Footballer Ched Evans: it’s not about forgiveness and his right to work.

Owen Gibson (Guardian, 10 01 2015) notes that Gordon Taylor, “the best paid union official in Britain”, as chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association for 33 years, has shown “so little apparent empathy for the victim” of convicted rapist Ched Evans. He also refers to F.A. Chair, Greg Dyke’s, “belated intervention”. Similarly, David Conn (Guardian, 10 01 2015) comments that Dyke “finally broke his silence”; but only “to clarify that the FA had no rules on the matter”. Conn points out that “The PFA has not made clear its abhorrence of Evans’s and his footballer friend Clayton McDonald’s disgraceful conduct towards Evans’s then 19 year old victim”. And “in a week of debate, few football men remembered to mention (the victim’s) plight”.

We might explain this behaviour as an example of (unconscious and unexamined) heterosexist male bonding that perpetuates a sense of entitlement to power and unimpeded access to women’s bodies. Evan’s desire to “join in” with the rape of the victim on his arrival at the hotel, by invitation for that purpose, exemplifies these heterosexist reflexes. Conn draws attention to the fact that all bar one of the key football decision makers in “this sorry affair” are men. Men apparently untouched by (or resistant to) changes in social and cultural awareness, attitudes and behaviour, after 40+ years of feminist-inspired activism and action.

There are generational issues at play here – these older white men – but there is also evidence on the street and on twitter, for example, of continuity and consensus across ages, among men, that show how severely misogyny still stacks the odds against girls and women in our society. Ched Evans’s conduct, attitude, and indifference to his victim’s situation; his willingness to denigrate and stigmatise her (via a website) in order to further his own goal of returning to his career as a professional footballer, demonstrate their roots in heterosexism and misogyny.

By contrast, Emma Hayes (Guardian, 10 01 2015), manager of Chelsea Ladies, refers to “an incident like this” (language that diminishes the act of rape and its consequences for the victim), and says “ he is a young man and should be forgiven”. (Is that because he is young or male? Or both?) She also mentions “the pitfalls of . . . attracting the attention of women”. The mind boggles.

The ‘give him a second chance’ discourse / plea for forgiveness, underscore the perpetrator’s right to his privilege and its customary rewards. Protesting his innocence, backed by financial resources from his fiance’s father, and assuming his right to a speedy re-entry to a high profile, high-income job, a celebrity position, all rely on a false assumption that is hardly mentioned, let alone discussed.

Sexual abuse and violence (like racism and homophobia) are not like other crimes, such as financial corruption or crimes against property, even murder. They are rooted in deep-seated misogyny and unequal gender power relations across society, which together construct and perpetuate these relations and behaviours as normative, ‘natural’ and right. Perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence thus make very poor subjects for rehabilitation.

Certainly Evans should make the effort in future to live differently, and re-establish himself as a non-offender, i.e. as a man who is not a threat to girls and women. But this debate is not about one privileged, heterosexual male in the public domain, who ‘made a mistake’ and got caught: it is about our society and the position of girls and women within society.

Cases like this expose fault lines in society and disturb the status quo. This in turn provides opportunities for learning and transformation. Legislation and regulation play their part, but early years, primary and secondary education have vital contributions to make, as do the arts, if we are to break the dominance of heterosexism and misogyny on and off the field.

As Conn observes, the case for offering Evans a contract presents him as “just a man plying a trade” and “the game is just a business”. It is time the F.A. and the PFA were dragged into our post feminist and post Saville world. This clearly requires changes of personnel at the top of what Conn describes as these “uncaring men’s clubs”.

11 01 2015

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