John Gibbons on reactions to sexist comment: “The world needs to lighten up a little bit.” He’s wrong.

AP Photo/Orlin Wagner

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was frustrated when his team lost Tuesday night’s game against the Rays when Jose Bautista was called for interference on a ground ball double play attempt. After the game, Gibbons said, “I guess we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow.”

The comment is obviously sexist, but let’s break it down. Why did Gibbons use this particular comment? He, like Eric Byrnes and many others, think new the new rules baseball added to protect fielders are taking away the perceived toughness of the game. To use a term Byrnes used, “wussified”. Men, especially those involved in professional sports, place a lot of value on being perceived as tough and masculine. What is the worst thing in the minds of these types of men? Femininity; softness, weakness. What Gibbons meant by “I guess we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow” is that the game is now so soft because of the new rules, his players may as well be women wearing dresses.

Did Gibbons intend to denigrate an entire gender with this comment? Probably not. But he could have made his point without using women as, to quote the Globe and Mail’s Stacey May Fowles, “a quick and easy metaphor for baseball weakness.” This comment — and many other comments like it such as “throw like a girl” — is a microaggression, or casual degradation of a socially marginalized group.

Nearly one of every two baseball fans identifies as female. Gibbons’ comment is insulting and potentially alienating half of baseball’s audience. It makes the workplace a less welcoming environment for women employed by the Blue Jays. Imagine having a hobby that you really like a lot but the people with whom you share that hobby make casual comments that make you feel unwelcome or devalued. Or imagine going to work everyday feeling less than because of the way your coworkers talk about people like you.

Gibbons, though, thinks “the world needs to lighten up a little bit,” Nicole Brookbank reports for CBC News. “It doesn’t offend my mother, my daughter, my wife, who have a great understanding of life,” he said. I follow a fair amount of women who are writers or baseball fans who took umbrage at Gibbons’ comment. My anecdotal evidence cancels out Gibbons’! Anyway, this is a slightly altered form of the  “I can’t be racist, my best friend is black” defense. To quote Madeleine Holden, “Imagine women as valuable and worthy of respect regardless of their relationship to you, a man.”

The correct response isn’t to tell the offended to “lighten up”. When you step on someone’s foot and they yell in pain, you don’t tell that person to “toughen up;” you apologize and you make sure to watch where you step going forward. Furthermore, allowing players and coaches to make casually sexist comments and go unpunished makes their current effort to combat domestic violence — which overwhelmingly affects women more than men — look contradictory. Even from a purely business standpoint, it’s poor form. Telling someone to “lighten up” is an attempt to redirect blame; in other words, it’s something a six-year-old would do. And that’s not something Major League Baseball should tolerate.