Do women matter? Donald Sterling has a long history of sexism too, but few are angry about it

The whole world now knows that Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is a racist. Though this wasn’t the first glimpse into his bigotry, it was the most publicized. It was announced on Tuesday that he would be fined $2.5 million and banned for life from attending NBA games and practices. NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver called Sterling’s comments “deeply offensive and harmful.” And they were.

But while Sterling’s racism went unaddressed for years by the league, his sexism continues to be both expected and accepted, despite it also being public knowledge.

The leaked conversation between Sterling and his then-girlfriend, V. Stiviano, wherein we learned that the owner didn’t want his girlfriend (who reminds him that she is, in fact, “mixed” race) publicly associating with black people, also made public his sexist views about women: “I don’t want to change. If my girl can’t do what I want, I don’t want the girl. I’ll find a girl that will do what I want! Believe me. I thought you were that girl—because I tried to do what you want. But you’re not that girl.”

Yeah, we know what you want, Sterling. You want a “girl” (not a “woman” – this should be your first tip-off — men who respect women don’t infantilize them) who is passive, obedient, and who doesn’t challenge her man. Oddly (not really that oddly) the media and the vast majority of people who followed and were angered by the story skimmed right over that part.

Sterling’s misogyny has a long history too — but few seem concerned with it. It is, after all, just women we’re talking about.

Dave Zirin wrote that “Sterling had to testify in open court that he regularly paid a Beverly Hills hooker for sex, describing her as a ‘$500-a-trick freak.’” Sterling called the woman, Alexandra Castro, “a piece of trash” and “the lowest form,” going on to say that “all she ever provided was sex, nothing else.” Castro initiated a lawsuit against Sterling who, once he was done with her, wanted to kick her out of the $1 million home he allegedly gave to her.

Man sees women as commodities, discards when done using. World responds with silence. Why? Because Sterling’s view of women is no different from the way much of the world also sees women. Most of us don’t actually believe there is anything wrong with his behaviour. We very much like to pretend we treat men and women as equals and that feminism as a thing of the past (hey, we can vote and sometimes the people we vote for let us have abortions – what more do we want?), but situations like this tell another story.

In 1996, a woman who worked for Sterling, Christine Jaksy, sued him for sexual harassment. She alleged that Sterling “offered her clothes and an expense account in return for sexual favors” and “touched her in ways that made her uncomfortable and asked her to visit friends of his for sex.” According to court documents, he also made her find “massage therapists” to provide sexual services for him, telling Jaksy, “I want someone who will, you know, let me put it in or who [will] suck on it.” 

Sterling was sued for sexual harassment again in 2003 by a woman named Sumner Davenport. She testified that “He would tell me that I needed to learn the ‘Asian way’ from his younger girls because they knew how to please him,” also saying: “If I made a mistake, I needed to stand at my desk and bow my head and say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Sterling. I’m sorry I disappointed you. I’ll try to do better.’ ”

Racism and sexism seem to blend together seamlessly for this man. And while many are glad to see Sterling’s racism finally addressed, what has become apparent in all this is that sexism is still seen as the norm — as not really all that bad. It’s clear we don’t live in a post-racial world or a post-feminist one, but it seems we’re less willing to see sexism as unacceptable.

It would be difficult, admittedly, for the NBA to take a stand against sexism, because the league as a whole doesn’t actually care about women. Women are allowed to participate in NBA games only as sexy decorations, numerous NBA players have been arrested on domestic violence charges, many others have been accused of sexual assault, and you can bet that using prostitutes is a norm for men in the league as well.

Clippers fan (and former Malcolm in the Middle star!), Frankie Muniz, who allegedly punched his girlfriend in the back of the head and threw her into a wall in 2011, says he is disgusted by the things Sterling said and that “In no way, shape or form is what he said acceptable and definitely should not be tolerated by anyone.”

Brave words, Frankie.

Fans, players, and the media like objectifying women. Sexism is a-ok as far as they’re concerned. Male supremacy is all part of the game. And when the entire league accepts or even perpetuates misogyny and violence against women, it’s unsurprising that it goes unaddressed when owners turn out to be sexists. What’s Kobe going to say? “I couldn’t play for him… because he treats women like objects?”  Somehow I doubt it.


Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.