Why Kenny Shiels comments on 'emotional' women are damaging in perpetuating myths about feelings being 'weak' - Christa Ackroyd

So a man apologises for a misdemeanour to save his bacon and that’s alright then. Let’s forget about it and continue as normal because he is really working hard and is dedicated to getting the job done.

Though he knows he has upset a lot of people. And before you jump to conclusions I am not talking about our Prime Minister, though if the cap fits and all that.

The sad thing about the ridiculous and totally sexist remarks made by the Northern Ireland Women’s football manager Kenny Shiels that his team conceded a number of goals in quick succession because ‘women are more emotional than men‘ is not just that he was factually wrong - and let’s face it he was roundly condemned by just about every woman in sport and forced to apologise to stay in post - but that, in this day and age, he obviously believed it to still be a reasonable excuse for his team’s poor performance.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Oh my. How far we have come but how far we still have to go.

Northern Ireland Women’s football manager Kenny Shiels. Photo: PA

I am going to be honest, his quite ludicrous comments led to a massive row in our house, with him indoors moaning about not being able say anything these days. Uttered by the way as he watched men playing football on telly kicking seven bells out of each other and I believe at one time pulling pony tails. But then that’s macho isn’t it? Or as one match pundit put it ‘steely and spirited’.

As I swiftly pointed out to him - not that he was listening, he was too busy screaming at the referee - words and actions have consequences, as I believe we tell our youngsters today. And dare I say it, in this instance not just consequences for women.

Women are tough because by god we have to be. Look what we have to put up with, still. It is too easy to blame everything that goes wrong on our ‘emotions’ as if they are something to be ashamed of. As Women in Football’s chief executive Yvonne Harrison said after hearing the manager’s excuses, it felt like going back thirty years.

Indeed it did and that time scale just about takes me back to when I was a young woman working in a predominately male environment. Then I lost count of the number of times I heard ‘Oooh what’s wrong with her today? Must be the time of the month’ behind the sniggers when as a boss I disagreed with something. Come on you heard it too. I thought we had grown up since then.

Read More

Read More
Christa Ackroyd: Breaking the silence that kills

The truth is sometimes we women are also our own worst enemy. We too often apologise for crying when we know it’s right to let it out. And how often do we use the phrase time to get your big girl pants on? Well stop it ladies. Our pants and our emotions are just fine. And if we cry sometimes, there is nothing wrong with that. For a woman or a man.

The issue I take with Mr Shiels’ views are not just because they are outdated and ridiculous but they are downright damaging. And not just to the women he claims to champion, though obviously not quite understanding, despite managing them. And that’s hardly motivational.

What he said does nothing but perpetuate the myth that emotions are women’s business. And that men, by inference being the tougher sex, are actually weak if they show them too. Because being weak is not being a winner. And that dear reader is why the rate of male suicide, particularly amongst young men, is so damn high.

The two issues once came together in my life and were to have a profound effect on me. The only time I ever saw my father cry was when his younger brother, my Uncle Keith, took his own life. Then Dad went outside and pretended he was absolutely fine by busying himself cleaning shoes on top of the coal bunker.

When my mum had cancer he didn’t cry. In fact he told us not to talk about it because it would only upset her, when in fact what upset her most was that no one talked about it. But that was then and this is now.

And things have changed haven’t they? Obviously not. And that is what is so worrying about a football manager still perpetuating the myth that men stay strong while women give into their feelings. And so it cost them a football match.

This week I made contact with former TV journalist Mike McCarthy whose son took his own life when he had all his life in front of him. He has set up Talk Club in his memory to tackle this very issue that vulnerability, or emotions, are not a sign of weakness in either men or women. A picture of Mike standing outside number 10 Downing Street this last week wearing a t-shirt for his son Ross asking “How are you?” stopped me in my tracks.

Isn’t that the very crux of the matter that we don’t ask that question enough? To everyone. But particularly to men. So what did he make of Mr Shiels’ inference that being affected by emotions is women’s business? This is what he told me.

“If one of the physically fittest men on the planet Tyson Fury can open up about his mental health then why shouldn’t any man? Why do we pretend that crying or showing emotions isn’t manly, then go off on our own and cry. One of the most toxic phrases is ‘Man Up’. It means suppress it, keep quiet , bottle it up. It is time for men to stop pretending and be real. Don’t Man up.. open up”.

And that is why blaming women for being weak in doing just that is so, so dangerous. I totally understand that Kenny Shiels made nothing more than an off the cuff remark after losing a match he probably cared passionately about. So why didn’t he just say that?

Instead he showed himself to be out of step with his team, the game he claims to love and the society we live in if he blames the defeat on gender frailties. It really is time to stop suggesting how we feel and how we express it a sign of weakness rather accept is to be a necessary part of human nature, for us all.

And certainly not something to be used to blame a group of women for losing something so trivial as a game of football.