Different media standards for boys and girls: Ollie Robinson and Shamima Begum

7-minute read

The suspension of Ollie Robinson from the English cricket team following the emergence of old tweets has been on the front page of many newspapers and has dominated social media. An issue is whether Robinson can represent England having made racist and sexists twitter posts.

The posts were made when Robinson was 17 to 18 years of age, nearly ten years ago. They include the ‘N’ word and offensive anti-Islam and sexist statements. They sound to be fairly typical of a boorish, racist and sexist teenager who has yet to fully understand the world they live in or the impact of their behaviour on others.

Ollie Robinson’s teenage views and behaviour

There seems to be no doubt that Robinson is remorseful and that he was unaware that his youthful opinions were still accessible. In apologising, Robinson said: “I was thoughtless and irresponsible and, regardless of my state of mind at the time, my actions were inexcusable. Since that period, I have matured as a person and fully regret the tweets.”

There is nothing in the press coverage to indicate that he still harbours those views although as late as in 2016 he was sacked by Yorkshire for “unprofessional actions”; which, according to Robinson, included returning almost every night to Kent to socialise with friends, rather than to sleep and turn up to training on time.

Young men’s behaviour towards their ‘inferiors’

The unpleasant behaviour of young men towards those they consider inferior – usually women, those from a lower class or a minority race – has been well documented since Roman times when citizen youths, in the fullness of drink, were known to wander the streets searching for slaves to beat up.

Oxford and Cambridge colleges were initially established in the middle ages as a means of exercising some control over the disgraceful vandalism and violence of their students. And right through to the 10th century, misogyny and sexual assault were perceived as thoughtlessly ‘sowing wild oats’ rather than indicative of a deeper cruelty.

In much more recent times, it is said that Boris Johnson, when he was a third year student at Oxford, humiliated a school boy attending for an interview. His “piss-taking was brutal. In the course of the pint I felt obliged to finish he mocked my speech impediment, my accent, my school, my dress sense, my haircut, my background, my father’s work as farm worker and garage proprietor, and my prospects in the scholarship interview I was there for”.

Johnson is not the only young man to have behaved in this offensive way to people he considered to be his inferiors, and this type of behaviour is not restricted to upper-class oafs, although it may be more prevalent amongst them. This sort of behaviour is not so common as to go unnoticed, but not so rare as to be considered totally abhorrent among policy makers and those who make judgments on it.

Male behaviour and criminality

It is a predominantly masculine expression of arrogance, and girls and women are frequently on the receiving end of it. It is sufficiently widespread to encourage a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude by those in authority and there is no female equivalent to this.

In spite of most boys’ offending going unreported or punished, almost half the male population in England and Wales will accrue a criminal conviction before they die, the vast majority of whom will be convicted before they are 21.

Most young people grow out of offending and turn into law-abiding pleasant adults. Desistance comes more quickly to those who are not caught or processed through the criminal justice system and, contrary to widespread belief, ‘nipping offending in the bud’ is more likely to accelerate and embed it than reduce it.

This seems to be the case with Robinson. Like the majority of young people behaving badly or offending, he was not caught at the time. It appears that he has matured and the relationship with his partner and birth of his daughter may have given him a different perspective. No recent occurrence of similar behaviour has been noted, and it is reasonably safe to assume that it is in the past.

Is the teenage brain different to the adult one?

There is now considerable neuro-scientific evidence for the ‘teenage brain’ and its impact on, seemingly thoughtless or high-risk behaviour.

Parts of the brain such as the prefrontal cortex – which regulates the emotions, impulses, attention span and capacity for abstract reasoning and forward thinking – are not fully developed until the mid-twenties. While the amygdala – responsible for generating emotions and instinctive reactions, including aggression – is fully developed at a much earlier stage.

Youthful brains experience the full gamut of feelings but lack the tools to temper their impetuous application or display.

Many scientists and criminologists have argued that young people should not be criminalised or punished for behaviours over which they have little control, and that they should be helped to develop rational thinking and be trained to delay responses to high-risk stimuli such as social media click bait or aggression from others.

Some have argued that the age of criminal responsibility (ten in England and Wales), is far too low and that youth courts should extend to age 25 in order to take account of the age and stage of development of young offenders.

The response of the right-wing media to Robinson

Robinson’s immediate return to the England squad has considerable support from the right-wing press. The Telegraph newspaper has accused the English Cricket Board (ECB) of intending “to punish and shame Robinson [which] further smacks of the ECB having own interests in mind, to be seen as zealously pure and cover up its failings” and the Express has proffered a similar view. He is also supported by Johnson and a number of ministers, almost all of whom are men, who have condemned the suspension decision.

There is every good reason to expedite the inquiry and enable Robinson to return to the England fold. To prolong the punishment that he has already incurred is pointless and risks transforming the remorse he currently feels into resentment. There is considerable evidence to show that fair sentencing and an opportunity to ‘pay back’ reinforce social norms and good behaviour, while punishments perceived to be unfair can harden anti-social attitudes.

The contrasting media response to Shamima Begum

While fully supporting the moves to reinstate Robinson, the same rationale and compassion should be applied to others whose youthful behaviour has caused public upset.

Shamima Begum was 15 years of age, a full three years younger than Robinson and still at school, when her amygdala got the better of her poorly developed prefrontal cortex, and she went off to Syria to be an ISIS bride. The combination of romance, conscience and sacrifice are not untypical of many girls of that age and, for years, Christian religious orders exploited this fervour for recruitment purposes.

The same newspapers that say Robinson should be pardoned and allowed to return to the fold were adamant that Begum should not be allowed back into the UK. While the Express accused her of faking contrition in the hope of being allowed home and went as far as to suggest that she should be denied legal aid to fight her case.

Why are girls held to different media standards ?

Why is it that a girl is considered to be sufficiently mature to know her own mind and to be fully responsible of her actions, while Robinson’s behaviour is accepted as the normal behaviour of foolish youth?

It is almost medieval in its assumption that once a girl has reached sexual maturity, she is a dangerous and serious risk to the established social order while male youths are just ‘lads’ awaiting maturity. Both Robinson and Begum should be permitted to put their youthful foolishness behind them and get on with their lives.

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