Men prefer beautiful champions

Winner Marion Bartoli of France and runner-up Sabine Lisicki of Germany hold their trophies after the women's singles final at Wimbledon on Saturday.

Winner Marion Bartoli of France and runner-up Sabine Lisicki of Germany hold their trophies after the women's singles final at Wimbledon on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Sometimes I think that the day a major women’s sporting event passes without some commentator spouting sexist “humour” will likely also be the day I ride my flying pig to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow in Atlantis.

This weekend just past, Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli took out the Wimbledon women’s title in straight sets, beating Germany’s Sabine Lisicki with a determined performance that marked her as one of tennis’ new stars.

Any one of those aspects of her win would have provided reams of commentary material, but BBC Radio 5’s John Inverdale had other concerns on his mind, asking his fellow commentators “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little 'You’re never going to be a looker. You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?”

Marion Bartoli reacts after she won the women's singles final against Sabine Lisicki.

Marion Bartoli reacts after she won the women's singles final against Sabine Lisicki. Photo: AP

The response was swift and outraged, and soon enough the Beeb had released a statement apologising for Inverdale’s comments. He had himself attempted to undo his gaffe while still on-air, waffling, “We poked fun, in a nice way, about how she looks ... but Marion Bartoli is an incredible role model”.

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At a press briefing, Bartoli told the assembled media, on the topic of Inverdale’s remarks, “I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I'm sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes. And to share this moment with my dad was absolutely amazing and I am so proud of it.”

(Bartoli’s dad, bless, him, reacted with nothing but love for his champion daughter: “The relationship between Marion and me has always been unbelievable so I don’t  know what this reporter is talking about. When she was five years old she was playing like every kid and having fun on the tennis court. She’s my beautiful daughter.”)

That a UK sports commentator in the twilight of his fifth decade has the sexual politics of an issue of Viz should no longer be much of a surprise. However, there was a far more concerning deluge of sexism directed at Bartoli, and one that is likely seen as far less “newsworthy” than a BBC commentator’s sounding off.

Over on Twitter, scores of men - many of them in their 20s or younger - unleashed a tirade of abuse at Bartoli.

If you’re looking for true misogyny in action, these tweets are it; pure and simple. Inverdale’s comments were less misogynistic than they were daft, old-fashioned sexism (and there is a difference, despite what the Macquarie Dictionary would have you believe), but I see little more in the response of the young men of social media than hatred of women (particularly successful ones).

This, to me, is the real news story here: what has happened to make a large portion of this generation of young men so virulently contemptuous of women?

In the case of someone like Inverdale - or Alan Jones, or Rex Reed, or any other old troglodyte with their own microphone or column space - the you can only assume that old habits die hard: they were raised in an era of questionable gender politics, came to the fore in a media model that deified men, had no female role models, and so on. Their comments are the death rattle of a generation grasping desperately at relevance in an age that no longer needs them; offensive, yes, but also arguably worth ignoring. 

But what of these young guys, young men who’ve been raised in an era where more women are visible in positions of power - in politics, the arts, academia, sport - than ever before? Young men whose women and sisters have likely enjoyed the hard-won (if often small) victories of the women’s liberation movement that came before them?

 

These are young men who spend their time sounding off on Twitter, leaving abusive comments on YouTube, browsing “creepshots” on Reddit or, in the case of a drunk young man I sat next to on a plane last week, calling a woman (i.e. me) who is more interested in reading her book than enduring his booze-stinking conversation a “cum-guzzler” and taking an upskirt photo of her.

While I’m willing to accept the fact that the echo-chamber of social media has encouraged a certain amount of consequence-free “commentary” online, Twitter’s position as the toilet wall of our time can’t be the sole reason a young man thinks it’s okay to directly (via Twitter’s @-reply function) tell a woman who has just won a major sporting title, “YOUUU F-CKING C--T C-CKSUCKING UGLY ASS BITCH ! DROP DEAD WHORE”.

I wish I had an answer, but I am inclined to think that John Inverdale’s comment, however dunderheaded and sexist it was, is the news story that will be wrapping tomorrow’s fish and chips. It’s the Twitter comments - and everything they stand for - that are the ones we should be really concerned about. 

