That Spanish kiss, #metoo, gendered ageism and calling it out
The Queenager: Eleanor's Letter (August 27th 2023)
The myopia of men who can't see how their behaviour is wrong
The smacker on the lips bestowed -unwelcomely – by the President of the Spanish football federation on Jenni Hermoso in the aftermath of her team’s World Cup victory is being hailed as “Spain’s #MeToo” moment.
And – how familiar – the men at the centre of the storm are going: “What? Me? It was consensual, she LOVED it, if she says anything else, she’s LYING, I haven’t done anything wrong…” Luis Rubiales, the kisser, has refused to resign, despite FIFA saying he should and an outcry in his country. Even worse he has accused Jenni and everyone else who has accused him of overstepping the boundaries of decency of ‘lies’.
I have to say that this whole fandango has made me feel extremely angry. Particularly as I have dug more into the background; this is not a new problem. The women’s football team in Spain has been protesting about the national coach and the organisation which runs their sport for decades. It is, like so many things in life and particularly sport, a male club. A bastion of chauvinism and a ‘shut up and do what we say’ culture. When, before this championship, 15 of the players complained about their coach and Luis Rubiales, he just sacked them all and got some new players who wouldn’t complain. He can’t do that now. The entire female Spanish football team has walked out along with everyone from the lowliest physio to the stars of the team. Their victory in Australia, and the extraordinary public nature of Rubiales droit de seigneurstyle abuse – you are part of my team so I will kiss you on the lips without your consent, even though you don’t like it, in front of billions of onlookers….. the horror, the arrogance… has finally exposed to the world the exploitation and misogyny that had until now been going on behind closed doors.
It all sounds disturbingly familiar. Have you read Brave by Rose McGowan, the super courageous actress who was the first to accuse Harvey Weinstein of rape, even though it destroyed her career and brought endless difficulties upon her head? Weinstein thought that because he had the power to give actors great roles in his films, he also could rape and attack them with impunity. He would summon beautiful aspiring actors to meetings, which would be switched at the last minute from a public place to his hotel room where he would appear in his dressing gown and proceed to rape them. When the women started – a long time later – to complain, he claimed it was all consensual; that these beautiful women had loved sleeping with disgustingly ugly him. He got away with it for years. He terrified so many women into thinking if they didn’t go along with his demands their careers would be toast…
The vision of Rubiales going for the lips of one of his players, despite her being so much younger and in his care, smacks of the same kind of entitlement. And his reaction: ‘she is lying, she loved it, I haven’t done anything wrong’ is totally familiar – Weinstein made exactly the same defence.
Spain is currently in a social media furore about the incident. It is a macho country – sometimes it takes the opprobrium of the entire world for men who assume they can do whatever they want, to realise they can’t.
It is rather wonderful, I suppose, that the victory of the female team has exposed the hypocrisy and double standard at the heart of women’s football there. Hopefully because of their amazing success (fuelled by powerful clubs such as Barcelona who have massively invested in the women’s game, rather than the national federation) the players can call out the controlling, manipulative and abusive regime that has been in charge for too long.
Sadly, it is not just female football players who have been badly treated. Anyone for tennis? The recent Amazon Prime drama Fifteen Love depicted the abusive relationship between a macho, entitled tennis coach (played by Poldark, Aidan Turner) and a young female protegee. (I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it, it’s written by a very talented Queenager Hania Elkington and really digs into the power play so inherent in so many sports and how women get exploited). But it’s not fiction; in the aftermath of the drama being screened the Telegraph’s tennis correspondent wrote a coruscating expose of how until last year it wasn’t even against the rules for a 16 year old child to be having a sexual relationship with her coach; and how common such relationships are on the tour – it saves having to book two bedrooms when travelling the world, apparently. Yuck.
And it’s not just football and tennis: the scandal involving gymnastics and the wholesale abuse of so many young gymnasts in the US team, including the incredible Simone Biles, by the coaches, shows how vulnerable young women playing sport can be.
It seems incredible to me that it can be taking so long for the world to change, that generations of young women are still coming up against patriarchal structures which control, co-erce and sexually exploit them. It is brilliant that women’s football and netball are becoming mainstream; the TV coverage and enthusiasm for the Lionesses is a game changer though there is still a long way to go: we’ve just had the first million pound female player, while relative male has-beens are being paid £3.7 million a WEEK in Saudia Arabia.
I remember buying the England netball captain lunch, while interviewing her about four years ago; she’d arrived on crutches for a knee operation with a rucksack on her front and her back. She was too skint to afford a taxi to the station and was hobbling home on public transport, despite being at the peak of her sporting form. She also had to work as a lawyer part-time to pay her bills. Meanwhile male footballers are paid astronomical sums. We are a long way from equality yet. If the men’s England team had been in the final of the World Cup, the whole country would have ground to a halt; the PM would have been there, I bet Prince William would have been on the next plane. Women are still not acceded the same respect.
We are still a long way from equality for women in sport and everywhere else. We may have had the vote for 100 years but it will take 136 years till there are the same number of women leaders as there are men, according to a great new book I have been reading called Revolting Women, by Lucy Ryan. It’s all about why senior women are quietly quitting corporates and leadership across the spectrum of the private and public sector; basically they are sick of the gendered ageism, the misogyny, the men’s club which still dominates the highest echelons of power. Women can’t prosper within the machismo which still operates at the top; so they are leaving, finding freedom and setting up their own organisations and lives. That is wonderful for the individuals (it’s a journey I have been on myself!) but if senior women all quit when they hit 50 we’ll NEVER get to parity in leadership in our organisations and most importantly the cultures in them won’t change to become more inclusive for the women who are coming up behind us.
