The world of woke is off to a flying start in 2020 with a range of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ stories vying for our attention in the past week. Strap yourself in for mermen tales (or should that be tails?), the intersection of workplace management and football, and a tantrum from some old tennis pros.
You probably didn’t know that merfolk – or those who like to identify or express themselves as mermaids and mermen – are a thing at the moment. The numbing waters of St John’s, Newfoundland might seem like an unlikely place to find out-and-proud, tattooed, pot-bellied, hirsute mermen but hey, it’s 2020, and anything goes, right?
Online magazine Slate this week featured an obeisant little piece about these valiant vanguarders – The Hairy, Potbellied Mermen Taking the Canadian Coast.
A few years ago Pakistani-Newfoundlander, Hasan Hai, established the Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Mustache Club to apparently ‘promote healthy and non-traditional expressions of masculinity’. The group’s first fund-raising venture was the production of the Merb’y Calendar (in Newfoundland ‘b’y’ is the vernacular for ‘dude’) featuring mermen-garbed and made-up locals in positions such as reclining on rocks, perched atop pylons or recumbent across a bar. Clearly, nothing says ‘masculinity’ like glitter and a fishtail.
Slate tells us:
The Beard and Mustache Club is intended as a place for its members to bond and to express manhood in ways that might earn them ridicule in other settings. Members gather for barbecues, pub nights, and bonfires at the beach. And the yearly calendar production means getting together to sew merman tails and road-tripping around the island for photo shoots—which have been cathartic for many of the men involved.
All very masculine, I’m sure, and guaranteed to turn them into media darlings in a toxic masculinity-promoting world. And predictably, post-modern academics — including Philip Hayward, adjunct professor at University of Technology Sydney’s School of Communication — also got in on the act, determining that the Merb’ys ‘have served to re-masculinise the merman’, whatever that is supposed to mean.
With fame, pale ales, cartoons and merchandise have ensued. I know you’re going to want to stump up for a Merb’y action figure. Who wouldn’t? But you’ll have to hurry if you want the calendar. Sadly, the whole affair has grown so big that the 2020 iteration will be the last. But I warn you, if you dip your toe into these merman-infested waters, you won’t be able to unsee the disturbing images of marine masculinity.
This week Ann Francke, Chief Executive of the Chartered Management Institute appeared on the BBC’s Today programme. While you’d expect to hear the usual management-speak gobbledygook about things like change management, creating leaders, and gender diversity in the workplace, she went further, suggesting that managers should crack down on watercooler chat about football. Yes, football.
Francke is the author of the book Create a Gender-balanced Workplace. She also likened criticism of Hillary Clinton during her bid for the White House to criticism of women ‘having the audacity to ask for a promotion’, as if seeking the nation’s highest office was somehow akin to putting your hand up for a raise.
Apparently ‘sports banter can exclude women and lead to laddish behaviour such as chat about sexual conquests’. Obvious, really. It’s a very short step from red cards to red lights. And, of course, women never talk about sport.
A lot of women, in particular, feel left out. They don’t follow those sports and they don’t like either being forced to talk about them or not being included.
It’s a gateway to more laddish behaviour and — if it just goes unchecked — it’s a signal of a more laddish culture.
Presumably, in the interests of inclusive workplaces, women’s discussions about Married at First Sight, shoes and the shortcomings of their ex will be similarly policed. You never know where that might lead.
It’s no surprise that the Australian Open has produced another example of boorish behaviour by pampered tennis stars. But the twist in this tennis tale is that the ‘stars’ involved are both sexagenarian has-beens still trading on their former glory while indulging caped crusader fantasies as part-time warriors for diversity and inclusion.
LGBTQI+ activist Martina Navratilova was joined by loud-mouthed schnook and the man who invented mid-match meltdowns, John McEnroe, for an on-court protest against Margaret Court, the winner of more major titles than any other player in history, male or female. Because there’s nothing the world needs more than former somebodies pushing their personal views in the public space. Oh, wait. Isn’t that the crime for which Margaret Court has been cancelled? No irony here.
After a legends match, Navratilova climbed into a vacated umpire’s chair to deliver her personal manifesto for renaming Margaret Court Arena. When she was cut off mid-mike she unfurled a homemade banner (who knew the depths of her hidden talents?) with the words ‘Evonne Goolagong Arena’ which she then smirkingly paraded around the court with a grinning McEnroe. How very high school.
Before the stunt Navratilova had issued a statement that included:
When airports, buildings, streets or stadiums are named after particular people, it is done, or at least should be done, to [honour] exceptional human beings – our heroes.
Think Muhammad Ali, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Rosa Parks. Would it not be appropriate if the Staples Center [in Los Angeles] were renamed as a tribute to Kobe Bryant?
Supporting naming a stadium after Bryant might be a tad problematic given the #MeToo take on Bryant’s legacy. But that shouldn’t be a problem for Navratilova, who has form for back-flipping when her comments are attacked by social justice activists with a differing agenda.
For his part, McEnroe posted a video in which he called Margaret Court the ‘crazy aunt of tennis’. Pretty rich coming from tennis’s very own Renfield.
Illustration: Newfoundland and Labrador Beard and Mustache Club.
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