The reaction back home has been mixed, with female journalists and other women condemning Gayle’s flirtatious comments on the grounds that it disregarded and disrespected norms of professionalism that should have protected McLaughlin from unsolicited male advances. There is merit in this view of the matter.

On the eve of the enactment of a sexual harrassment bill in Jamaica an alarmingly high number of men here, journalists, men on the street, university lecturers and others, have chosen to ignore this view completely and insist on discussing the matter as if men have the right to flirt with women they’re attracted to whenever the urge takes them. This is problematic.

These are the same men who–were the gender dynamics shuffled so that Gayle, favouring the first three letters in his name, was a gay sportsman propositioning a male reporter–would be so outraged as to want to lynch him, leave alone sue him for sexual harrassment. Yet they feel that a woman placed in such a position should simply take it in stride by bantering back becomingly. No harm done baby! That’s not sexual harrassment, that’s a man paying you a compliment. Just lie down and take it nuh?

The following quotes from Orville Higgins’ column in one of the Jamaican papers capture opinions typical of the masculinist views I’m talking about:

Now we are hearing perfectly learned people saying that this could be classified as sexual harassment. The Gleaner carried a front-page story in which Bert Samuels, a prominent lawyer, postulated that Gayle could be accused of such if the recently tabled sexual harassment bill is passed in its present form. Really?! If complimenting a woman’s eyes and inviting her out on a one-off occasion is considered deviant sexual behaviour, much less sexual harassment, I would have been guilty of sexual harassment in the past! Several times, in fact.

No man who is pursuing a woman knows what answer he may get when he invites her out for a date. If she says no and he persists, that’s a completely different argument. But how can a first-time compliment and an invitation to a drink be seen as harassment of any kind, never mind sexual? Why do we assume, automatically, that a drink invitation and a compliment is a prelude to sex? If the law is prepared to find a find a man guilty of sexually harassing a woman for complimenting her and inviting her out the first time he does it, the law is really an ass!

Since this issue has come up, many people are juxtaposing this case with tennis player Maria Sharapova openly flirting with a male reporter at the 2014 Australian Open. She was gushing about his self-esteem, telling him how she liked his form, clearly insinuating that she was admiring him. We didn’t hear anything untoward then.

This is a double standard. One rule for women; one rule for men. Gayle has been accused of being too carefree with his bat in the past. He will now know that he also has to be less impulsive with his mouth.”

Sportscaster and talk-show host Orville Higgins contrasts Gayle’s waylaying of a female reporter with Sharapova’s ‘open flirtation’ with a male reporter on an earlier occasion arguing that the lack of censure directed at Sharapova demonstrates a double standard. Is Higgins blind to the power relations involved in the two situations that mitigate against any such simple equivalence?

If individual columnists and commentators disappoint with their half-baked responses, the Jamaica Gleaner’s editorial on the subject was pithy, on point and worth closing with :

Gayle failed to appreciate that a cricket ground is part of a sport reporter’s work environment and that civil and professional courtesy and protocol should be adhered to in such circumstances. This chauvinism, and worse, is not unfamiliar in many workplaces in Jamaica, and can give rise to advances that are unwelcome and uncomfortable.

And that is why we endorse the move to enact legislation in Jamaica to protect both men and women from sexual harassment. Already, critics inside and outside Parliament are bristling at any attempt to stifle what they believe is a subcultural norm – and that a little sweet talk is harmless.

But any allowance for primitive catcalling may eventually spiral into a toxic and asphyxiating environment for workers who perceive that resistance could trigger victimisation, whether by co-workers or bosses, threatening the opportunity for promotion or leading to job separation. Jamaica should no longer tolerate a free-for-all feel-for-all.

Attempts to trivialise workplace-harassment concerns as alarmist should be deplored. After all, would the homophobes be as assertive of the right of gays to solicit their affections on the job?”

PS: I’m grateful to Ben Etherington for arousing my interest in doing this post on cricket, a subject i rarely address 🙂 He linked me to some of the material I used such as the video on racism in the 70s and the priceless Knox article.