While Andy Murray may have rewritten the enduring British sports narrative of noble failures and humiliating disappointment in the space of three hours last Sunday, some things, it seems, will take longer than 77 years to change.
I think of sexism as generally having three levels. First, there’s the kind of sexism that a small proportion of people may still find amusing or acceptable but the majority loudly abhor. Second, there’s the sexism that most people can see is appalling but, for whatever reason, it is still accepted. Third, there’s the sexism that is still so endemic that it passes by largely unnoticed.
John Inverdale’s dinosaur-like witterings about Marion Bartoli fall under the banner of the first two kinds of sexism. While his comments were indeed appalling, and were inevitably echoed by the usual trollish minority on the web, it is heartening to note how swiftly and wholeheartedly they were condemned by the public and, with one notable exception, the media. This aforementioned exception is what brought his comments under the banner of the second kind of sexism.
To my mind, the most shocking aspect of the Inverdale episode is not that he dribbled such sexist diarrhoea – there will always be idiots out there – but that the BBC still allowed him to commentate on the men’s singles final the next day. Doubtless the BBC would protest that it swiftly offered a one-line apology, but what kind of deterrent is that when Inverdale – who insisted by way of his own characteristically hamfisted apology that he was mocking Bartoli “in a nice way” – was still allowed to commentate on one of the most high-profile sporting events of the year? One need only substitute the sexist nature of his comment with an equivalent racist slur to see how lightly the BBC apparently treats highly public verbal abuse of women.
Yet while Inverdale has attracted the most attention, there was another strong current of sexism that ran throughout the fortnight, one that has become an annual feature of not just Wimbledon – although it is certainly that – but any event in this country that involves high-profile men. Perhaps some day the media will be able to deal with the idea of high-profile men having girlfriends and not treat them as accessories or sad desperate harridans waiting anxiously for their wayward menfolk to marry them – but that day has not yet come.
Rest: Comment is free/ Guardian.