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Sunday, 10 January 2016





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Government Gazette

The Chris Gayle conundrum:

Is it ever OK to ask out a woman at work?

You could say West Indies cricketer Chris Gayle has let the side down. Not the Melbourne Renegades, who he's done a marvellous job for, whacking 41 from 15 balls at the Big Bash League game against Hobart Hurricanes last week. No, I mean the side of men in general.

Chris Gayle and Mel McLaughlin

On January 4, on live TV, the explosive batsman made a cringe-inducing pass at female interviewer Mel McLaughlin. "It looks like you're absolutely just smashing this innings," said McLaughlin to Gayle, hoping to get some insightful firsthand analysis of the game. But Gayle had other things on his mind, telling McLaughlin he was happy to see her eyes, before suggesting they go for a drink and following up with the immortal words, "don't blush, baby", while she looked away awkwardly.

The incident, which lasted all of 15 seconds, has been met with the usual cries of outrage, sexism, and sanctimony. Gayle's been fined $10,000 (peanuts to a man who is said to be worth $15 million) and has since apologised to McLaughlin (fair enough).

An open and shut case? Well, maybe. While the cricketer has clearly not done much for the wafer-thin façade of modern man by addressing a professional adult woman as "baby", it's worth pointing out that he put into action the thoughts that many of men harbour. Isn't there usually someone at work we fancy? Someone we wish we could ask out with confidence and easy charm?

Grown-up a-wooing

I'm not talking about the kind of rear-pinching come-ons that characterised every place Sid James ever worked in the Carry On films, but respectful, grown-up a-wooing. Which begs the question: is there ever a good time to ask someone out at work? Is it actually sexist to presume so? Is it fair game? Or are we simply opening ourselves up to a world of pain, humiliation, and disciplinary meetings?

The answer, according to dating and relationship expert James Preece, is to display just a tad more discretion than Gayle managed: "Don't do it at work. Ask them to go for a drink afterwards, or go for lunch. Get to know them first. That's the key to it. Work just isn't the place for it."

Such tact is not just for the sake of our own fragile ego; it avoids making a woman feel horribly uncomfortable in her place of work, as Mel McLaughlin clearly was. Frankly, Gayle couldn't have broached his come-on worse: rather than whisper about his affections for her around the coffee machine, he went on live television and admitted it to the world.

Nonetheless, at a fundamental level, his mistake is one that's that's dogged men in the workplace since the dawn of time. "At work, men tend to assume all women fancy them," says Preece. "All they're doing is being friendly. Make sure you're very clear they're interested before you ask them out."

So, aside from having the misfortune of sitting at the desk opposite, what are the signs that a colleague is genuinely interested?

Everyday sexist

"If they're communicating with you during time outside work," says James, "texting you, asking you lots of questions, emailing you, on your Facebook, they've obviously got an interest in you.

"Inside jokes are a big key. If you're sharing jokes and banter, that's good sign as well. If they're asking about the weekend and your social life, they're probably trying to find out if you're single or not. These are all signals, good or bad, to look out for."

Unfortunately for Gayle, he's fallen off that tightrope of sexist behaviour and been deemed an #everydaysexist in the court of public opinion, a bloke who thinks that women are simply there for our pleasure. (That's not to say it doesn't happen the other way around - one of my first bosses slapped my bum every time I went up the stairs. I used to think it was because I was hot stuff, but looking back she might have been slightly unhinged.)

Moral outrage comes all too easily in our society, with scant regard of the very real dynamics of sexual attraction between men and women. Was Gayle being genuinely sexist or did he merely perpetrate a ham-fisted attempt to attract someone of the opposite sex? He's claimed the incident was a "simple joke" blown out of proportion, and that he meant no disrespect. Personally, I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

After all, it's not like there's a blanket ban on dating people you work with. A 2013 study found that 14 per cent of couples who met through work eventually married; there's no doubt we tend to think of work as a fertile ground for flings, fumbles and full-on relationships. "Many couples meet in the workplace," agrees James. "If you get rejected, it's embarrassing, but sometimes it's worth it. If you don't try you're never going to get."

It's not about who, but when and how. Asking out a colleague is fair game, but, as Chris Gayle found out, doing it on the job just isn't cricket - whether that means in the office, on the shop floor, or before a television audience of millions.

"He can learn from the lesson," says James. "Be more respectful next time and ask her in the ad break."

Which would save a whole lot of blushing for everyone involved, baby.

(A version of this article was originally published in the Telegraph UK)


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