Luis Rubiales' shameful behaviour towards Jenni Hermoso reminds us of what women still have to deal with
Luis Rubiales' behaviour over the past few months only serves to remind us all of how far we still have to go in the fight for equality.
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The day Spain won the Women's World Cup - 20 August 2023 - should have been one of the best days of Jenni Hermoso's life. She and her teammates had achieved what all professional footballers dream of. She should have been allowed to bask in her success, at least for the next few days. But something very different happened instead.
During the awards ceremony after the final, which saw Spain beat England 1-0, now-ex Spanish Football Association (FA) chief Luis Rubiales grabbed Hermoso's head and kissed her on the lips. "I did not like it," Hermoso later said of the incident, in a statement on social media. She described Rubiales' actions as "impulse-drive, sexist, out of place", and, crucially, "without any consent on my part."
However, Rubiales decided to double down. He insisted that the kiss was consensual, despite the fact Hermoso - the only person who could have given consent - had refuted this and said it made her feel the "victim of aggression". Rubiales then tried to argue that, in speaking out, Hermoso was doing a disservice to "real" victims of sexual assault, thereby further reinforcing harmful misconceptions about what a victim looks like and how they have to behave.
Later, in an extraordinary speech addressing the controversy, Rubiales claimed he had become the victim of a "witch-hunt" by "false feminists". So, not only had he taken the most important moment of Hermoso's career away from her, but he also tried to steal her status as the victim in the situation. He had done everything possible - both during the kiss and in the weeks after - to make Hermoso's moment, a woman's success, all about him.
After significant pressure, Rubiales conceded to calls for him to resign as Spanish FA chief, and also admitted he had "made a mistake" in kissing Hermoso. On Monday (30 October), in the latest development, FIFA announced that Rubiales had been handed a three-year ban from all football-related activities because of the "events that occurred during the final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup".
This was all deserved, but Rubiales' resignation took far too long - and his 'apology' was half-hearted. It's clear that he was not apologising because he realised he had disrespected, demeaned, and assaulted Hermoso, but rather because he felt he had no other option because of the backlash. If he had had more support, there was no way this would have been the way things turned out.
The whole saga makes you think of the lengths which women have to go to in order to be believed. This 'kiss' happened while millions of viewers were watching, but countless people still took to social media to berate Hermoso - denying her experience, insisting she hadn't been assaulted, and condemning her decision to file a legal complaint against Rubiales. If the incident had happened behind closed doors, as the vast majority of sexual assaults do, it is, tragically, all too easy to see how it would have been Hermoso's career that ended up ruined.
Here's the thing: Rubiales did what he did because he thought he could get away with it. He thought that, on camera, in front of the eyes of the world, he could force his lips on Hermoso and he would get away with it. Why did he think this? Simply put, because men historically have been allowed to get away with it - and even more so, men in positions of power.
Rubiales also thought that people would jump to his defence when he got caught out over it. And for a little while, people did. The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) issued a statement backing Rubiales' claim that the kiss was consensual, and even threatened legal action against Hermoso. Meanwhile, numerous members of the public argued that Hermoso was making it up, overplaying things, or simply pretending to be a victim - despite seeing the incident unfold before their own eyes.
The fact that Rubiales has since received his three-year ban from football indicates that we have made some progress. Just a few years earlier, that likely wouldn't have happened - and many in Hermoso's position wouldn't have had the courage to speak out about how the incident made them feel, for fear of repercussions, either to their career or reputation.
But the fact that it was a fight to get to this point, that it was many people's first instinct to dismiss a woman's voice, and that Rubiales even felt he could behave this way in the first place, reminds us of what women still have to deal with every day, and speaks volumes for how far we still have to go in the fight for equality.