Kevin Garside: As a young woman, Eugenie Bouchard has to walk ethical tightrope every day

While Stone Age attitudes towards women persist we're all doomed

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The Independent Online

Twirlgate has entered the sporting lexicon. Trust an “old guy” on an Australian tennis court to step back into the Stone Age when faced with a young woman in a short skirt.

Ian Cohen is not alone among blokes of middle age bound to a cultural dimension that hounds him. His recidivist lapse into post-war attitudes towards the female of the species brought upon him the wrath of womankind. Fair enough, it was a naff stunt and for a trained media monkey the inner alarm should have sounded.

But look around you and see how well the First World is doing in giving women their due. While Cohen was objectifying Eugenie Bouchard in Melbourne the Sun newspaper was involved in a deeply objectionable prank that was far more pernicious.

When Cohen was growing up he would have been dressed in blue and running about the street annihilating the neighbours with a toy gun while his sister was parading around the house in pink practising her pas de chat. What is the Sun’s excuse for dropping then reinstating the fossilised Page 3? Hold on a minute, isn’t the Currant owned by a white, Australian male of even older vintage than our Ian?

It does not stretch the brain matter that much to join the dots linking attitudes in London and Melbourne. As long as men continue to view women as tools for their pleasure we are all doomed.

Over in Davos, some of the world’s most influential business leaders had gathered to sort out pressing issues under the lofty heading “The New Global Context”. Though probably oblivious to our twirl and Page 3 concerns, the World Economic Forum was nevertheless touched by a related issue. Only 17 per cent of delegates were women. Perhaps that should have been the first question addressed, never mind the changing nature of the geopolitical footprint.

According to Forbes, fewer than 5 per cent of the world’s chief executives are women and only 10 per cent of the 1,645 billionaires. Statistics provided by UN Women are barely more comforting, reporting that only 17 per cent of government ministers across the globe are women and the majority of those are responsible for “soft” departments like education, family and social stuff.

It is precisely data like this that creates the conditions for dorks in Australia to invite a woman to pirouette for our delectation. Bouchard, caught in that awkward cultural gap between young and old, did not know whether to stick or twist.

It was the context rather than the issue that surprised her. As a young woman she is asked to walk the complex ethical tightrope between dressing for herself and for others every day. Her kit designers the same, weighing the demands of function and appropriate femininity in the market-driven business in which they operate.

As the canon of sociobiology demonstrates, it is not always straightforward to separate fun from fundamentals in the matter of gender behaviour. There is a lot going on, which explains how zoologist Desmond Morris could make a living beyond his ivory tower teasing out the tensions between male and female in an advanced social context.

In the end it comes down to intelligence, maturity and responsibility. We are, it is often said, all the same age once we pass 35. By then a well-adjusted male ought to be able to distinguish right from wrong, to have learned to keep the lecherous uncle within under lock and key.

Bouchard chose the diplomatic response, claiming she wasn’t offended. Others, like Billie-Jean King, piled in. There really was no escape for the blundering Cohen, who, much like George O’Grady, the outgoing chief executive of the European Tour, was caught in the same time warp attitude when addressing the casual racism of Sergio Garcia two years ago. Sergio wasn’t racist on account of some of his best friends being coloured, said O’Grady, stumbling unwittingly into the vortex via a thought process still stuck in 1950s Britain.

The Cohens of this world are easy targets. While we are patting ourselves on the back for being on point politically, we should ask how it could be that Heather Watson would send the nation into a tailspin with her “girl things” reference after losing in the first round in Australia.

Here we are in the 21st century and mention of the menstrual cycle in this context detonates frenzied debate under the heading “the last taboo”. No bloody wonder. A whole glossary has grown up around this fundamental female function designed to divert the gaze, as if the shedding of the womb lining once a month were a matter of shame.

Some message we are sending when we cannot refer to menstruation by its name. This sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice socialisation of girls feeds easily into the objectification of a tennis player we saw play out in Australia.

Give that thought a twirl.

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