Friday, 4 February 2011

Speaking out for the unjustly mocked

Time to speak out in defence of women. And of the world’s favourite profession, the law.

A staple of anti-feminist sentiment in Britain is the accusation that women are unable to understand the offside law in football. This is unfair on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start.

In rugby, the rule is stark in its simplicity: get in front of the ball, and you’re offside. But in football, it’s a hopeless mess. It’s to do with there being no defender other than the goalkeeper between you and the opponents’ goal at the time when you receive the ball (or do I mean when it was kicked?). It’s not clear to me what happens if the goalkeeper is behind you but there’s another defender between you and the goal: are you offside or not? It also seems that you can be ‘played onside’, whatever that means. I could probably get clear on the subject in about two minutes with Google, but I’m not interested enough to devote a couple of minutes of my life to the question. That, I suspect, is the case of most women – most people – who understand the offside rule no better than I do.

Of course, there are women to whom the rule really matters. Recently, soon-to-be ex-Sky TV football commentators Richard Keys and Andy Gray came out with some offensive remarks about a woman assistant referee, Sian Massey, already a professional and tipped to become the first woman to be a full Premiership referee. She kept her flag firmly down when many thought a Liverpool player was offside in a recent match; the move culminated in a goal against their opponents, Wolves. I quote:

Keys: ‘Somebody better get down there and explain offside to her.’

Gray: ‘Can you believe that? A female linesman. Women don’t know the offside rule.’

Those in the know say the replay shows indisputably that Massey was right, and Keys and Gray are out of a job today.
Sian Massey with flag raised, showing she understands the offside rule
Such unfair criticism of a woman deserves nothing but contempt. But spare a thought for another group, constantly the target of scorn from anyone outside it. I speak of course of lawyers. What other profession is subject to so many cruel jokes? It’s reached the point where today people ask what the problem is with lawyer jokes, the answer being that lawyers don't think they're funny, and no one else thinks they're jokes.

So it was fascinating that the passenger I was sharing a table with in my train this morning was both a woman and a lawyer. It was a 7:00 a.m. train, so like me she’d got up at the crack of dawn. I took a few minutes to read the paper and get my breath back before starting work, but she was buried in a pile of documents from the off – and when I say ‘pile’ I mean ‘pile’ – it was the height of two respectable dictionaries or three parsimonious ones (the kind that don’t contain words like ‘parsimonious’). Steadily she worked through all the papers, picking out the bits that really mattered, rejecting some, sorting the others into an order presumably designed to lend the greatest possible support to her case.

I couldn’t help glance at the documents at one point. She was careful to shield them from view, but I did see the words ‘grievous bodily harm’. So I suspect she was on her way to the defence of someone charged with a common law offence, suggesting she’s being paid out of legal aid, which means (in lawyers’ terms at least) she’s working for a pretty miserable fee.

And as we drew into station, out came the compact and the mirror, the eye-shadow and the lipstick. Because this was a woman as well as a lawyer, and I rather suspect if you’re going to help a client who is probably not terribly articulate or literate, you need to impress unsympathetic policemen and hostile judges that you’re ‘sharp’ and business like.

This morning I had a shave. Before I go into my meeting, I’ll put a tie on. But she had to engage in a major cosmetic exercise to be ready for her job.

So this post is my tribute to her. It's a source of real comfort to me to know that if you get into trouble, you can at least still count on the help of someone bright, alert and hard working, who doesn’t mind rising at dawn – or, even more admirable, does it although she minds it – and travelling some hours to come to your aid, preparing for the task ahead all the way, for little reward. And at the last moment she even has the attention to spare for that last detail that might prove a lot more important than it really should.

Final touches before launching into her client's defence


Malc Dow said...

An amusing piece! I must say I got a bit lost on paragraph 2... going to have to reread that a couple of times!

David Beeson said...

Yep, I was as lost as you were, and I wrote the paragraph. We should probably get in touch with Sian Massey and have her explain the intricacies.

smilton said...

I remember years ago asking you how good is your French? And you answered: 'Good enough to explain cricket, but insufficient to explain LBW'.

Anonymous said...

I think that you should change trains in order to avoid meeting the glamorous lawyer able to make you spring to the defence of that profession.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous was San

David Beeson said...

Steve, I'm no longer sure my English is good enough to explain the LBW rule

David Beeson said...

San, I have a probably John Mortimer-inspired admiration for the defence lawyer working for not a great deal against considerable odds without much chance of success. It doesn't necessarily extend to all other lawyers...

Pino said...

My dear British friend, I definitively strongly suspect that you secretly watch the Italian Berlusconi television, the channel ITALIA 1, to be more precise. This because exactly the evening before your publication of this random view, in a ITALIA 1 talking show it was discussed about the football (soccer?) offside rule.
Discussion between three men and three women.
The three women sincerely admitted that they did not understand such a rule but, on the other side, the three men were not of the same opinion concerning some “nuances” of the rule (like the case of the goalkeeper behind you described from you), even they were confirming to perfectly know the rule !?
From my side, I can with easy conscience say that I really perfectly know this rule, not because I am a man, but due to the fact that in the past time (approx. 20-25 years ago) I was an “amateur” football player (playing in the senior football team “Basel Nord Young Kickers”).
So, I have directly perceived the consequences of such a rule, getting a lot of yellow and red cards, which were showed to me from the referee. I have to admit that I was getting those nice coloured cards not because of my supposed offside position, but because of my two earnestly convictions, one concerning my clearly not in offside position and the other one concerning the “old” profession of the mother of the referee.
I have also to admit that I do not have any idea concerning the offside rules of other team-sports, like basket, hockey, cricket, volley-ball, law and so on.

David Beeson said...

Clearly the referees who got upset with you and gave you the yellow or even (oh abyss of shame) red cards, had no idea what they were doing. But presumably none of them were women?