Apparently it was newsworthy enough for there to be a discussion on this morning’s Today programme on Radio 4 around Andy Murray’s decision to hire a female coach. At first, I didn’t really understand why it was a story at all, until it was explained that this was the first time a male player had hired a female coach. Listeners were told that this was a bad move because women’s tennis is a totally different game to men’s tennis. Not only that, but she wouldn’t be allowed in the changing rooms to give him a pep talk which, apparently, is the most important moment between a player and a coach.
Just as I was beginning to drift off and think about what I had to do for the day, one of the commentators caught my attention by revealing that it was, of course, perfectly acceptable for women to be coached by men. What? Had I heard that correctly? Apparently, I had. I thought they played ‘different’ games…?
What made this even more shocking to me, was that this double-standard was not picked up by the presenter, as if it was obvious that women had something to learn from men, but not the other way around.
For many decades the Church of England has lived with all kinds of criticisms about the way it views women – often facing very tough criticism on the Today programme, with the underlying suggestion that the Church is out of touch because of its institutional sexism. Campaigners within and outside of the Church have been asking how the Church can uphold ancient practises from cultures where women were viewed very differently to the way they are now. Quite rightly. And because it is (eventually) beginning to listen to the prophetic truth of those complaints, it is changing for the better. Too slowly, admittedly, and not without enormous pain and damage having been caused; but it is changing.
It is worth noting that whilst the Church is striving to make radical changes to its structures (all of the dioceses that make up the Church of England are in favour of women as Bishops), other, much larger and culturally-dominating industries that shape our common social thinking, are continuing to treat women as the weaker, less-interesting, but prettier sex. Often when asked about women’s sport, people still seem to be able to say: women just aren’t as good as men.
That was certainly the underlying narrative of this morning’s interview. And that in a sport that is positively egalitarian by the standards of other sports.
A top-earning male footballer in the Premiership, for example, can be paid £250,000 per week, and the average in that league is £25,000 per week. (BBC) Compare that to the newly-formed Women’s Super League, in which the very best players are lucky to receive £20,000 per year. I can’t imagine any other industry getting away with such a gender-based inequality without a well-deserved public outcry.
Of course, it is not only sport that teaches us who we are, and moulds expectations.
Around 200m cinema tickets are sold each year in the UK. Yet, of all of those films that watched in 2013, women only had around 15% of the leading roles.
In business, women hold fewer than 1 in 5 senior management roles – and that isn’t improving.
In politics in the UK, only 22% of the MPs elected in the 2010 elections were women.
According to a recent THE article, only 1 in 5 University Professors are women, and in some institutions that is 1 in 10.
The message comes through time and again: women just aren’t very good at doing stuff, and they’re quite dull. They’re terribly good at making babies, though. They can do that very well. Except for the ones who can’t; we don’t really know what they are for. Unless they’re pretty; we know what they are for.
I am so bored of living in *that* world. I’m sick of it. I’m fed up of people, mainly men, saying that women just need to prove themselves in the arenas of sport, business, media, religion, politics, higher education, but then not giving them access. Cultural institutions that refuse to develop in such a way not only impoverish themselves and our world, but demonstrate how they are being used to serve those who currently control them. Fundamental changes need to be made to our institutions so that the hopes of the young need not turn to sarcastic smiles that condescend: “You’ll learn.”
Whilst I will nag them to change, I’m not going to hold my breath while they weigh up the cost. I think it’s down to those who see the world differently, to live in the world that they see; in this case, accepting that gender is important but does not limit who a person can seek to become. In doing so, the stiff-necked institutions get the opportunity to see how ridiculous they are being, and change. This is why I think Jesus so often taught in parables; the new creation and life Jesus spoke of would not be ushered in through a political scheme or new set of religious laws. Rather, these stories invited people to imagine a new world, to take into their hearts a time when the category of ‘other’ and ‘them’ was obliterated, and there was only ‘us’. And as they imagined it, to begin to follow and make that world, whatever the cost, so that all could know that God delights in their existence, and desires the mutual flourishing of all.
And that is a world apart from the one where it is newsworthy for a man to choose to learn from a woman.