A lot has been written about the sacking of Andy Gray and the forced resignation of Richard Keys, with some papers printing articles suggesting that men are the real victims of sexism, punished for being the perpetrators of it whilst no-one has sacked the Loose Women team. You can read an excellent blog post here on why that is not an argument, but this post is going to try and unravel the latest Peter Hitchen column which as usual takes a rather unique view of the situation.
The headline pretty much sums up his argument: ‘Think it was right to sack Andy Gray? See how you feel when the Thought Police come for you’. Peter is adamant that ‘Mr Gray and Mr Keys should not have been sacked, or disciplined in any way’. His reasoning is that:
The things they said were not intended for broadcast and they were not transmitted. They were private conversations. I don’t care that those conversations were leaked. Any remotely public figure has to assume this will happen nowadays. But if Mr Gray and Mr Keys didn’t intend their remarks to be broadcast, they shouldn’t be judged professionally as if they had intended it.
It is quite simply unjust to condemn a man for having his private conversation transmitted to the world by someone else.
In your own time, amongst your own friends you can say what you like. If you hate blacks / gays / whites / women / Coronation Street / the Daily Mail / the Guardian or whatever you will normally end up with a group of friends who share the same values as you do. Conversation amongst your social can cover whatever topics you want because you know they will not be offended because you know they think / feel the same way. The world might not like racists, but it makes no attempt to ban their thoughts, stop their congregation or conversations and it allows them to form groups such as the BNP or EDL. There is no such thing as the thought police, and no barriers to private conversation – or indeed public expression, just visit Youtube, message boards, blogs and comment threads for evidence. If you want to publicly be a misogynist, you can be and you will not be alone.
However, sometimes in life you will be forced into situations in which you must sacrifice your personal opinions. Every single person who has a job must for the hours they are in work comply with the ethos of that company and the company must conform to set standards of behaviour – yes, specifically with regards to equality (be it race, religion, sex or sexuality etc). This is not about having a ‘thought police’ or preventing said employee from holding private conversations with friends about how they would love to ‘hang out the back of that bird from HR’ or ‘smash that bitch from the call centre’ or whatever the hell they want to say amongst friends. No, it is simply the acknowledgment that when in work you are not amongst your friends. Instead you will be forced to work with people who may not share your values, who have no desire to be your friend or even like you. Likewise, you might not like them or share their values and you would never consider being friendly with them outside work. That is their right and that is your right.
This is why a company must have policies in place to let every employee know what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour in the work place – after all, you are being paid to perform a role and to represent a company, as soon as you accept a contract of employment you give up your right to be yourself to some extent for the period of time when you are in work. When you are in work you change your behaviour because the people around you are likely to be far more diverse in thoughts / feelings / beliefs than your social group. Every individual reserves the right to choose their friends, media (newspapers, TV news, entertainment, websites etc) to suit their own tastes. All an employer asks in return is that when in work people just switch off their strong views and instead just treat everyone with a neutral respect. If you wouldn’t choose to go drinking with a misogynist, why should you be forced to listen to one whilst you are in work? If you don’t choose to read the Guardian in your spare time, why should you be forced to be constantly heckled by a Guardian reader in work?
It is called ‘being professional’. Andy Gray and Richard Keys can meet up whenever they want outside of work and privately discuss who they’d love to smash, or what jobs women are not suited to and so on. However, when they are in work they cannot, it is that simple. In reality, when you are a public figure, paid handsomely to be the front-men for Sky Sports you do give up some rights to even do this, as your job involves you having a public profile I’m sure Sky would want them to represent the corporation positively outside of work. Much-maligned public sector workers have to conduct themselves responsibly in their private lives for this reason.
If you are in work it is just common sense to restrain from making racist comments, or grinning at a female member of staff picking something off the floor before greeting her with the line ‘while you’re down their love’. It is not acceptable behaviour, it is that simple. It is obvious that the kind of comments made by Gray and Keys are repeated all across the country because a lot of men are still in the grip of a deep-rooted misogyny, but no-one is interested in stopping these conversations taking place. There is no thought police. All that this story represents is that this behaviour is totally unacceptable in a professional environment, which should be apparent should anyone spend a few minutes reading their contract of employment. You wouldn’t turn up to work in Bermuda shorts swigging lager, so why should you reserve the right to turn up to work and be racist, sexist or whatever else.
Peter Hitchens – as always – is just utterly wrong. The fact that the recordings were never meant to be broadcast is completely irrelevant because they were still in work, they should have been acting professionally at all times – colleagues could be just as offended as the potential viewers. It is that simple. We would have no sympathy had they been drinking on the job, or if they had been berating an assistant referee for being black and therefore incapable of grasping the civilised rules of football. All most people want is the freedom to go to work and not face verbal mocking for their sex, sexuality, race, religion and so on. To me, this really doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, but sadly – thanks to the twisted arguments of the right-wing media – equality has become just as evil a word as liberalism.