09/07/2013 06:50 BST | Updated 07/09/2013 06:12 BST

How Bishops, Bartoli and Boris Show Us That Sexism Is Worse Than Racism


What do bishops, Bartoli and Boris (Johnson) have in common? Answer: They all show us that sexism isn't taken as seriously as racism. You disagree? Well why are there still the phrases 'casual sexism' and 'sexist banter' ? Why is this OK when - 'Oh it was just casual racism' or 'racist banter' is not alright?

The three recent incidents above, which came neatly and alliteratively together in recent days, clearly demonstrate the truly strange world we all inhabit where sexism is still widespread and regarded as normal and acceptable by many people.

Strangest of all is the fact that the Church of England is allowed to debate passing its own laws in order to help out people who don't want women as bishops. These could be either clergy who don't want to work with women bishops or lay people who don't want to have women bishops as part of their church hierarchy. In other words the church can pass its own laws to provide a special discriminatory employment framework allowing people to say they won't work with women bishops because they are women. No-one outside religious organisations can do this. Why? Because it's against the law.

Just try and quantify the fuss if the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and most Muslim and Jewish religious organisations - all of whom discriminate against women being in any positions of authority in their male power structures - decided some of their people couldn't work with some of their members because they were the wrong colour. There'd be a fuss then wouldn't there?

Just substitute black or Asian or people of colour into any of the sentences from the Church of England's synod resolutions and see how uncomfortable that makes you feel.

But somehow it's OK to say that women shouldn't be bishops?

Still don't think sexism is worse than racism?

Why is a BBC commentator who made a sexist remark about new Wimbledon tennis champion, Marion Bartoli, still broadcasting on the following day and not suspended? Speaking on BBC Radio 5 live ahead of the Wimbledon women's singles final, John Inverdale said Bartoli was "never going to be a looker'. Think I'm over-reacting? Well what would have happened if he had made a racist remark about a Wimbledon tennis player? Do you think it would have been brushed aside so easily with just a letter of apology?

Racist remarks in sport have been income damaging and career-ending for some. Golfers, Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia probably won't be exchanging Christmas cards after what Woods said last month were Garcia's 'hurtful' remarks about fried chicken.

And anyway as Joy Goh May argues in her recent blog - why do women athletes face so much sexism? And what does physical attractiveness have to do with sport?

In case you're thinking that racism has led to economic oppression and genocide - but sexism is merely nasty - just remember the sex selection killings (often called gendercide) of millions of baby girls aborted in China, India, Pakistan and elsewhere, every year in favour of boy babies. Plus billions of women around the world are economically oppressed by rules about not being allowed to own property, or obtain credit, or inherit anything, or complain about male sexual abuse. All under systems devised by men with a male sexist view of life. Sexism just isn't trivial or funny.

Which brings us finally to Boris - Oh he's 'Just Boris' is he? Maybe he has shown us his true colours for once. Not just by being sexist about why women go to university - apparently it's to find husbands - as he was recorded joking to an audience at the launch of the World Islamic Economic Forum last week - But also showing his true colours in looking for a cheap laugh with a sexist joke.

Boris's faux pas happened at the launch of the World Islamic Economic Forum last week.

The Mayor of London spoke alongside the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Razak recited a statistic he had been told by his officials - where 68% of the latest university intake in his country would be women - to which Boris quipped: "They've got to find men to marry." This was received with laughter. Even though it isn't funny and is definitely unpleasantly demeaning and really quite shockingly and sniggeringly sexist in assuming that women couldn't possibly be intelligent enough to be academically interested in university courses or have value as anything other than wives.

Would Boris make a cheap racist joke and expect to get away with it? Somehow I doubt it.

What all these examples of sexism do illustrate is that deep seated sexist thinking is still there and we need to keep pointing this out.

In the 18th century, James Boswell, the biographer of Dr Samuel Johnson (1709 -1784) , the wit, raconteur and compiler of the first English Dictionary, recorded the following exchange:

Boswell: "I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach."

Johnson: "Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all."

Oh ho ho ho. I'll bet Boris, and John Inverdale, and the Church of England's anti women bishops movement - are all big fans of Dr Johnson.