Forty years after the onset of the second wave of feminism in the United States, this is what we are forced to deal with: Capt. Owen P. Honors, ESPN broadcaster Ron Franklin, and retiring (for real, this time) NFL quarterback Brett Favre.
Honors was fired this week after profane videos he made in 2006 and 2007 surfaced on the Internet. Franklin was fired also, for calling a female sports colleague “sweet baby” and then calling her a profanity after she objected. And Favre, who’s apparently finally leaving the NFL after coming back (twice) from retirement, has been fined--not for allegedly sending sexually explicit photos of himself to a game-day hostess for the Jets, but for refusing to cooperate with NFL authorities investigating the matter.
The fact that the three boors have been disciplined is somewhat reassuring. But what, well into the 21st century, made these men think it was acceptable to behave in such a way?
The answer is that there is still, even at a time when we’ve had a female House speaker, a female serious contender for president, and several female secretaries of state, a resentment of women who invade "male’’ arenas such as sports and the military. And unlike straight-up discrimination involving pay and promotions, the efforts to discourage women from treading on male territory are more insidious.
When I was interviewed at the New York Daily News in the mid-1980s, there were what used to be called “girly pictures” taped up on the pillars surrounding the city desk. I was horrified, but said nothing. Soon afterward, the newsroom was renovated; the pictures came down, and no one seemed to miss them. Younger men at the paper would never have called a woman “sweet baby,” even in 1984. Male editors were harsh with female reporters, but that was a display of equality: everyone was treated that way, their gender secondary to their role as reporters. And surviving a dress-down by an editor was a badge of honor for both men and women eager to prove what tough reporters they were.
So why, more than a quarter century later, does any man believe it’s acceptable to harass women in such a sexist and patronizing way? What’s most disturbing about the Navy videos is not even that they were made, but that such behavior in the past had been accepted as a morale-boosting exercise. Is it really morale-boosting to belittle women? And while networks and professional athletics officials seems to have finally accepted the fact that yes, women really do like sports, they still seem to have a hard time seeing the fans as fans first and women second. And worse, some of the male sportscasters seem to have an even more difficult time seeing their female colleagues as sports journalists first, and women second. The spate of recent firings is welcome. But the underlying attitudes are still distressingly mid-20th century.