I’ve been the leader of the Women’s Equality Party since the summer, campaigning for equal pay and equal representation, equal parenting and equal education, equality in the media and an end to violence against women.
I was expecting a fair bit of abuse – you know, being a feminist and all.
But things have been relatively polite. Until I declared a view on BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
This year the shortlist once again is heavily weighted towards men. (To be precise – three women, nine men. It’s the panel’s decision and nothing to do with us, says the BBC, which famously broadcasts so much women’s sport that the schedules are groaning beneath the weight of it.)
One of those men is Tyson Fury, whose sporting accomplishment is in heavyweight boxing and whose personality accomplishment is to be a sexist, misogynist homophobe.
This to me seems to be a reason not to give him an award on the basis of his personality.
We judge people on their personalities every day. Mostly, we judge them kindly for having a sunny demeanour and less kindly if they’re a bit of an arse.
What we don’t do is judge them as having achieved something simply by having a personality.
But the BBC’s response to the suggestion that Tyson should not be on the shortlist is precisely this. The title of Sports Personality of the Year is purely about sporting merit, it says, thus rendering the “personality” bit of the title into a simple check-box scenario. (“Does he have one?” “Yes.” “Put him on the list.”)
I found this unacceptable (or, as one Twitter user put it: my “women’s equality obsession clouded my thinking”) and so went to have a look again at the bit of the BBC’s website where the jury discuss how the contenders were chosen and what the aim of the award is.
According to Hazel Irvine: “Not only does it affirm and underline your achievements, it also embeds you in the public consciousness.”
That seems fairly clear. What the BBC is thus saying is that Fury – who says his wife needs an upper cut sometimes and that he would hang his sister if she was promiscuous – is a suitable candidate to embed in Britain’s public consciousness.
Britain is a country where two women a week are killed by a partner or a former partner, where funding support services for women experiencing violence is constantly reviewed against higher priorities and where prosecution rates for violence against women remain shamefully low. And the Women’s Equality Party is the only UK party with practical policies to act on this right now.
I have to wonder, would the BBC still consider Fury a suitable candidate for such embedding if he said he thought Isis was doing a good job? Or if he had said he was going to join the National Front?
Or is it just beating women and equating gay people with paedophiles that’s acceptable?
When I asked that question on Twitter the responses divided broadly between 1. IT DOESN’T MATTER THIS IS SPORT YOU STUPID WOMAN AND SOD EQUALITY 2. What about all of the other idiots to whom the BBC has given this award, like tax dodger x and drug cheat y and z, who is plain boring? And 3. But Fury is from the Irish travelling community and we have to make room for diverse voices.
I have appointed the first group of responders as chief recruiting officers for the Women’s Equality Party.
To the second group I have responded: why make that alarming alumni any bigger?
And to the third group I say that if the BBC were to take seriously its commitment to diversity, then it should make the Sports Personality of the Year shortlist 50:50 women and men. Fewer thugs, more brilliant sportswomen.
There is a fourth group who pipe up at this point – I always imagine them with their arms folded and head cocked smartly to one side – “So which women would you include then, eh? Eh??”
I’ve got my own suggestions, sure – among them world, Olympic and European rowing record holders Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, and young sprinter Dina Asher-Smith, who became the fastest woman in British history this year.
But I’d rather hear from everyone who didn’t see their favourite sportswoman nominated. Do add your recommendations on social media. Just watch out for the recruiting officers.
Sophie Walker is leader of the Women’s Equality Party.