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Why it is fair to criticise Chris Gayle
My first experience in the press box at the Sydney Cricket Ground was in 2010. It was an undoubtedly positive experience, but on reflection, the disparity in gender equality in this particular workplace was stark. There were no more than one or two female journalists in a room of 30, with the various media overflow boxes, and radio and television broadcasting booths at the ground, catering to several dozens more of almost exclusively male journalists and media personalities. It was, overwhelmingly, a literal depiction of what has always been “the gentleman’s game”.
Five summers have since passed, and the gentleman’s game has come a long way. Although gender equality remains an issue – as it does in many workplaces, especially at senior levels – in this time, talented journalists such as Melinda Farrell of ESPN Cricinfo, Neroli Meadows of ABC Radio and Fox Sports, and Mel McLaughlin of Channel 10 (previously Fox Sports), among others, have established themselves as respected voices and personalities in the game. On the field, the Women’s Big Bash League is enjoying unprecedented success with fans, broadcasters and the media alike. Meanwhile, in the stands – qualitatively at least – attendance at cricket matches by female fans is also on the rise.
It is a shame, then, that large sections of the public still hold on to anachronistic views which threaten to undermine the significant progress that has been made.
Jamaican cricketer Chris Gayle’s proposition to Mel McLaughlin during a recent Big Bash match between the Melbourne Renegades and the Hobart Hurricanes, in his now infamous post-innings interview, raises a number of important issues.
The incident neither requires nor merits recounting, however, it is arguable that the response, by both Gayle and the public, was equally concerning.
Gayle’s initial crime lay primarily in his timing. After all, if he had genuinely been interested in asking McLaughlin out for a drink, it would surely have been the best course of action to wait until his interview with her was over. Instead, Gayle showed complete disregard for a woman simply trying to do her job. Revealingly, Gayle remained either wilfully or ignorantly oblivious to McLaughlin’s clear discomfort when she responded to his now viral slogan, “Don’t blush baby”, with a terse “I’m not blushing”; he ploughed ahead.
Meanwhile, Gayle’s motivations remain unclear. On some level, he must have presumed that McLaughlin would be flattered by his advances: if he had anticipated the disinterest and ultimate rejection he received, live national television was hardly the most desirable setting for a man with his indisputably large ego (for those unaware, Gayle refers to himself as the “Universe Boss”). Or, if there was no such presumption, Gayle’s intentions could only have been to raise a few eyebrows, generate a few laughs and earn the respect of his teammates – all at McLaughlin’s expense. It was, if nothing else, a childish display of misplaced bravado that would not have been out of place in a school playground. Unfortunately for Gayle, a workplace, particularly one whose interactions are televised live around the world, is no playground.
His apology the next morning was remarkably pathetic and insincere. That Gayle was fined $10,000 by his club does not excuse the fact that he apologised for what he labelled as a “simple joke” – only if McLaughlin felt any offence or disrespect. By claiming that things had been “blown out of proportion” and apologising only if McLaughlin felt a particular way, rather than showing direct remorse for his actions, Gayle essentially placed the blame on McLaughlin for responding adversely to his advances. It was yet another Gayle masterclass, but rather than his various lessons on hitting sixes or keeping calm under pressure, it was PR1001: shirking responsibility.
The public response to the interview was divided. The most popular counter-argument presented to Gayle’s critics was that if the shoe was on the other foot, and a female athlete flirted with a male journalist, there would be no outrage. Predictably, comparisons were drawn with Maria Sharapova’s flirtatious comments to an Australian journalist during the Australian Open several years ago, and critics of Gayle were unilaterally labelled as hypocrites guilty of employing double standards.
This counter-argument is incredibly flawed. It is critical to note that both as a matter of logic and at law, it is irrelevant to simply “switch” the positions of a man and woman in determining their respective capacity to be offended, insulted or humiliated by a particular course of conduct.
It is almost akin to switching individuals of European and Asian descent in order to determine whether each should be offended by racial slurs against the other’s ethnicity; it is only the individual being targeted with the slur based on his or her ethnicity who would truly comprehend the effect of that particular slur. In the same way, it is difficult for a man to truly comprehend a woman’s response to unwanted advances made towards her, whether in the workplace or otherwise.
Under various pieces of federal discrimination legislation, the most relevant consideration is, generally, whether a reasonable person would anticipate the possibility that the person being harassed could possibly be, in all the circumstances, offended, insulted or humiliated by that conduct. The laws are drafted in this way so that it cannot be argued that any other person, whose circumstances may be entirely different to the target’s, would not be offended by a course of conduct if it were to be directed towards that other person.
There is no suggestion that Gayle’s conduct was illegal.
The crux of the issue is that while an individual may consider advances made towards them flattering, that does not give them the right to determine how anyone else should perceive similar advances, whether or not the target is a man or a woman. After all, telling someone that they should or shouldn’t feel a particular way is the first step on the path to victim-blaming. It’s best not to take that step.