313 comments

  • Looks like sport brings out the worst in us males. The primordial instinct, the neanderthal within us. I say us, although personally I'm not into any spectator sport

    Commenter
    Lexcendrakis
    Date and time
    July 08, 2013, 7:43AM
    • What a load of nonsense you post is and the article itself.
      The truth is that men generally dont watch womens tennis and couldnt care less what they look like.
      One of the reasons they dont watch is the constant shrieking which means you have to watch with the volume off, so why bother.
      Having lived in the UK for several years, I can confirm that John Inverdale is a controversial dinosaur and an idiot.
      Google "john inverdale sexist remarks" and see what comes up.
      Taking a single comment by such a person and deriving an essay on the whole of the male sport-watching community is as much an insult as his stupid comment.

      Commenter
      Big Noddy
      Location
      Glebe
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 10:32AM
    • Big Noddy, I suggest you click on the link to the Twitter comments. There are plenty more 'men' commenting on this woman's physical appearance, and they're young enough to be that old dinasour's sons.

      Commenter
      Jace
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 11:17AM
    • If you're look for a questionable era of gender politics, look no further than the present - Feminism seems to have been derailed somewhere along the line - If I recall, I think it took it's first step backwards when the Spice Girls became a world-wide phenomenom, preaching their new corporate brand of 'Girl-Power' feminism which matched dressing and behaving as a sexual object as proud feminist traits.

      The feminist movement has lost its way and now women's empowerment slogans are used to sell beauty creams....very sad.

      Commenter
      tim bob
      Location
      'bra
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 11:22AM
    • Ah Big Noddy thank you for your enlightenment. The article is a not based alone on the comments of Inverdale but on the Twitter feeds following it. So desperate to defend the indefensible, did you recognise yourself?

      Commenter
      Fidge
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 11:24AM
    • @Big Noddy

      I'll let you speak for "men generally," but as a men individually I do watch women's tennis, though I admittedly prefer the men's game nowadays (there was a time a decade or two back when men rarely got past the serve and women's tennis was definitely more watchable).

      Nor do I think the twitter posts speak for men generally. What proportion of the ca. 150million tweets posted everyday (let's guesstimate that >50mill of these are from male users) do these comments actually represent? Are we talking 50 mill such tweets a day? 25 mill? 10 mill? Or are these numbered only in the ten-thousands or even thousands?

      Ms Bastow wonders "[b]ut what of these young guys, young men who’ve been raised in an era where more women are visible in positions of power - in politics, the arts, academia, sport - than ever before?" Perhaps, not for young men generally, but for a proportion of young (and some not-so-young) men, it's not a question of 'but,' but of 'because?'

      Commenter
      James K
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 11:35AM
    • "Taking a single comment by such a person and deriving an essay on the whole of the male
      sport-watching community is as much an insult as his stupid comment."

      Poor Big Noddy! Raging against the evils of blanket generalizations in this world.
      But wait, what's this I see, Big Noddy?

      "One of the reasons they dont watch is the constant shrieking which means you have to watch with the volume off, so why bother."

      So it's OK for you to generalize the sport-viewing habits of all men based on random guesswork and your cynicism about "shrieking women" (even though the vast majority of female tennis players do not shriek), but not for someone else to offer twitter as actual evidence of a problem?

      Commenter
      Crystal
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 12:04PM
    • @Big Noddy - the article is actually raising concern about the irrationally abusive and misogynistic tweets Bartoli's win attracted, not just one sport reporter's "single comment". As what was also pointed out, the real issue is the abundance of sexist and abusive behaviour towards women that is so pervasive, in mainstream media or simply in our day-to-day lives.

      Commenter
      smiling_politely
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 12:09PM
    • What's the matter, Julia Gillard gone so now we have to go overseas to find comments to be outraged about? Some guy makes a stupid comment, and the competition begins to find who can be the most outraged. Get over it, just say it's a dumb comment, and move on. The vast majority of men respect women, and get sick of being lumped in with a few idiots.

      Commenter
      Tom
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 12:15PM
    • What Big Noddy said,

      "Man", not "men"...

      Commenter
      David
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 08, 2013, 12:17PM

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