Last week, ahead of their appearance in the World Cup Final, Sky News hosted a “debate” on the English Women’s Football Team. In reaction to the Daily Mirror’s front page, headed “Lioness We Can” (sadly it turned out we could not), Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE told the presenters:
What jumps out at you is that this doesn’t sort of represent diverse Britain, erm it’s all these blonde blue eyed girls …
As no doubt the editors at Sky were hoping, Emmanuel-Jones’ comments prompted unsurprising outrage, sparking a day of discourse on Twitter about diversity versus meritocracy.
Lee Anderson rushed to social media to point out that Great Britain’s Olympic Sprint team are also a relatively homogenous bunch, mostly of Afro-Caribbean heritage. Accusations of racism have been slung back and forth.
What was missing from the whole discussion was any criticism of the surface level, aphorism-driven analysis that both sides engaged with throughout.
In response to Emmanuel-Jones’ divisive comments, the presenter mustered the assertion:
They’re playing sport at an elite level. And they are from Britain. And they’re women.
Throwing her bid into the identity politics Olympics, the presenter concedes that yes, the football team have made the mistake of failing to be ethnically diverse, but they are women, and that must count for something, surely?
Apparently it doesn’t — Emmanuel-Jones hit back:
If the whole idea behind this is to encourage more women to go into the sport you need some sort of representation there to say whatever background you come from you could get to this sort of level.
Here, the farmer-turned entrepreneur reaches for the progressive bingo card: the need to see oneself in all media representations of success. This is why Ofcom publishes a yearly report into diversity and equal opportunity in television. It’s why the BBC has committed £112 million of licence fee money to investment that ensures “diversity is integrated into the way the BBC commissions programmes across all genres, both on and off screen”. It’s why we can no longer stage period dramas without some sort of race blind casting. The belief that children will not pursue certain careers and hobbies without direct representations of those who look like them on screen currently drives almost all Equality, Diversity and Inclusion efforts.
The Women’s World Cup might simply merit excellent entertainment
This logic does jar when it comes to sport though — quite possibly because “the whole idea behind this” (presumably meaning the Women’s World Cup) isn’t really “to encourage more women to go into sport”. It’s very unlikely you’d catch anyone claiming that we go to the trouble of investing millions into men’s football to encourage young men to take up the activity. Yet, his brain presumably fried by woke rhetoric, Emmanuel-Jones cannot fathom that the Women’s World Cup might simply merit excellent entertainment or a mere display of skill. Unlike men, for people like Emmanuel-Jones, women don’t get to pursue careers for their own enjoyment or passion. Women’s football isn’t to entertain, nor is it a celebration of this country. Instead, it must be a feminist parade, designed to inspire little girls that they can be anything or do anything. It is on the shoulders of the Lionesses not just to go out and win the World Cup, but to make sure they’re good inspirational feminists whilst they’re doing so.
Once you accept the deeply sexist worldview, sport ceases to matter beyond its commentary on race, gender and sexuality (the only three lenses through which it seems some people are capable of interpreting the world). Within this very narrow logical framework, it makes complete sense to deride the England managers for making the mistake of picking the women who are the best at football to join the team.
Emmanuel-Jones isn’t the only person guilty of this. Last week a presumably well intentioned student warned Dr Charlotte Proudman that she wasn’t allowed to walk on the grass of King’s College Cambridge. Proudly recounting the incident on Twitter, Proudman reported telling the “white male student” (what his race has to do with the story, I really can’t fathom) that “I belong here, my portrait hangs in the college chapel — not his”.
Proudman has strapped on the goggles of liberal progressivism. What could have been a perfectly normal, if not entertaining interaction, became a reflection of “male entitlement & a deep rooted belief that women like me don’t belong”. In reality, the poor student almost certainly wasn’t aware of the loophole which allows the holders of PhDs from the college to walk on the grass; he was simply trying to help a visitor out.
Cambridge’s student paper, Varsity, published an article in response, in which a student argued, “‘Keep off the Grass’ is not a sexist remark.” Dr Charlotte Proudman responded via her Instagram with the claim: “I don’t think any woman should tell another woman that her experiences of sexism and micro-aggressions by white privileged men are warped or contrary to reality.” In a stunning piece of mental gymnastics, Proudman simultaneously insists that criticism from a man is invalid because he is sexist, and criticism from a woman is also invalid because you shouldn’t ever tell women their experiences (and analysis of those experiences) are anything other than valid. Leaning into my theory that this woman might have adopted a satirical persona, she accused the student of “gaslighting” — the latest overused liberal term. You’d think a barrister who works with victims might know that this word actually has quite a meaningful and important definition for women who have been abused but, no, Proudman’s very happy to add it to her arsenal of comebacks when she faces the slightest criticism.
I can’t help but genuinely feel sorry for people who choose to perceive the world in this way. To look at a picture of a sporting team or to receive advice from a kindly stranger, then instantly perceive an assault on your very existence, must really be an exhausting life to lead.
Complex analysis of questions about society and the best ways to organise it are difficult. Attempts to understand opposing perspectives are hard — they require constant attempts at empathy and understanding. The poisoned rhetoric of social justice is, however, very easy to spew out time and time again. There will always be space for a pundit to complain about an all white period drama, or sporting team, or boardroom. It’s easy for me to dismiss any criticism from men as sexism. Unfortunately, whipped up into this haze, we’ve all lost the ability to think critically.
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