And how does Ms Gayle feel?

There would have been no laughter at the stadium on Wednesday had the female journalist answered the cricket captain in the same manner as he had spoken to her. Had she responded to his comment (about not knowing how her pitch feels since he hadn’t touched it as yet) with a googly, like, “Mind your balls, Chris; I might step on them,” I would be writing on a different topic today.

From the little feedback I have heard, much is being made of the fact that “the woman laughed uncontrollably,” as this newspaper reports, prompting Chris Gayle to compliment her smile. But as all women know, and as Jamaican women, themselves, would point out, “every skin-teeth ah nah laugh….” And laughter, such as it is, has been known to cover every human emotion, including anger, embarrassment, and humiliation, and might have nothing at all to do with amusement.

I, for one, do not find the incident the least bit funny; and I certainly am no prude. To me, it is no different than a female attorney asking her adversary in court – or even a partner in her own law firm – for a copy of his brief, and having the learned gentleman tell her he’d like to see her panties first. I don’t think anyone would find it a laughing matter, then; and if such a thing were to happen in, say, a North American jurisdiction, that feller would immediately find himself out of the door and, possibly, out of the profession. But here in the Caribbean, unfortunately, these things become the source of mirth, with persons going as far as to argue that no big deal ought to be made of the incident since the woman herself was making light of it.

It just goes to show that, for all the strides women supposedly have made by integrating what used to be males-only professions, we still have miles to go before we sleep. The reporter was at work, mind you; on the job. The feller didn’t bounce up on her on a bar-stool or bending over a pool table in a joint, where, only perhaps, he might have felt she was fair game for his pitch. And I am positive that Gayle would never have answered the question – a legitimate question, mind you; no double entendres or come-hither messages embedded there – in that manner had it been posed by a male journalist. Am I to understand, then, that reporting on “the gentleman’s game” is the exclusive province of men?

Well, let’s look at it from the other side: Let us suppose that the female journalist had put the exact question to the captain of an all-women cricket team, and the answer had been the same. Can you imagine the hubbub that would have resulted, then, and how every single person in the cricket world have been asking what the sport had come to? You can be sure, in such a case, that the league wouldn’t have been using phrases like “no malice was intended.” And no team spokesperson would be further insulting women’s intelligence with a nonsense defense like the captain was “excited for the tournament.” Because – hard as it is to define in this region, where offensive comments are mistaken for compliments and flattery – sensible women recognize sexual harassment when they hear it. Especially when they hear it at a press conference.

Still, when I saw a certain ad in yesterday’s paper, promoting both cricket and a mobile network, and noted that the male fan was fully dressed, in full-length jeans, shirt and even a mask, while the female wore, literally, some strings and feathers, showing the world exactly how God made her, I could only shake my head at how far women have not come. I was forced to consider that, in this game, it is not only the men wielding their sticks and fielding their balls who think that women at cricket are best undressed. And of what value, really – other than sexual interest – are the scantily clad cheerleaders? If the purpose of their half-nakedness is to create excitement and inspire action, then why are our teams – national, Leewards and West Indies – perennially at the bottom of the barrel? The young women would do as well performing in three-piece suits!

…You know that in centuries gone by, men would go to war on account of their women being slighted. When I was a girl, schoolboys would take up arms on account of some youngster getting fresh with their sister, or saying something sexual about their sainted, virgin mother. I was in Sussex during the Stanford 20/20 tournament of 2008, and heard a not-dissimilar hubbub among fans when some cricketers’ wives and women were photographed, in Antigua, sitting on certain men’s laps. To the English, there was nothing gentlemanly about it; these fellers had gone beyond the boundary of good taste and had dropped the ball in terms of sportsmanship by such behaviour. So how do the men in her life – lover, brother, father – feel about the disrespect shown to this female reporter? And has anybody taken the time to wonder how she, herself, might feel at having been singled out in such a public manner and place – after all, she is not the news; or at having been looked upon as an object for touching and feeling by a feller who is neither her man nor her husband?

Which brings me to my main point: It is hard for me to believe that the cricket captain is a single man. Therefore, I would love to know whether the woman in his life found the exchange funny; whether she saw it as just a little flirtation that meant nothing; whether she dismissed it with a wave and a toss of her head as “something Chris does all the time….” Me? And most of the women I know? Well, he would be clean-bowled on all counts. For it is bad enough when you are talked about in groups of two and three at the hair-dresser’s or in the lunch-room; it is quite another when your man is headline news for getting too-too familiar with a woman who is not you. Hence, no amount of laughter on his missus’ part – not even if she were bent double holding her stomach while tears streamed down her face – would fool any of us into thinking that she was anything else but hurt and humiliated.

And maybe that is something that men, especially famous or infamous men, ought to take the time to think about sometimes: The effect of their behaviour on their women. We hear these stars, at the podium at awards ceremonies, thanking their wives for always “being there” for them; for sacrificing personal time and their own careers for them; and for playing second-fiddle to their ambitions; and we might even smile indulgently and murmur, with old-fashioned sexism: “Behind every great man,” as the camera gives these beaming, laughing, women 15 seconds of attention. But what do they have to laugh about when the spotlight is off?

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