Christina Patterson: There's a battle beyond the touchline

Football can keep its offside rules, it can keep its Andies. It can keep its Dicks. Football doesn't wreck lives
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The Independent Online

Women, according to one of the world's leading experts on the subject, don't know the offside rule. The patterns of the neurons in their brains apparently make it impossible. They can, if they're lucky, set the thought in motion, but then something happens with the synapses – or is it the carburettor? – and all thoughts of second-last opponents and goal lines waft away.

The world's leading expert on the subject is a man called Andy. It's been quite a week for Andies. This Andy, who used to work for Sky Sports, which is a big, and possibly about to be bigger, part of the Murdoch empire, and mustn't be confused with the other Andy, who used to work for The News of the World, which is another big part of the Murdoch empire, made his great contribution to evolutionary psychology the day after the other Andy resigned. (Not from The News of the World, which he'd already resigned from, but from a job that a nice man gave him as a second, or maybe second-last, chance.)

This Andy was talking to a Richard (but let's, for the sake of brevity, call him Dick). It isn't easy to make out the stuff about neurons and synapses on the recording, because it's quite noisy, because it wasn't part of the official broadcast, because it was, in fact, leaked. What you can make out is Andy's angst about the game that was about to take place. Confronted by a woman in shorts – not incy, wincy shorts, accessorised with some nice heels, but horrible baggy ones, accessorised with football boots – he couldn't help but express his alarm. "Can you believe that?" he asked Dick. "A female linesman." And then he told Dick about his research on the female brain. (He didn't, by the way, explain why men are unable to grasp the off-air rule, which says that when you've finished saying the thing you were saying on the telly, or the radio, or in public, and feel like making a few off-the-cuff remarks about a "fucking hopeless" female referee, or a "fucking, lazy, thick nigger", or a "bigoted woman" you've just publicly crawled to, it's quite a good idea to turn the microphone off. Nor why people who work with people called Andy seem to think a conversation is something that has to be recorded and leaked.)

Some of us, I'm afraid, heard Andy's aperçus, and laughed. But then some of us have no more interest in learning the offside rule than we have in making cup-cakes or flying to Mars. Some of us were quite relieved to hear our brains would collapse if we tried. What we were slightly less relieved to hear, the day beforeAndy's leaked aperçus got him sacked, was the outburst from a man who works not for Murdoch, but for us. "From the cradle to the grave," said the MP for Esher and Walton in a blog on the PoliticsHome website on Monday, "men are getting a raw deal." Men, he said, "work longer hours" and "die earlier". This, he said, wasn't fair. It was, he implied, the fault of "feminists", who were "now amongst the most obnoxious bigots", and who make ridiculous assertions like "men caused the banking crisis" and "men earn more because they are more assertive in pay negotiations". When, presumably, everyone knows that the banking crisis was caused by covens of cackling witches who insisted on adding testicles to their eye-of-newt and toe-of-frog tagines, and that men earn more because – well, because they're better.

The MP (who isn't called Andy, because Tory MPs tend not to be called Andy, who is, in fact, called Dominic, which football commentators tend not to be) doesn't say exactly what he thinks would make men's "raw deal" less raw. Less female belly-aching is clearly a part of it, but so, one assumes, is a God, or Grim Reaper, who's a little less ready with the scythe. But one thing is clear. It's time, he says, for men to fight back. It's time, he says, for men to "start burning their briefs".

Personally, I'd quite like men to keep their "briefs" intact. Particularly if they're the kind of men who refer to their underwear as "briefs". But if you're exploding with rage at the "obnoxious bigots" who are hastening the death of your brothers-in-arms, I suppose it's better that you burn your briefs, or bash some cushions, than unleash it on your female colleagues or constituents.

Perhaps Dominic, and Dick, and Andy, should meet Helena. Helena works in the City. She oversees investments worth £47bn. She also has nine children. (That's four more than a famous fund manager called Nicola. For some women, sex and the City is clearly a mission statement.) The children are called things like Fitz, Tuppy, Millie, Octavia, Cecily and Theo. Their mother, who you might expect to look like one of those leathery peasants you think is about 100, but actually turns out to be 35, due to the non-collagen-boosting effects of continuous child-bearing, is chic and pretty and thin. She's the kind of woman who makes women feel a sudden urge to book a slot at Dignitas, and men a sudden shrinking in their briefs.

Helena thinks, she told a newspaper last week, that it's important to have women at the top. The thought struck her, she said, in October, when, after taking home a prize for being Europe's most influential female asset manager, her five-year-old asked her if there was a prize for the "most influential man". "I thought," said Helena, whose other name is Morrissey, though she doesn't seem all that miserable, "that's a good question." And then, after no doubt giving Tuppy, or Yuppy, or Puppy, a hefty bonus for being a pro-active self-starter, she decided to start a club. She called it the 30 per cent Club, not because the funds she manages are about 30 per cent of the value of Britain's entire deficit (though they're not far off), but because that's the percentage she would like to see of women in boardroom positions in the FTSE 100. The figure is currently 12.5 per cent.

"Quotas," she says, "are demeaning to women." She doesn't think there should be quotas for the boardroom. She thinks companies should be encouraged to increase the proportion of women on their boards. In the same way, perhaps, that bankers have been encouraged to forego their bonuses.

Maybe Helena Morrissey is right. Maybe the banks, for example, which Dominic says didn't wreck the world economy (or perhaps he meant that it was the receptionists and secretaries who did the really bad stuff) will suddenly sack half their employees and replace them with women. Maybe they'll encourage flexible working, or suggest people start work at nine and knock off at five. Maybe Sky Sports will suddenly swap Andy and Dick for Mandy and Flick. And maybe Dominic will get his Death Discrimination Bill endorsed by a deity, or a Dave.

Or maybe they won't. Maybe, if you don't do anything very much about these things, nothing much happens. And maybe if you do, as they have in Norway, where quotas have raised the representation of women on boards to nearly 40 per cent, which doesn't seem to have wrecked the economy, or in Sweden, where 45 per cent of MPs, and 50 per cent of government ministers, are women, and 0 per cent of MPs blog about feminists as "obnoxious bigots", things do.

Football can keep its offside rules. It can keep its Andies. It can keep its Dicks. Football doesn't fund hospitals or schools. It doesn't bring governments down. It doesn't (except on match days) wreck lives. Politicians do, and so do banks. Time, I think, for a few Millies, Mollies and Mandies, but maybe not a Tuppy or a Fitz.;