My generation had its own way of dealing with sexist remarks

Sandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman

I’ve never met Belfast City Council DUP councillor Graham Craig, nor have I ever been in the company of Sunderland football manager David Moyes.

Yet I have to confess to feeling a tad sorry for both of them, caught up as they are in allegations of sexism.

Councillor Graham Craig

Councillor Graham Craig

You see, my generation of women – retired and enjoying life – sailed through our respective careers sometimes feeling a bit flattered if a male paid what we’d have regarded as a compliment.

Not all compliments would have been welcome – they might have been the type with a bit of an edge to them – but we would have been quick to retort, leaving the individual sorry he opened his mouth.

We would have known if the lesson was learnt if they kept the conversation neutral next time round.

Councillor Craig’s comments sparked laughter in the council chamber. Sounding like a bit of a twit in a debate about cycling, he spoke about how he enjoyed frequently seeing the council’s chief executive ‘‘whizzing past’’ him on her bike – saying it was a “slightly greater pleasure” than seeing councillor John Kyle, who is also a keen cyclist.

Seeing Ms Suzanne Wylie on her bike each morning, he said, “does quicken one’s step slightly”. Such a stupid, fatuous remark, but had Ms Wylie, according to Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister, been subjected “to the most horrific sexist comment’’? She went further, calling them ‘‘vile comments’’.

PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston was ‘‘dismayed’’ at the ‘‘objectifying and sexualising’’ of a council employee.

Then there was the much more famous David Moyes, manager of Sunderland, who didn’t like a question put to him by a female BBC reporter so, when he believed the cameras had stopped rolling, accused her of being “a wee bit naughty”, adding: “You still might get a slap, even though you’re a woman. Careful the next time you come in”.

Moyes has been accused of a disrespecting the woman, and a local domestic abuse charity has called for the Football Association to take action.

Moyes made a public apology and hopefully will keep his thoughts to himself next time he meets a female member of the workforce.

The DUP has declared its councillor’s remarks as “not appropriate” and revealed that Councillor Craig has spoken to the chief executive privately to apologise. The DUP group leader on the council has also apologised.

Some people have been calling for Moyes to be sacked. Councillor Craig may be fearful that the next election he stands for could mean him losing the female vote.

In some ways my generation may see the reaction as just a storm in a teacup.

Did Councillor Craig utter ‘‘horrific sexist comments’’, as suggested by his fellow councillor Nuala McAllister. To me ‘horrific sexism’ in the workplace is when lesser qualified male employees are given jobs over better qualified female applicants. It also where female employees are told to wear high heels and short skirts or when a female employee goes off to have a baby and is offered a lesser job on her return.

The one time when a male colleague was given a job that I wanted to do was when a former editor didn’t want me to go out and cover a riot, and sent a male colleague instead. Did it affect my future prospects? Absolutely not and that same editor made sure I had other opportunities.

Fair employment and Equal Rights legislation in the workplace eventually gave women a chance to shine. Yet still some men let their tongues run away with them. Councillor Craig may have thought he was being funny and complimentary – he wasn’t – and David Moyes came across as controlling. Hopefully both have learned something this week.