Champions of Wimbledon Andy Murray and Marion Bartoli received hugely differing comments during and after winning Wimbledon. Murray was called a hero, while Bartoli was called other things…
Commentator John Inverdale’s moronic musing on the ‘looks’ of the women’s champion was, oddly, not matched by any word on the Scotsman’s nose
One is a tale of mere triumph; the other of triumph cut with scorn. Yesterday Andy Murray finally won Wimbledon and climbed into the players’ box to celebrate; Saturday on Centre Court was less edifying. As the French tennis player Marion Bartoli climbed through the crowds to hug her father after winning the women’s singles title, Radio 5 Live presenter John Inverdale thought it an adequate moment to comment on her appearance – what else? “Do you think,” he mused moronically, “Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a [Maria] Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’?”
He even had the malice to place the words in her father’s mouth; poor Bartoli, not even pretty enough for Daddy.
Even at this moment of exquisite delight, was Daddy ashamed of Marion’s inability to incite lust in Inverdale? I did not know professional women’s tennis was simply a vehicle for the expression of masculine desire in high temperatures; or that Inverdale had a right to feel aggrieved by Bartoli’s appearance – which is, by the way, perfectly acceptable. (She is, if it matters, and it doesn’t, pretty; but who is pretty enough in these days of dull homogenous beauty?) I do not wish that Murray had received the same grotesque treatment; but that he did not is remarkable.
Inverdale had said earlier that any mocking of Bartoli’s looks was done “in a nice way” and that “she is an incredible role model for people who aren’t born with all the attributes of natural athletes”. I would have thought that winning Wimbledon displayed all the attributes of a natural athlete, except Inverdale did not personally desire Bartoli; in that, she failed. Whether Murray is sexually desirable to individual presenters is not a matter for the BBC, and, in this case, they know it.
Bartoli understood him perfectly. I do not know if she is aware of the comments made about her on Twitter as she played – calling her, among other things, too ugly to rape. (In fact, the blogger made a factual error here, which compounded his psychopathy. No woman is too ugly to rape, because rape has nothing to do with desire.) But she was told of Inverdale’s comment and said: “I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact.”
Ah yes, blonde. Blonde is considered an attribute in a female tennis player, if you don’t care who wins, and I am not sure Inverdale does; it’s only women’s tennis, after all, and if the game is so uninteresting, being played by women, why not discuss the more important matters? Who can forget the fantastically blonde Anna Kournikova, who failed to win the Wimbledon singles title, but looked so lovely losing that front pages of newspapers clung to her, as if she was painted with honey?
What to say? Some will call it a throwaway remark – if the calls for Inverdale’s replacement with a broadcaster whose eyes do not immediately rise to the sportswoman’s hair colour, or fall to the sportswoman’s crotch, grow louder, he will be handed the victim mantle. He will be posited as the scapegoat of a radical feminist plot to obliterate lust, joy, blonde hair, pigtails (why not?), miniskirts, lollipops, a beguiling sheen of sweat (nothing terrifying or mannish) and so on. So many young female tennis players look like dolls, the confusion of woman with (sex) doll is almost natural for the broadcaster swimming in the miasma of his own idiocy.
Except it is a remark, throwaway or planned, that exposes the wider culture. Sexism and the explicit discussion of the female body is still acceptable; that it exists in the sporting arena, where women thrive because they are strong, is only more offensive. Women are judged on their appearance everywhere, the better to ignore their skills; in a male, ugliness is always more forgivable.
It is well established that men’s sport is more exposed, more prestigious and more lucrative, although Wimbledon has had parity of prize money since 2007; in the 18 months to August 2011, women’s sport comprised only 0.5% of sponsorship and 5% of TV coverage. The cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, who won Britain’s first medal in the 2012 Olympics, called the sexism she faced “overwhelming. It’s the obvious things – the salary, media coverage …”
2012 was a bitter triumph for sportswomen – they were patronised, objectified and insulted. Boris Johnson yearned for more sport in schools, mostly because it would produce “semi-naked women … glistening like wet otters”. The heptathlete Jessica Ennis was called fat by an un-named UK Athletics executive; Frankie Boyle compared the swimmer Rebecca Adlington to a dolphin. This is a culture where Holger Osieck, the manager of the Australian football team, can say “women should shut up in public”; where the former boxing world champion Amir Khan can warn female boxers, “When you get hit it can be very painful”; and where the American network NBC can air a slow-motion montage of female athletes wobbling, like Olympians who have wandered, obliviously, into porn.
It is a foul pottage of denigration, inadequacy, spite and lust; consider this, and Inverdale’s remark is barely strange. He should have been fired; instead he waffled excitably yesterday, commenting on Murray’s win. He did not, of course, disclose whether the exact size, or shape, or site of Andy Murray’s nose is a grievous personal disappointment to him, to Murray’s mother, to the world.