The Big Deal in a Small Incident –
Examining the real issues in Chris Gayle’s comments to reporter Mel McLaughlin
Published in the Trinidad Express
Monday January 11, 2015
By now, most of us are aware of the recent controversy surrounding Chris Gayle’s comments to reporter Mel McLaughlin as she attempted to conduct a sports interview with him. On this side of the world, many of us have our opinions on the matter and it tends to center around the perspective that ‘it’s no big deal’. This really should not surprise us. The divide between developed and developing nations always seem to be highlighted when issues such as these surface, and sadly many Caribbean nationals seem to hold this ‘no big deal’ view.
But behold! Like an iceberg, there are enormous underlying issues hidden under this seemingly small incident. In order to understand these expansive issues, we are required to think critically and at depths that seem to evade the vast majority of our people – and I blame our poorly-constructed education system with our emergent degree mills that churn out individuals who memorize and regurgitate information, and are only able to offer shallow, non-progressive and narrow-thinking comments to issues such as these.
Some of us have been able to see that Chris’s comments were unprofessional, given the context within which his comments were made. But we need to examine more widely and we need to go deeper. Firstly, his comments were of a “hitting” nature…on live TV… in the middle of her doing her job. No rational-thinking, intelligent and drug-free man, who is serious about his interest in a woman, would approach her on live TV while she is working. Such an action is not only unprofessional, but it also shows complete disregard for the discomfort such comments would have caused. So why would a man act with such disregard? It really all boils down to Caribbean male machoism, perceived female sexual currency and a bit of arrogance. After all, he is a popular athlete – a fact that may lead to him believe that he can make a pass at any female, coupled with a society that seldom takes women seriously.
What we need to be cognizant of, is that this incident is representative of the struggles that almost all professional women face, especially those in male-dominated fields. The struggle to be respected as a professional with expertise, rather than a piece of meat, is a real one for thousands of women. As a society, we have created an almost microscopic, oppressive prison-box within which we demand women exist. We see evidence of this often in our casual conversations – when a woman is assertive, focused and driven in the boardroom, we call her a bitch, yet a man with similar traits is labelled confident and assertive. When a good-looking woman lands a great job, we often trivialize her accomplishment as the recruiters seeing ‘a pretty face’, or we may wonder who she slept with to get that job. We undermine her intelligence with comments that subtly assumes the notion that physical beauty and intelligence are polarized opposites and as this incident showed, we force women to constantly struggle to be respected and taken seriously in the professional world. Decades after we removed the physical barriers and allowed women to enter the world of work, we have not yet removed the invisible constructs that she faces when she gets there.
Coming off the recent issue of Shannon Gomes being denied entry under the advertised female price at a nightclub because she was not “portraying herself as female” (aka dressing for male sexual consumption), the Chris Gayle’s case shows that women that do dress “female” as Mel did, are then treated unprofessionally, not taken seriously and subjected to sexual harassment and sexism. In one case it’s a matter of “if you dress like man, take price like man”, in the other case “it’s not a big deal…so just get over it”. Taken collectively, the message to our women is that they need to stay in their prescribed boxes and everything will be just fine. The intelligent person can connect these seemingly disparate dots to manifest the collective oppression and misogynistic culture we have created.
Chris’ so-called apology sadly showed that he too couldn’t comprehend what the big deal was all about. Perhaps, we cannot blame him when we have created and continue to perpetuate a culture that teaches men that women are something to ‘get’. It is quite concerning that our wider society also do not comprehend the bigger issues inherent in this incident, but it is absolutely frightening that some of our degree mill graduates cannot see why this is a critical issue that needs to be discussed and not swept away. Our education system clearly needs revamping – and that’s part of the issue as well. So while the cricket authorities debate over reprimanding Chris for his comments, we need to begin holistically educating our people. Our region is in dire need of a conversation on what masculinity really entails, in the absence of oppressing and objectifying women. We cannot progress as a nation, if we continue to oppress and disregard half of our population because of their genitals. We cannot progress by moving our left leg only. The right leg must also move simultaneously and in synchronicity if real progress is to be achieved. We need to start respecting women, because believe it or not, women are people too.
Authored by AFETT Member D. Thomas, a member of the Research & Public Advocacy Committee. Ms. Thomas is a business consultant and strategist, managing director, social entrepreneur, artist and writer.