Sexism at the BBC? Colour me surprised.

bartoliA sportsperson won a Wimbledon Singles title this weekend. In fact, it was her first ever Grand Slam win. A huge achievement for Marion Bartoli, even more so because she played the entire tournament without dropping a single set, a feat very few tennis players – male or female – have ever achieved.

Unfortunately, the BBC’s John Inverdale managed to reduce this sportsperson to the sum of her looks. Forget sporting ability or achievement: in 2013 it is still more important for a woman to be sexually appealing. Following Bartoli’s two-set victory in the Ladies’ Singles final, Inverdale made this quite astoundingly offensive assertion to BBC Radio 5 Live listeners:

“I just wonder if her dad, because he has obviously been the most influential person in her life, did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe, ‘listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker.”

Inverdale is employed by the BBC as a sports broadcaster. The fact that he felt entitled to freely admit to listeners that he doesn’t find Bartoli sexually desirable demonstrates – not for the first time recently – that the BBC quite likes employing misogynistic dinosaurs. The fact that he is still in a job demonstrates that the BBC, despite all the revelations over the past twelve months or so, still does not take sexism seriously. In fact, the Corporation rubbed salt in the wound when they wheeled out a spokesman to deliver this half-hearted attempt at an apology:

“We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologise.”

This ‘apology’ further compounds the original slur by implying that there is some truth in Inverdale’s remark. Why “insensitive”? Why choose that word instead of “unacceptable”, “unprofessional”, “irrelevant” or – let’s call a spade a spade – “sexist”?

The BBC is a public service broadcaster. It is paid for by every person in the UK through the TV Licence fee. It has a huge responsibility to its audience. What message does it send to its viewers and listeners that it has failed entirely to provide an appropriate apology for Inverdale’s remark? The underlying message is that, at the BBC, sexism is both acceptable and condoned. The message is that it is perfectly permissable to judge a sportswoman on her looks as opposed to her sporting abilities (quite unlike her male counterparts). The message is that the BBC, far from learning from its past mistakes, in fact intends to continue in pretty much the same vein.

Bartoli’s response to the Inverdale remark got straight to the nub of the matter:

“I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.”

Marion Bartoli, you did yourself and your country proud. I am sorry about the sexism of our public broadcaster. When you return to Wimbledon next year, I very much hope that John Inverdale has been put out to grass.




  1. Well Said! I am disappointed in BBC but that seems to be the case with established media houses across the world, Atleast i have heard similar shit here in Indian media and it is absolutely appalling how they think it is ok to pass such sexist statements about a successful woman.

    1. Thanks for commenting. It *is* appalling, isn’t it? Anyone would think women were second-class citizens – oh, that’s right, we are 😦

  2. Krista · · Reply

    Excellent article. I’m in British Columbia, but was watching an American news program, in which every day for a week, several young girls were presented with scholarships for their academic achievements and endeavors to enrich their communities…the final note with the news anchor (female) was, “…You’re all just such beautiful girls!”

    Um..they just received a scholarship for their intelligence..their dedication to their world..belittling that because of their appearance?! Wow. What a shift.

    Unfortunately, I think freespiritmoveon is correct: this is the case with established media worldwide.

  3. The Drug Sniffing Dog · · Reply

    I like Marion Bartoli. I like that she plays how she does, using a double handed grip both sides. I love her nervous bouncing between serves. I don’t care how she looks, that’s not why I watch sport. I watch sport to see the results of years of dedication and training.

    The problem I have with commentaries on womens’ sport is that it essentially focuses on how the women look, not on how bloody good they are at what they do. Look at how the Williams sisters are treated, or indeed Caster Semenya.

    The Womens’ European Football Championship starts on Wednesday 10th July and yes, I shall be watching for both the incredible skill of some of the outfield players and the occasional comedy goalkeeping. Whoever said goalkeepers are a breed apart was right. I hope that I don’t see any more arrant nonsense like that displayed by Mr Inverdale.

  4. Babalon Actual · · Reply

    I’m sorry, I was born with a working brain and didn’t get the memo that possession of a vagina obligated me to be visually appealing to every person in possession of a penis. And how about that double standard — it doesn’t even have to be someone in possession of a penis who is, themselves, visually appealing to others. Talk about a load of crap. GROW UP, BBC. Put on your “big girl/boy pants” and handle this like actual adult human beings instead of knuckle-dragging cretins.

  5. southernbeauty · · Reply

    From someone who is a member of the group that covers sports in India media, let me simply say that it’s not just sportswomen who are judged on the basis of their looks. It’s an all-pervasive mindset that says having boobs and a vagina mean you have to look good (to the masculine gender), you have to have constricted body language and soft mannerisms (at least here in India and I really can’t think of another way to describe how even laughing out loudly and spreading arms wide while walking or speaking are considered un-womanly) and, most importantly, accept you SHOULD BE weak, shy and hesitant and allow the masculine gender to be condescending enough to help you out. Guess sportswomen get the short shrift more often because they are out there plying their trade in public and not in small cubby offices.

  6. Ann Harkness · · Reply

    Inverdale should be sacked

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