Women are the biggest losers in the 'gentleman's game'

Phil Cleary

Some 30 years have passed since I told a Coburg Football Club player that calling a woman a “slut” because she had sex with him was hypocritical. It was around the time of my sister Vicki’s murder and the 1989 court case in which she’d been deliberately cast as “deceitful and sneaky” for having found another man after leaving the violent boyfriend who would go on to take her life. As the brother of a woman pilloried by patriarchal justice I had an acute aversion to the shaming of women on the basis of their sexual history.

In the aftermath of the trial of her killer, I discovered that Vicki’s brutal and censorious treatment in court was the norm in courtrooms across the country. The transcripts did not lie. In case after case of “wife murder”, women found to have had sex after leaving a man were damned as provocateurs, their killers regularly found guilty only of manslaughter and sentenced to obscenely low jail terms. It’s this dark history of violence and institutionalised shaming that forms the backdrop to South African cricketer Quinton de Kock’s alleged comments about the wife of the Australian vice-captain, David Warner.

It has been widely reported that De Kock made a remark about Candice Warner that sparked a confrontation between the two players on the fourth day of the first Test between the two teams in Durban.

Unfortunately, rather than acknowledge that such comments, if correctly reported, reduce women to the status of property and would be therefore inherently misogynist, De Kock’s team-mates chose to ignore the question and depict him as a victim, while commentators danced around the question. The tawdry saga had its sequel in the second Test when South African officials posed with spectators wearing masks of New Zealand rugby player, Sonny Bill Williams, who had a brief relationship with Candice Warner in 2007. The message was palpable: Candice Warner had been conquered by a man, which made her husband a lesser man.

It doesn’t matter whether De Kock or anyone else in the South African team understands what feminists now call “slut shaming”. In keeping with the rules on racist and homophobic taunts, comments at odds with the principles of gender equality are no longer acceptable in the various sporting codes. That’s why the allegations raise serious questions for cricket’s administrators and stakeholders. Given its avowed commitment to the women’s game, the rights of female cricketers and an “environment free of harassment on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation”, Cricket Australia has an obligation to tell the young men of Australia where it stands on the question.

A public rebuking of De Kock – if the reporting of his remarks are correct – should not be taken to mean David Warner is totally blameless. It’s probably time someone told him to cast aside the tired old-style machismo that has become part and parcel of his demeanour and a source of frustration among opposition players.

No doubt the usual suspects will howl that treating De Kock’s alleged words as an unacceptable attack on women is nothing but political correctness gone mad. The irony is the alleged comments reek of the subliminal misogyny, politically correct and normalised, that underpins the belief that shaming women on their basis of their sexual activities is consistent with the laws of nature, including those of the gentleman’s game, to be used when and where men decide.

When Nick Kyrgios derisively told Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka during a tennis match in 2015 he was sorry his Australian team-mate Thanasi Kokkinakis “banged your girlfriend”, he was drawing on the same entrenched notion of women as property that has spawned the ridiculing of David Warner.

That privileged young men remain wedded to the idea that women are devoid of agency around sex and are mere objects to be “fucked” by men is an indictment of male entitlement. From the criminal courts to the international sporting arena, the political correctness that drives this dangerous sense of ownership, and the violence that accompanies it, needs to be shredded.

  • Phil Cleary is a member of the Victorian state government’s Victims Survivors’ Advisory Council, a former federal MP and AFL player and coach
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