Andy Murray, Virginia Wade and my experience of a small dose of Everyday Sexism

So last night I tweeted this:

In response to this Times front page:

andy murray

It got a fair few retweets, including from Graham Linehan (@Glinner) and Danny Baker (@Prodnose), and my timeline started to get busy. Responses fell into two camps.

First, Pedants (and I mean this affectionately here), who pointed out it isn’t just Virginia Wade who’s been written out of history by The Times:

(Others highlighted the various doubles winners down the years, including Andy’s brother, Jamie.)

Secondly, Mostly Blokes, who reckoned The Times’ headline was fair dinkum. “Duh, it’s obvious they meant men’s tennis. WTF you going on about?” As if it would have killed the headline writer to say 36 years (accurate) instead of 77 (inaccurate).

This second response — which I’m going to file under, ‘If you don’t get why this is wrong, there really must be a lot of things you don’t get’ — put me in mind of a fascinating blog-post by Martin Belam at the end of last week: How my spoof BBC Question Time Twitter account showed me the level of abuse political women face on social media. Martin, who personated various figures from history using the @BBCExtraGhost handle to tweet during BBC1’s Question Time, found it attracted abuse only when he pretended to be tweeting as a woman:

Tweet a male spoof account during BBC Question Time using the #bbcqt hashtag, and I’d get some political joshing in return. Tweet a spoof account featuring a strong political woman like Pankhurst or Astor during BBC Question Time, and I’d get abusive tweets aimed at the gender of the politician.

This casual sexism reveals something. Some of the responsibility I’m going to shift to Twitter’s immediacy and enforced 140-character brevity, which brings out the worst in some people. At its best, this becomes quick-fire, intelligent banter down the pub. At its worst, it descends into knee-jerk, mindlessness at last orders.

For those, like me — I’m talking to the Mostly Blokes here — who barely ever see sexism up-close-and-personal it’s a reminder that it’s still alive and kicking. Suppressed most of the time, yes: the last 50 years has achieved some helpful social norming. But latent: ready, willing and able to be unleashed.

I’m sure The Times didn’t mean to produce an everyday sexist front page. They just didn’t think. And that’s the problem.

But let’s end positively. I was a Silver Jubilee baby, born 3 months before Virginia Wade’s victory. It feels good this morning to know now I’ve now lived through two Great British Wimbledon winners. So let’s hear it for them both…

wade murray

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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24 Comments

  • Was pretty surprised to see the headline to, lax of them.

  • AlanPlatypus 8th Jul '13 - 12:58pm

    The headline is correct for the article which repeatedly mentions the men’s single final. That’s it, it explicitly mentions the mens, singles part of the game only of which we have not had a champion in 77 years. No female has won it in that time nor has any group of doubles. I’d totally agree with you if it didn’t include that explicit distinction but it’s pretty clear. It looks to me like you read the headline and decided to take offence without reading the rest of the article. This is not everyday sexism this is everyday lack of reading comprehension.

  • Erm, Jonathan Marray, anyone? 2012.

  • Tola Onanuga 8th Jul '13 - 1:59pm

    Makes no difference what the article says if the headline is factually incorrect or misleading. By your logic, anything can be written in a headline as long as it’s clarified or corrected later in the article. Lawsuits have been fought and won over factually incorrect and misleading headlines, regardless of the article itself. A front page headline potentially sells the paper to readers, so it’s important to get it spot on first time around. The prominence of a claim can often sway a judge’s mind. The need to be concise does not override the need to be correct, ethical and unprejudiced. I’m a subeditor who has written hundreds of headlines for national newspapers and I learned that on day one.

  • Excellent piece, shows how ‘headlines’ are produced, as truth is also manufactured. The headline is ALSO part of the news report (in fact it comes boldest and first). One should be tireless and persistent in pointing our daily, sexism (and other discriminatory ideologies) , and this work can be boring because there is no end in repetitive sexist gestures! So its nice that someones is given to this job. Great work!

  • It’s an example of a fairly common mismatch between an article and its heading. The original article is fine – blame the sub-editor for the thoughtless heading, not the correspondent.

  • Of course, the fact that MOST people will only read the headline… Mary is right, though, it’s the sub’s fault.

  • well, it is 77 years since a British man won the men’s singles, surely that is obvious? how is it sexism? it’s quite obvious that the article is about the men’s singles final.

  • If it were a less obvious, more obscure event, then we might blame headline writers for not emphasising “men’s singles”, but frankly, anybody who has allowed themselves not to know the outline of this story would be misled by any headline, or any story. Not sexist, everyday, or not everyday, and Stephen has (again) picked up on a subject because it is topical. Sorry.

  • This isn’t the real sexism story. That is Cameron calling for a Knighthood for Murray whilst Wade, who won 3 singles at Grand Slams and 4 doubles has an OBE…..

