The depressingly predictable Twitter reaction to Eilidh Barbour’s SFWA awards walk-out

Barbour walked out of an Awards dinner on Sunday nightBarbour walked out of an Awards dinner on Sunday night
Barbour walked out of an Awards dinner on Sunday night
Like Eilidh Barbour, all that women in sports journalism are asking for is that we are not made to feel so unwelcome in an industry we have already fought hard enough to get into, writes Susanna Sealy

The highly respected Scottish television presenter Eilidh Barbour walked out of the Scottish Football Writers’ Association Awards dinner earlier this week, after saying she felt “unwelcome”.

Barbour and many fellow attendees of the event expressed their disbelief, disgust and disappointment that in 2022 they had to sit through a speech filled with, as Women in Journalism co-chairman Gabriella Bennett put it, “sexist and racist jokes”.

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As is customary now, Twitter was the chosen platform for Barbour and many others to voice their abhorrence at having to endure such a spectacle. However, the world of Twitter is a confounding place.

While many rushed to Barbour’s support, saying what a positive light she is in a game still steeped in its patriarchal history, there were just as many who remained firmly entrenched on their side of the tedious ‘culture war’, who chose to defend the comments allegedly made by the SFWA’s keynote speaker.

Don’t like what they’re saying? Toughen up. It’s just a joke, so what? Offended? Then it’s clearly your problem. Grow a thicker skin, snowflake!

Sifting through the 1,200+ comments Barbour’s tweet received, any which appeared to defend the mindless speaker were echoing a clear ‘accept it or move on’ mantra.

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Over the past two centuries, it’s been made pretty clear that this ‘mantra’ has been the wall which every equality battle has had to knock down.

Manchester City celebrate the FA Women’s Continental Tyres League in 2022Manchester City celebrate the FA Women’s Continental Tyres League in 2022
Manchester City celebrate the FA Women’s Continental Tyres League in 2022

Anyone who still argues that, because we see more men in football, women should have to accept listening to sexist tripe must still have their calendars displaying 1865 - the year before the first petition for women’s right to vote was sent to parliament, for those wanting a history lesson.

Some of the replies to Barbour’s tweet are almost too peculiar and contradictory to even get upset over. Brace yourself:

One user, with a clearly genuine handle name @HFT3102000 proclaimed: “I think you are the best football presenter in the country but I disagree that somehow women should be writing about football rather than men. It’s a hugely male sport so there’s a reason most people in the industry are male. Keep up the good work, you’re brilliant at it!”

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This one is a personal favourite I have to say. Many were much clearer in their blatant opposition to equality in what they would then call ‘the beautiful game’, but discrepancies in this particular tweet leave you wondering whether to explain the concept of misogyny to them or leave them to their own internal conflicts on what they’re attempting to achieve.

Another tweet from a very notable handle, @attillathehunnn said: “When you say our game…do you mean men’s first team football? It’s surely reasonable to expect a male dominance in this field the same as the women’s game should and is female dominated. What’s your point?”

Well, @attillathehunnn, thank you for asking.

The point is that if there are indeed more men than women at an awards ceremony, it should not alter how sexist the keynote speech is.

Female sports reporters should not be subjected to continuously offensive remarks at any point - let alone at a ceremony which is meant to celebrate the collaboration and work of all Scottish football writers - just because there happen to be more men in the world of sports reporting and football.

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One of the more depressing tweets to read as I fell into the ghastly Twitter hole was from @Merlebrown: “When I was a football writer in Scotland in the early 90s, women weren’t even allowed at these events. I left sports writing in 1999. It’s really depressing to see that very little has changed in attitudes despite all the brilliant women working in the industry now.”

A study by the European Journalism Observatory in 2015 reported that on average, females made up between 3% and 4% of bylines in the sport pages.

A report from Glamour’s Macaela Mackenzie in 2019 said that despite making up 40% of all participants in sport, women’s sport makes up just 4% of all sport coverage.

Additionally a report by Global Sport matters in February 2021 revealed that women make up 10% of sports editors and a grand total of 11.5% of sports reporters.

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One would have hoped that the attitudes in the past 22 years would have changed, but as these reports and Merle Brown highlight, they have clearly not developed enough.

In a similar vein, women are also aware that there is going to be an obvious disparity between presenters in men and women fixtures (although let’s hope that attitudes on that change sooner rather than later too).

It seems a fairly basic and indeed obvious point to make, but our friend @attillathehunnn, for all their stunning insight into the inner workings of the game, has clearly missed it: women do not wish to have an equal number of men and women on the pitch in a men’s football match.

However, what we are asking for, is that we are not made to feel so unwelcome in an industry we have already fought hard enough to get into, and one in which we have just as much right to work in as men.

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One positive to come out of this is that Women in Journalism have launched a campaign called ‘The Sexist Shame of the Beautiful Game’ to tackle gender inequality in Scottish sports journalism - more info here.

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