Stood down: Kurtley Beale faces an independent ARU inquiry into messages he sent about Di Patston in June. Photo: Cameron Spencer
It can't be easy for a woman working in male dominated Australian sporting institutions. Sports involving balls and men in this country seem to be particularly dogged by the kind of sexist incidents that are regularly found in arenas where toxic masculinity prospers.
In recent weeks, the Australian Rugby Union has been dealing with its own embarrassing player behaviour. A fortnight ago, it was reported that the Wallabies star player, Kurtley Beale, had been involved in a mid-air 'incident' with the Team Business Manager, Di Patston, while en route from South Africa to Brazil. Although not much was revealed at the time, it was clear that the verbal argument was masking more serious issues. Patston returned home two days later, with Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie declining to elaborate on what prompted the argument, only referring to the situation as 'complicated'.
Di Patston in a Wallabies team photo at Manly in June. Photo: Facebook
By now, you may have heard that the 'complicated' situation was actually in reference to a serious incident of sexual harassment that had been perpetrated a few months prior. Back in June. Beale sent a group text message to his teammates depicting the images of two naked obese women with the accompanying words, "Would you hit it?" and "Di - who wants a go fucking this?" It seems clear that although the images were not of Patston, they were intended to be representative of her.
So you can imagine how hurtful and degrading it must have been for Patston when she was accidentally copied in on the texts and given an insight into how her colleagues spoke about her. Leave aside for a moment the utterly inappropriate and offensive nature of sending sexualised images designed to denigrate women (and fat women specifically) to your professional colleagues - that Beale considered this a humourous way to talk about a core member of the Wallabies team is horrendous.
After receiving the initial images, Patson replied and the following exchange occurred:
Patston 1.08pm: I am sitting here in the team room doing my job and I can't stop crying. What did I do to you? You have barely known me a day. I can't stop crying I am so humiliated by this. Don't you think my job is hard enough without this? This is how the only female staff member is treated? I am so embarrassed by this I am leaving for my room I can't stop crying thanks a lot.
Beale 1.12pm: I was layin on my bed I didn't send it to anyone I sent it to myself. Youve done nothing wrong youve been so good to me & your such a lovely lady. We all see how hard you work for us. I just do stupid things for no reason. I was laying here getting ready for lunch & training mucking around. I hate I have done this to you & I am so sorry di.
Patston 1.15pm: Leave me alone please. I've come to my room. The team room is full of players I know you've sent it on to them but I'll never know to who. Just leave me alone this is not ok. Do you realise the situation you've put me in? I have earned this job and I am proud of being a female at this level. If I complain then I make it hard for women in Rugby and it puts the reputation of the entire squad at stake. Do you realise the situation I am? Just leave me alone please. I don't want to hear from you until my distress has settled.
Beale 1.17pm: Ok I feel so bad.
Patston 1.23pm: You may feel bad but if you did not accidentally send them to me how many more would there be? Are you sorry you did it or just sorry you got caught? Think about that.
Beale 1.42pm: I just don't know what to do. I'm so sorry.
Patston's distress at having her femaleness singled out for humiliation purposes is clear, as is the stress apparent at not knowing exactly which of her colleagues have been invited to join a misogynist chorus of laughter at her expense.
Of course, it's unsurprising that some narratives have sought to turn Patston into a troublemaker. Speculation about the relationship shared between Patston and McKenzie has forced the latter to publicly deny rumours of anything less than professional being shared between the two.
Meanwhile, in a column written by Rebecca Wilson, Wilson referred to Beale as "troubled, but brilliant" while calling the circumstances of Patston's employment into question and claiming she was 'deeply unpopular with team members'.
Wilson closed her column by saying that if Beale was lost to rugby, shame should fall on "Bull Pulver, Ewen McKenzie and, above all, Di Patston". According to Wilson, they should all know better.
But better than what? Better than to appropriately discipline workplace and sexual harassment when they not only see it, but are also the target of it? Better than to continue dismissing the misogynist behaviour of highly paid sporting figures who are given long leashes to misbehave because this is 'Straya mate, and we love our footy here?
Let's be clear on this: Patston has absolutely nothing to apologise for, and she certainly shouldn't be made to feel like Beale's fall into disrepute is her fault. We have words for those things. They're called victim blaming and rape culture. And women's integrity is still routinely undermined and mocked by both.
Patston's not the first woman to be targeted by the overwhelmingly male codes that surround her, and she certainly won't be the last. But while the ARU has announced that Beale's actions will be investigated, what is especially distressing is news that Patston has since resigned due to stress.
The Wallabies have now potentially lost not only an excellent employee, but someone who goes a small way towards bringing gender diversity into an arena that is in desperate need of defragging from the obnoxious retro-sexism and misogyny that proliferates therein.