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
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?
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
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
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?
"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
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)