There has been a lot of talk about how irresponsible and sexist the Media has been with the coverage of the Olympics in Rio. We were only a week into the Olympics and as with all things, “real life” caught up. Real life rooted in real problems. Real problems rooted in systemic negligence and ignorance. If feminism is the “F” word, sexism is the “S” word. It is shocking, unnecessary, constraining and for many women, like myself, it sucks.
Every single athlete in Rio, man or woman, has trained strenuously for years to be where they are today. They’ve had to make compromises, work hard on themselves, self-motivate, work against the odds and themselves to beat their personal records, among other things. So, WHY do we choose to undermine the journeys of female athletes and judge them on the basis of everything but these determining factors?
Instead of being praised or judged on the basis of their strength, achievements and work ethic, it is disheartening to see that the Media consistently choose to focus on athletes’ “zits”, “thigh gaps” or “baby hairs”, to discuss “why women at the Rio games should be wearing make-up”, to credit these athletes’ well-deserved wins to their significant others, to call them “the next…” as opposed to the first version of themselves and to limit their identity to solely being someone’s wife.
On one hand, we can put on blinkers and blame the Media, wholeheartedly. After all, in today’s digital world with a myriad of social issues and an overwhelming pace of change, the Media plays an imperative role in what we know about the world and has a significant influence on our minds and behavior. Consequently, there is a strong sense of responsibility that arises from this silent power and there is no sense in denying this.
However, it is important to acknowledge that the Media today has rendered into a reflection and extension of reality – it is not enough nor useful to solely blame them. If you want to blame someone or something, blame the system, QUESTION it and be an active part of changing it by being mindful of your own words and behavior.
The narrative that is being used and brought to the forefront at the Olympics is the same as what is being used behind every closed door (e.g. in workplaces, entertainment, homes, schools). If you don’t believe me, try asking the women around you. You will be amazed at the responses a supposedly simple question can elicit.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved having a strong circle of fierce women who come from various walks of life, to learn from and be around. The more women I met, the more voices I heard and the more exposed I was to the range of hard-hitting realities that co-exist. However, it was only when I developed interests in seemingly “male-dominated” fields like sales, technology, and entrepreneurship that I witnessed sexism first-hand in the world of business…and it is no fun seeing it unfold in front of your eyes.
It is no fun knowing that your physical appearance will precede what you’ve accomplished/how hard you’ve worked and undoubtedly affect who ends up interacting with you/taking you seriously.
It is no fun knowing that people around you think you’re going to give up on your career sooner than later.
It is no fun having your entrepreneurial ambitions questioned or type-casted as a “hobby”.
It is no fun knowing that you may not have the same salary as your male counterpart.
It is no fun being one of only two or three women in a conference hall of fifty.
It is no fun having to sit through some of the ridiculous conversations/statements with a smile and a couple of deep breaths because you don’t want to be the “sensitive” person everyone is running away from or does not want to work with.
It is no fun being the note-taker because apparently, that is a “feminine” thing.
It is no fun being complimented on your outfit first and maybe your valuable insights (time permitted of course).
It is no fun being told that you should spend more time and effort on other people than yourself.
…Most importantly, it is no fun knowing that these are only a FEW of the many examples of the rampant sexism that exists in Business.
So, the million-dollar question, what can we do about Sexism? Nobody has the answers and it most certainly won’t go away overnight. It will eradicate the same way it came to exist — through years of re-learning and radical reform but this means short-term tolerance.
We are all products of the people, intergenerational cultures, age-old traditions, behaviors, words, and actions that surround us, cross our paths and make us act in ways that we sometimes don’t understand ourselves. Acknowledging this is important but addressing this with empathy and kindness is even more important because the blame-game is not going to lead to the change we want to see in the world.
There are a few things we need to turn our eyes, minds, and hearts to:
It Is Time to Embrace Change
We are entering an era of much-needed, rapid change. If you don’t get on board, you might be left out. Change is scary and can make people (especially those who have been protected by the way the world has functioned for years) feel uncomfortable, edgy and threatened, as though their privileges will be taken away. We need to accept that change will leave everyone better off; it is about leveling the playing field.
Focus on Educating Gen Z and Role Modeling Positive Behavior
Studies have proven that the upcoming generation is easily influenced, easier to teach, more willing to change behavior, socially aware and receptive to change. Blur gender stereotypes and roles beginning with changing the explicit and implicit, untold rules taught/assumed in the classroom and at home. Do whatever you can to educate Gen Z on things that matter that they will benefit from as they grow older- they’re already on board. Correcting problematic behavior at a young age will solve much of what we experience/go through as adults. Gen Z is a powerful catalyst for change.
Surround Yourself by Progressive, Open-Minded People
Surround yourself with people who remind you of the light at the end of the tunnel, encourage you to keep moving forward and push you to be the best version of you. You will be amazed at what a difference this makes to your morale. Sexism is not just about men feeling threatened by powerful, self-assured and accomplished women who know what they want, it also extends to women who judge/bash other women on the basis of the choices they make that differ from the status-quo or that they don’t have the guts to make themselves. Either way, it slowly but surely can take a toll on your self-confidence if you don’t address your negative feelings as and when they arise. As Dalai Lama says, if we can’t change a particular situation, the best we can do is change our response. Sometimes that response is as simple as giving yourself space from negative energy.
Keep the Conversation Alive
Keeping the conversation alive is a form of action on its own; this includes being vocal about your experiences where you can be and being an active listener. Conversation is a remedy for the world’s most pressing issues and the ultimate human interest activity that brings us all together.
The best response to Sexism is not letting it affect you. Keep being an unstoppable force.
…Times are changing, make sure you are not the one who gets left behind.
Born in Bahrain and raised in several different countries across the globe, Trishala is an undergraduate student in her final year at the University of Waterloo in Canada, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, specializing in Public Policy and Minoring in Management & Communications. This definitely reflects one aspect of her personality: her burning desires to go beyond the study of just one discipline, to learn a little about a lot and to integrate her knowledge of the various disciplines to offer work of value and make an impact in the world. It is this very passion of hers to strive for purpose and meaning with all that she does (along with her strong interest in gender equality and independence) that makes her a fierce woman, who is truly proud to use this platform to empower women around the world.
Currently, she is the Co-President of TEDxUW and is in the process of curating a world-class TEDx conference for the University of Waterloo and the local community. In the past, she has worked for multinational companies (e.g. J.Walter Thompson), start-ups in North America’s Silicon Valley of Waterloo, not-for-profit organizations (e.g. Women in Leadership) and social businesses. Looking forward, she is not only planning to pursue her Masters but she is also aspiring to be an entrepreneur of an organization driven by shared-value creation.