Why the all male Sports Personality of the Year shortlist is a good thing

In-built sexist thinking -- or not-thinking -- needs to be highlighted whenever it happens.

It's just possible, you know, that the announcement of an all male shortlist for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year is an entirely good thing.

Before the hate mail starts, I should add that ever since I heard this news, I've been spitting feathers about it. It's a clearly ridiculous state of affairs -- you could easily put together a list of 10 British women who could make up the list all on their own. In fact, somebody already has.

But on reflection there is a silver lining. Because it exposes the institutionalised sexism of the whole process.

It's not just that it seems, as Clare Balding tweeted yesterday, that every single person asked to nominate people for the shortlist was male.

It's the fact that in a conference room in the bowels of the BBC, a group of executives decided that they should invite the editors of Nuts and Zoo magazines to weigh in with their opinions.

Just picture the misguided thought process by which this decision was arrived at. Lads mags are read by men. Being men, they must like sport. Therefore we shall ask the editors of those august journals to contribute their thoughts. Conversely, the readers of Cosmo and Marie Claire are women -- their heads are full of shopping and knitting, so we shan't trouble them on sporting matters.

Gobsmacking.

This in-built sexist thinking -- or rather, not-thinking -- needs to be highlighted whenever it happens. Helen Lewis-Hasteley picked up Michael White on it the other day in the Guardian (!!!) when he referred to #womanontheleft in the Leveson inquiry as a "woman lawyer". No she isn't. She's a lawyer. Just like all the male ones.

And presumably this bias has been in the nominations system ever since the BBC started asking "experts" to throw in their opinions. It's just that the odd inclusion of the Queen's granddaughter on the list has rather masked it. Not any more.

I'd like to bet that the BBC will make sure that next year there's a wide range of women consulted on the SPOTY shortlist, with equal representation for male and female contributors.

And if it wasn't for this year's debacle, that would never happen.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear