March 29, 2024 - 10:00am

What should the penalty be for an unwanted kiss? A slap in the gob? A public shaming? How about a couple of years in jail? This is what Luis Rubiales, Spain’s notorious football federation president, could be facing if he is charged with sexual assault and coercion for kissing footballer Jenni Hermoso.

Rubiales, who has always maintained that the kiss was consensual, refused to step down or act contrite despite international condemnation and disownment by the women’s team. Hermoso, in contrast, is not only arguing that the kiss was an assault, but that Rubiales and senior managers and directors attempted to coerce her into agreeing that it was consensual. Things aren’t looking good for Rubiales — even if he escapes the cell, he could face heavy damages and a criminal record.

Context is key to this kiss. Watching the clip, the interaction might be considered in a long line of football double-handed smooches, complete with macho backslap to finish it off. Gary Neville and Paul Scholes, Claudio Caniggia and Diego Maradona, Anna Tamminen and Rosa Herreros? In the spring before The Kiss, the Guardian even wrote a defence of football kissing, arguing in favour of the practice as “an everyday human interaction”. The difference is that while Tamminen and Herreros were a couple, and Scholes and Neville fellow teammates, Rubiales was Hermoso’s boss. You don’t have to be a lawyer to come to the conclusion that the reaction from Hermoso and the rest of the team to a two-second kiss possibly suggests something unsaid about Rubiales’s conduct behind the scenes.

It can be tempting to cheer on the burning of witches — or football bosses. When the #MeToo movement kicked off in 2017, the French took a much more direct approach. #BalanceTonPorc — or “out your pig” — went viral, with women making public allegations against ill-behaved men. Hermoso and her team clearly think this is the Spanish pork’s moment to be fried.

Rubiales going to jail might satisfy the women he used to work with, but a feminist victory it is not. The most depressing thing about that moment in Sydney was that the Women’s World Cup suddenly became all about one man. Commentary ignored the previously lionised Lionesses, and forgot about Hermoso’s Silver Ball award. Instead, column inches were dedicated to who could make the biggest deal out of Rubiales. Irene Montero, Spain’s equality minister, made international headlines by describing the kiss as a “form of sexual violence”. Spain’s acting prime minister even got in on the act — everyone had something to say about a bald guy in a suit, with women’s football a distant memory.

Feminism has had a lot of iterations, but the contemporary understanding of what it means to be feminist seems to be to encourage a climate of fear about women’s safety. The Rubialeses of this world still exist, but we seem to want to magnify them out of all proportion. In doing so, we endanger women’s freedom, frightening us out of public life and engagement. When sexism rears its head, we should stick the cleat in. But a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence over a kiss? That doesn’t feel like girl power.

Ella Whelan is a freelance journalist, commentator and author of What Women Want: Fun, Freedom and an End to Feminism.