Three things happened in the AFL last week.
1. The inaugural women’s league was revealed.
2. The annual White Ribbon anti-violence match took place.
3. Eddie McGuire suggested he’d pay to drown journalist Caroline Wilson.
That’s right. In a week when the league was supposed to be celebrating the inclusion of women and raising awareness about domestic violence, Collingwood president and media personality Eddie McGuire, together with his snickering male co-hosts, made disturbing, violent jibes about one of the league’s most esteemed – and female – reporters.
“I reckon we should start the campaign for a one-person slide next year, Caroline Wilson,” he said at the Big Freeze ice bath charity event, speaking on Triple M radio. “And I’ll put in 10 grand straight away … I reckon we could charge 10,000 for everyone to stand around the outside and bomb her.”
Today, McGuire issued a general apology, yet defended his comments as “playful banter”.
But this is no laughing matter.
According to national anti-violence body Our Watch – who the AFL recently partnered with – derogatory jokes about women reflect and reinforce sexist attitudes, and excuse the gender stereotyping said to underpin domestic violence.
Wilson (who, as a hard-hitting journalist, has copped more than her fair share of criticism from disgruntled male football personalities over the years) went a step further when asked about McGuire’s comments, likening his taunts to “casual racism”.
“Casual violent language might be meant as a joke but I wonder how many times we have to draw this line in the sand between what is a joke and what is completely unacceptable,” she said on 3AW radio this morning.
The other reason we cannot simply dismiss McGuire’s on-air remarks as harmless humour, is that they represent a broader, entrenched sexism problem in footy.
The AFL may pride itself on welcoming women (it has a stronger female following than any other code in the world), but inside its blokey culture, the line between mischievous and misogynous is all too frequently crossed.
The league’s unofficial but hugely popular The Footy Show regularly serves up the ugliest examples, each episode filled with lewd comments and stunts that objectify women, including the time Sam Newman, McGuire’s ex-co-host on the show, manhandled a life-sized, lingerie-clad mannequin of Wilson.
Positive change may be in the air: earlier this year Rebecca Maddern was named The Footy Show’s first-ever female host and the AFL women’s league was unveiled. However in both instances, social media was flooded with degrading comments about a woman’s place in football (cutting oranges on the sidelines, for the record).
The scary truth is, footy has become a microcosm of modern society.
If we let public figures carry on with their blokey “banter” and sexist jeers that verge on violent, what do we expect off the field?