Sunday, 6 October 2013

Stone: Levels of Sexism?

As you can probably tell, based on previous posts (especially that one last weekend), I'm not someone who enjoys being patronised. People treating me poorly because of what's between my legs (and maybe those two things on my upper body) drives me up the wall. It's not just a selfish thing, I hope- I can rage and stomp and scream just from reading an absurd statement that denigrates all of us in possession of female minds or bodies (like the one this week by a Saudi cleric stating that women cause damage to themselves and their ovaries- clearly the most important body part- by driving and giving themselves a modicum of independence). As I wrote last week, it's even worse when this is happening closer to home- "Now we have to listen to the ladies." At an academic conference with a large number of female presenters. Worse: "we know women were only important for their dowries and their weaving skills." I'll let that settle for a moment.

Yet, sometimes, someone behaves in a way that's sexist and it doesn't irritate me. I don't know if this makes me a bad feminist, a traitor to the cause, or just two-faced. But I had an incident of this kind a couple of months ago that I have been meaning to share but I couldn't think of the right occasion or link to my professional life. You see, I love cricket. If you know me offline, (or even follow me on Twitter) then you've probably clocked this. And one of the highest echelons of cricket is to join the ranks of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) who control the rules and dictate the spirit of the game. Those ranks are mostly male, mostly over 50, and mostly rather conservative. I was proposed as a member by a lovely family friend, who knew I would love to be involved in the organisation that lies at the heart of the game I love. Another kind family friend agreed to sponsor my application. What happened next was the interview.

I dolled up in a dress of my mother's that was too big for me yet suitably sensible and classic. I entered the hallowed soil that is Lord's cricket ground in London, chattered to the receptionist, eyed up the small museum. Then the interviewer arrived- an older gentleman in his sixties, I'd guess. His opening shot "Ah, you must be the archaeologist, I can tell by your figure." I can't decide if he would have made the same remark to a male- I reckon he probably would. Either way, it didn't send me into the stratosphere. "Come upstairs with me," he said, before turning to a handsome young man obviously waiting to be interviewed as well. "I bet you wish you could say that to her." Definitely not something to say about a bloke, although I'm sure it was intended as a compliment. I kept "charming smile number 1" fixed on my face and mentally raised my eyebrows and allowed the steam to begin seeping from my ears.

We went through the Long Room (google it if you don't know- one of the most famous spaces in any sporting venue in the world) where I gazed longingly at the pitch and even more longingly up the stairs to the changing rooms, although I knew they were empty of the tall, gorgeous fast bowlers my husband is jealous of. We went in and we sat down. He had held open every door. He pulled out the chair for me and stood until I was seated. He poured me water. And the conversation began.

It started with a question about whether I played cricket, as "the gels" were doing so very well these days. I don't- my record is getting all 3 of an ex's brothers (and him) out in two overs in a fiery garden game. We went on to whether my husband played, and whether I made teas- "hard to find enough ladies to help" (disapprovingly). Very quickly we were arguing- about whether or not Nick Compton, an England player at the time, should be dropped. I said not, he said yes. He looked tickled by this point and started to visibly relax, while by now I was letting his earlier remarks go and just enjoying chatting to a fellow fan. We went on to argue about the merits of various players, before turning to rugby. The half hour was over too quickly- the young man was shown through by an anxious receptionist, and was told "he can wait- I want to finish talking to this lovely young lady." The older gentleman signed me onto the waiting list with a flourish and a grin, and showed me out with all the over-politeness of my arrival. When I left, all the sexist indiscretions and relics of a bygone age that had peppered my time there had become funny, rather than rage inducing.

That makes me feel slightly bad, looking back on it. I'm not sure why I chose to let those remarks go, why it was funny rather than infuriating. Why did behaviour not a million miles away from this so upset me at the conference last week? I think I've worked it out. The gentleman who interviewed me at the MCC took time to listen to my opinions, weighed them and decided to respect me and my views, even if his opening lines were inappropriate attempts at charm. The highly respected miscreants of the conference did no such thing, snorting and chatting and sniggering through any female paper and refusing to even pretend to engage with the arguments made within them. Are there levels of sexism? Am I a bad feminist for feeling like this, having double standards? I hope not. Because I will always remember my MCC interview with fondness while I suspect that I will never again think of those individuals whose work I had previously respected with anything but straight up indignant fury.

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