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Crushing sexism creates martyrs for the boys' clubIn it together: Gray and Keys

There is always a touch of comic pathos about a bully getting his comeuppance. Richard Keys on TalkSport could not disguise the dry-throated trauma. It was not just that he had lost his reputation and was about to lose a highly-paid job - there was also a horrible, dawning self-awareness.

Where were the blokes of Britain rising in his defence? Why so little support from the fans?

Suddenly he had discovered how others saw him and his colleague Andy Gray - not as enviable, roguish masters of their universe, but as a pair of plonkers.

Let us be clear about the cause of their downfall. It was not Hattie Harperson and her joyless friends waving pieces of legislation. The swaggering pair seem to have been destroyed by their colleagues, who had silently endured their monstrous egos and unfunny jokes for years.

Reassuringly, much of the early comment from football fans was broadly sensible. No one much liked the policing of private banter, but few liked Gray and Keys either.

As the week wore on, the debate moved from the specific to the general and men rallied to the flag. It was now a question of free speech, or, as Jeremy Clarkson put it, "heresy of thought".

Sport commentary is a traditionally male domain. It is not stereotyping to observe that, for very many men, it forms the architecture of their conversation and friendships.

Sport is a male sanctuary. Yet the television sports reporter - whether football, rugby or cricket - is now likely to be a young woman.

As you would expect, the BBC presents this move as liberal equality. Sky, on the other hand, doesn't bother to disguise a predilection for what Gray would describe as 'lookers'.

Younger sports broadcasters have shrugged off Gray and Keys as the last of a passing generation, who were unenlightened about sexism, racism or homophobia. Because the current generation of young men are post-feminist, the assumption is that they cannot be genuinely sexist. It is a joke - and the girls are in on it.

I have seen girls described by boys on Facebook in a shocking way. I have interrupted teenage boys' conversations to chide them.

My resetting of their moral compasses takes the form of a simple, headmistressy question: would you like to hear your sisters talked about in this way?

Yet moving to crush all sexist comment causes far greater damage than the original offence: human relations are far too intricate and delicate for blunt directives.

I am not offended when a bright-eyed, cheerful plumber asks to speak to my husband. I am furious when an able young woman working in an all-male office talks of throwing in the towel because she is worn down by humiliating 'banter' from powerful men.

Boys will be boys, shrugs the wife of Richard Keys - but you don't say 'dogs will be dogs' as your Staffordshire tears into someone's leg. There are times to be indulgent and times to knock it on the head.

The removal of Gray and Keys has unseen ramifications. Jeremy Clarkson is a formidable entertainer with a large following.

And while no one would suggest Clarkson represents 50% of the population, he speaks for many who feel they have conceded too much.

Is male culture to be wiped out? Is a pleasure in cars, sport, pubs and male company to be outlawed? Are men condemned to a life of rom-coms and holding hands? As Keys and Gray reportedly enter talks with al-Jazeera - and let's see how lads-mag humour goes down in the Arab world - they could still end up being martyrs of a newly-formed and vigorous Men's Defence League.