    No votes in making her a Dame I suppose ?

  • Oh for goodness sake, can we please stop this pathetic obsession with hyper-sensitive, manufactured offence-taking on Twitter.

    We all know what the 77 year wait was for and if you didn’t you shouldn’t have and probably weren’t been watching or reading about the event in question.

    Sigh.

  • The headline also doesn’t specify what sport it is, a fact which is somewhat less obvious than the fact that Andy Murray is a man. Is it offensive to every Brit that has won anything in the last 77 years, or is it obvious from the context what the headline means? It certainly is to all sports fans. The problem comes when people who only read sport once a year – in the first or second week of July usually, read things without understanding the context. If a headline must contain the full facts of the article, then we must get rid of headlines full stop.

  • Jonathan Marray, a Brit, was one-half of the men’s doubles team who won Wimbledon last year, so the headline should be… “Murray ends no wait at all for British champion”. Yes, that would have truly captured the national feeling.

  • Simon Banks 9th Jul '13 - 11:19am

    I think the headline is defensible. It was a 77 year wait for a men’s senior Wimbledon singles tennis champion. This is a separate title from the women’s title Virginia Wade won. It was not a 77 year wait for a women’s adult singles tennis Wimbledon champion, a doubles champion, a junior male champion or for that matter a Speedway champion. When Manchester City won the Premiership football title, I seem to remember some headlines said something about ending a forty year wait or thereabouts. If our next female Prime Minister takes office in 2029, some headline might refer to a fifty year (or 39 year) wait. If Laura Robson wins the women’s title in 2017, a headline may quite correctly refer to a forty year wait.

    What is definitely wrong is to say that Murray ended a 77 year wait for a British Wimbledon champion, given Virginia Wade’s triumph in 1977 and indeed the other Murray’s doubles triumph much more recently. Yesterday I corrected a female (Scottish) poster on a website on that point: to be honest, I forgot the doubles and she responded accepting she’d misspoken and reminding me of the doubles win.

  • The Men’s singles game will always be considered more important than the Women’s until such time as a woman can play her male counterpart and win. This is true in pretty much all sports; we don’t just care care less about Women’s football because of the sexism (although that plays a part) but also because the best Women’s team in the world would get comprehensively thrashed by any of the top Male teams.

    In any case, these seems rather a storm in a teacup over a headline for an article that makes what it is talking about clear. It’s not like we normally expect headlines to be totally explicit about all this stuff – headlines, by their very nature, will always omit certain details.

  • AlanPlatypus 9th Jul '13 - 1:02pm

    I suspect the ‘Murray for Knighthood’ call by Cameron is more a dig at Alex Salmond. If such a thing was to happen and Murray accepted then the most famous Scottish sportsperson would effectively have aligned them self with the pro-Union camp.

  • http://www.wtatennis.com/news/article/3231982/title/wta-odds-n-ends-masterful-marion

    “Laura Robson jumped 11 spots to No.27 in making her Top 30 debut. She is the highest-ranked Brit since Jo Durie was No.26 in April 1987. ”

    Note that they don’t clarify that she’s the highest ranked FEMALE Brit, but simply state ‘Brit’ because she is in a different event to men who were ranked higher. Exactly the same as The Times front page saying 77 year wait, as it was in the competition they were referencing, rather than any of the others that happen to be part of the same sport.

    If England won football World Cup next year and there was a headline saying that it was the first win in 47 years, would you write a blogpost claiming that The Times was being homophobic on the basis that it was ignoring the Gay Football World Cup, which England won in 2008?

  • The point isn’t really the headline. It’s the meaning attached to the 77 years. That everything has gone between them has been a long, painful wait for British Wimbledon glory. When of course, that isn’t true. The real figure of importance is 41 years, but of course that sounds less impressive, and it’s less exciting for the beeb to play colour footage of Virginia Wade than grainy B&W shots of Fred in his trousers.

  • Jonathan Elmer No – what you should be campaigning for is no more improper statements from Prime Ministers or others saying that X, Y or Z, or whoever, “deserve a knighthood” (or any other honour). That was wholly inappropriate, and I hope Cameron is severely censured for it.

  • Liberal Neil 10th Jul '13 - 12:42pm

    I agree with Luke’s point. The issue is not the detail of the headline, and whether the text of the article is clear, it is that it downgrades the importance of Wade’s win in 1977, which I remember watching excitedly with my Mum. (36 years ago by my maths)

  • By the logic some are using on this thread, the headline is racist, too. After all, it doesn’t mention that the contest is a tennis championship, so it is implicitly ignoring Mo Farah’s Olympic gold medal of last year.

    Yup, that’s a reductio ad absurdum. It works because your logic is flawed, people.

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