Is the ‘banter defence’ really a laughing matter?

31 Jan

Excellent feature in the Observer about the sexism debate that is still rumbling on after the departure of Sky Sports pundits Andy Gray and Richard Keys over insulting comments they made about a female linesman’s ability to do her job.

The article focuses mainly on the difficulty that many women have these days over whether to turn a deaf ear to sexist remarks – treating them as part and parcel of everyday life in the workplace – or to object to them, and risk coming across as a raving feminist with zero sense of humour.

We have seen these opposing views play out in the media over the past week, from Jeremy Clarkson saying that aid that he and his Top Gear colleagues would have been sacked 100 times for all the off-air comments they’d made, to Bruce Forsyth saying it was just ‘banter’ between Keys and Gray and therefore should be laughed off.

And defence of these prehistoric comments didn’t just come from men, either. Julia Keys, wife of Richard, said it was ‘just banter from the boys’ in the studio ahead of going live. However, it was former The Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins who caused the most shock waves by appearing on BBC’s Question Time and saying that women don’t want equal treatment, “couldn’t handle it if they got it”, and instead says women expect special treatment – and the nation as a whole has lost its sense of humour.

I think the key point in all of this is, if we’re meant to find this kind of banter funny, a) why didn’t Gray and Keys sound as though they were making light of it’ and b) why isn’t everyone laughing. There was no levity, and in the aftermath there has certainly been no laughter.

Gray and Keys aren’t the first, and they certainly won’t be the last, to make sexist comments in the workplace. However, I don’t think women should put up with feeling uncomfortable or grubby just for fear that they’ll be called even more unpleasant names for challenging unacceptable comments.

I’m not saying that all banter should be banished, but I believe it can only really be called banter if all parties are complicit and amused.


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