The depressingly predictable reaction to Eilidh Barbour

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Like Eilidh Barbour, everything women in sports journalism are asking for is that we don’t feel so unwelcome in an industry we’ve already fought hard enough for, writes Susanna Sealy

Barbour walked out of an awards dinner on Sunday night

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Barbour and many other attendees at the event expressed their disbelief, disgust and disappointment at having to sit through a speech in 2022 full of “sexist and racist jokes,” as Women in Journalism co-chair Gabriella Bennett put it had to.

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As is now customary, Twitter was the platform of choice for Barbour and many others to express their disgust at having to endure such a spectacle. However, the world of Twitter is a confusing place.

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While many rushed to support Barbour, saying what a positive light she is in a game still steeped in its patriarchal history, there were just as many who stood firmly on their side of the protracted “culture war” and chose to defending the comments allegedly made by the SFWA’s keynote speaker.

Don’t you like what they say? Toughen up. It’s just a joke, so what? Insulted? Then it’s clearly your problem. Grow thicker skin, snowflake!

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Reviewing the more than 1,200 comments Barbour’s tweet received, all who appeared to defend the mindless speaker issued a clear “accept or move on” mantra.

Over the last two centuries it has become quite clear that this “mantra” was the wall that any struggle for equality had to tear down.

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Manchester City celebrate the FA Women’s Continental Tires League in 2022

Anyone still arguing that women have to put up with sexist babble because we’re seeing more men in football must still have 1865 in their calendar – the year before the first women’s suffrage petition was sent to Parliament for those who want a history lesson.

Some of the replies to Barbour’s tweet are almost too quirky and contradictory to get upset about. Get ready:

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A user with what is clearly a real name @ HFT3102000 proclaimed: “I think you are the best football presenter in the country but I disagree that somehow women should write about football rather than men. It’s a very male sport, so there’s a reason most people in the industry are male. Keep it up, you are brilliant at it!”

This is a personal favorite I have to say. Many have been far more explicit in their apparent rejection of equality in what they then called “the pretty game,” but inconsistencies in this particular tweet make you wonder whether you should explain the concept of misogyny to them or leave them to their own internal conflicts you are trying to reach.

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Another tweet from a very notable handle, @attillathehunnn, said: “When you say our game… do you mean men’s first team football? It is certainly reasonable to expect male dominance in this area, just as women’s football should and is female-dominated. What are you getting at?”

Well @attillathehunnn, thanks for asking.

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The point is, if there are actually more men than women at an awards show, that shouldn’t change how sexist the keynote speech is.

At no point should female sports reporters be subjected to constant offensive remarks – let alone at a ceremony designed to celebrate the collaboration and work of all Scottish football writers – just because there happen to be more men in the world of sport reporting and football.

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One of the most depressing tweets I had to read as I fell into the terrible Twitter hole was from @Merlebrown: “When I was a football writer in Scotland in the early 90’s, women weren’t even allowed to attend these events. I quit sports journalism in 1999. It’s really depressing to see that despite all the brilliant women working in the industry today, very little has changed in attitude.”

A 2015 study by the European Journalism Observatory found that women made up between 3% and 4% of bylines on sports pages on average.

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A 2019 report by Glamor’s Macaela Mackenzie states that while women’s sport accounts for 40% of all sports participants, it accounts for only 4% of all sports coverage.

Additionally, a February 2021 Global Sport Matters report found that women make up 10% of sports editors and 11.5% of sports reporters overall.

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One would have hoped that attitudes would have changed over the past 22 years, but as these reports and Merle Brown point out, they clearly haven’t evolved enough.

Similarly, women are also aware that there will be an apparent inequality between male and female moderators (although we hope attitudes towards this change sooner rather than later).

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It seems like a pretty basic and indeed obvious point, but our friend @attillathehunnn, for all his amazing insights into the inner workings of the game, clearly missed it: women don’t want to have an equal number of men and women on the playing field in one Men’s Soccer Game.

What we are demanding, however, is that we do not feel so unwelcome in an industry we have already fought hard enough for and where we have as much right to work as men.

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On a positive note, Women in Journalism has launched a campaign called ‘The Sexist Shame of the Beautiful Game’ to tackle gender inequality in Scottish sports journalism – more info here.

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