Fighting Back: Sexist Questions from the Media

eugenie bouchard

Tennis star Eugenie Bouchard was the first Canadian woman to make it to the semi-finals of the Australian Open in over thirty years.  In the courtside interview after her historic win, interviewer Samantha Smith didn’t focus on her predictions or strategy for the Open.  No, she asked Bouchard about her dream date. “You’re getting a lot of fans here.  A lot of them are male, and they want to know: If you could date anyone in the world of sport or movies -– I’m sorry, they asked me to say this -– who would you date?”

We all know the media treats women differently than men – athletes, politicians, actors, comedians and executives are all victims. By focusing on women’s appearance or relationships instead of their accomplishments, the women’s contributions are minimized.  Think Sarah Palin. But there’s good news. Something is changing.  The women are beginning to fight back.

  • At the SAG awards, an E! cameraman tried to capture actress Cate Blanchett’s gown.   As he slowly began scanning her body from feet upwards, Cate bent down so her face appeared in the camera and asked , “Do you do that to the guys?”

 

  • When Top Chef Gail Simmons was asked by a Denver Post reporter how she balances “eating for a living and looking good on TV,”  Simmons replied, “Tom Colicchio never gets that question.”

 

  • When Amy Poehler and Tina Fey were asked about being women in comedy, Fey retorted, “the only disadvantage women have is to have to keep fucking answering the question of, ‘Is it hard and are women funny?’  The men don’t have to answer that question. That’s the only impairment.”

Thanks Cate, Gail and Tina.  Calling the media out on their inappropriateness is the first step in eradicating it.

And what did Eugenie Bouchard reply in response to the ridiculous question about her dream date?  Clearly embarrassed, and covering her face with her hand, she replied – Justin Bieber.  Bouchard is only 19 years old, and doesn’t yet know that she need not  answer such questions.  She doesn’t know that talking about who she’d like to date undermines her status as a professional athlete.  She doesn’t know that she can just tell the reporter that she’d prefer to talk about tennis.  Hopefully next time.

Is Sexism Over?

sexism in trash

The majority of women in a new Pew poll report their workplaces are free of gender bias.  Surprised?  According to the survey, most female employees report they are paid equally to men and have the same opportunities for advancement.

Interesting results given women make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men and still hold only a small percentage of C-suite and board positions in major companies.   Clearly sexism still pervades many workplaces, but is it somehow going unnoticed by women?

Sexism can be subtle, and perhaps it flies under the radar for many women.  After all, organizations don’t circulate corporate memos demanding women receive less pay than their male counterparts.  When a top executive position opens, there is no disclaimer that only men should apply.  Indeed, even organizations are often naive as to how sexism permeates their organization.   But sexism’s subtlety isn’t the only explanation for these surprising survey responses.

Sheryl Sandberg (and other recent authors) who have blamed women for their own lack of advancement at work have also, inadvertently, led women to deny sexism.  In the current climate, acknowledging women’s issues advancing in the workplace has become synonymous with acknowledging women’s weaknesses.  Women aren’t doing well at work?  They must not be leaning in, they’re consumed with perfection, or spending too much time with their kids.  In order to keep their own self-esteem intact, it’s natural that women would start denying that anything is amiss at the office.  No sexism here – we’re doing just fine, thank you.

In reality, women aren’t to blame for their own lack of progress at work.  Lack of leaning in, perfection and issues of family aren’t the only obstacles to women’s advancement.  Sexism still impacts many women and denying its existence only lets it fester.

Clearly, some sexism-free workplaces exist, and if you work in one, congratulations.  But if you detect sexism, don’t pretend it’s not there.  Open and honest discussion is the first step to eradicating sexism.  And, if you do complain of sexism, and someone advises you to lean in – tell them that’s exactly what you’re doing.