This really matters. We Queenagers are a pioneering generation; the first cohort to enter the workforce in equal numbers to men in the late eighties and early nineties, we’ve changed the world; in 2019 women over 40 started outearning women under 40 for the first time ever! Many of us have stuck it out, doing thirty plus years in our professions and have got pretty near to the top; only to get spat out, or leave, because fundamentally business and big organisations are still structured by and for men. Lucy Ryan’s book has a multitude of depressing stories of highly talented senior women leaving because of the gendered-ageism and misogyny they faced. Take Patricia, 64, a professor who says, “I think what I am trying to say is that within the wider culture there is something that is encouraged and makes us as older women withdraw. Have lower expectations. Keep quiet. Not expect to be noticed. Be unassertive. It is not that the university is promoting older women, it is simply not talked about”.
For the me part of that statement that really rings true, and which shocks Lucy Ryan as well, is this business of it older women quitting or being whacked just ‘simply not being talked about’. I hear that over and over again from different Queenagers. They left, or were made redundant, and nobody cared, it wasn’t discussed, there was a deafening silence, the water just closed over them. Lots of businesses talk about diversity and inclusion and the need for gender parity – but there is a kind of myopia about the decimation of older female talent in organisations. An expectation almost that they will just disappear, silently and without making a fuss leaving the field to the good old chaps… as it has always been.
Well I say BOLLOCKS to that. Queenagers matter. We’ve hung in there and put up with enormous amounts of shit just to be in the room. As younger women we were harassed and brutalised and expected just to suck it up and get on with it if we wanted to stay in our jobs. As mothers – if we had kids, about third of professional women don’t and the more qualified, the less children – we were expected to work the double shift and pretend we were equal to the men, even though often we were doing our jobs with the handicap of a whole other domestic role as well. Now in our fifties we are either dismissed as menopausal and ‘hot’ and emotional and past it; or seen as the past not the future; or not seen at all – just dismissed by the “backslappy” patriarchal culture as no longer even being worth consideration. So we leave, or we set up our own outfits. And so far we haven’t made a fuss. Lucy Ryan talks about how “the closer the woman gets to power, the more urgent the need to put them down” – interesting in terms of all these women haemorrhaging just as they get to the top of their organisations… twenty years ago my old mentor Sylvia Hewlett used to talk about the men ‘circling the wagons’ – plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose!
Well I think it’s time to stop going quietly, stop being pleasing about it and time the worm turned. It’s not good enough to have a second brain drain of female talent when women hit 45. In a culture where Queenagers are super consumers, and are behind 90 per cent of all consumer purchasers and where older women are one of the largest cohorts in the work force (43% of the working population will be between 50 and 67 by 2050 in the UK according to the Government Office for Science) AND there is a looming skills shortage (2.5 million gap in highly skilled workers by 2030 according to the Learning and Work Institute), UK PLC can’t afford for all these women to walk out. It’s time companies started waking up to hanging on to their Queenagers, looking after retaining their senior female talent; taking equality seriously.
So three cheers for Jenni Hermosa and the Spanish football team for standing up to their macho establishment and calling out both the unwanted kiss and the oppressive culture – and we Queenagers should take a leaf out of their playbook. The world won’t change unless we force it to, force it to take notice of the crucial role of older women; and start combatting and pointing up gendered ageism – where ageism meets sexism. It really is one of the last bastions of inequality. The patriarchy might value women only for being young, hot and fecund, ie the qualities that are useful to men, but older women have value and rights too. We don’t need to be seen through that male lens – we can change the story the culture tells about us and what we are capable of. It is time to take action! I’m proud to say that at the end of Lucy Ryan’s book, this newsletter and my platform noon.org.uk get a shoutout as a key organisation doing exactly that! It’s what The Queenager email is all about. So thanks for reading and if you’d like to help me on this crusade and enjoy these newsletters do please think about becoming a paid subscriber… (only £1.50 a week)
If you are in a corporate, please come and talk to me and my team (firstname.lastname@example.org) about our new The Queenager Way programme to help companies retain and value their senior women (this goes way beyond menopause and is based on our extensive research about what women want from work and the challenges they are facing at this point in their lives, carried out with Accenture last year and insights from our community and delivered by experts.) And do read Lucy Ryan’s excellent book Revolting Women based on her Post graduate thesis about why senior women leave (shockingly no university would touch her research until the brilliant Dorothy Byrne took it up for her).
A wise old feminist once said to me “Unless we are moving forward, we are going backwards: misogyny doesn’t go away, it mutates…” She was right. We get the world looking at women’s football but the men still think they can treat the players like their personal objects… we get a whole new cohort of Queenagers to stick at their careers for three decades ; only to evict them just when they might get powerful. Older men aren’t seen as past it, they are seen as ageing like fine wine, coming into their power. Why should older women be seen to age like peaches, one wrinkle and we’re done? It’s a ludicrous double standard. We Queenagers are just getting started.
Enjoy the rest of your bank holiday weekend, I’m going to help my little one get ready for uni (sniff). We’re going to be empty nesters in just two weeks..
Ps Paid Subscribers don’t forget there is a Noon Circle this Tuesday 29th August 7pm in soho, email me email@example.com if you are coming so I can get in the booze and pizza – I’ll put out the Zoom Link for those of you who want to join online tomorrow.
Pps Noon Book Club is on September 4th – online, It’s FREE we’ll be chatting to the wonderful Georgina Moore about her novel The Garnett Girls (Paid Subscribers get FREE books from our partners Harper Collins)
Ppps We’ve just launched our latest One Day Wild Swimming retreat at Wasing in Berkshire, it’s on Sunday October 1st – discounts for paid up Queenagers, here is the Eventbrite link if you fancy it.
By Eleanor Mills