Talk needs to catch up with women's advance

It probably shouldn’t surprise me anymore when successful women are asked completely crazy things that belittle their accomplishments, but – you know – it does. Last week, for instance, I was bewildered when a male reporter asked Eugenie Bouchard, a tennis pro ranked seventh in the world, to comment on her outfit and to “give us a twirl” after her impressive and decisive victory in the second round of the Australian Open.

Who honestly (other than the man who asked, obviously) thinks that’s okay? A twirl??? The reporter made the same request of Serena Williams, the world’s number-one female tennis player, and both instances were pretty universally panned as sexist. That, at least, is encouraging – but it’s still bothersome that the request was ever made at all. Yes, I get that the reporter was alluding to a tweet Bouchard sent to Williams about tennis fashion, but still. Give us a twirl? Seriously?

I don’t think there’s anything inherently sexist about women’s fashion, or even – to be honest – in asking a woman about her clothing. For many women, clothing is a form of self-expression, and we shouldn’t negate or ignore that. What is sexist, however, is when what a woman is wearing is posited as the only interesting and important thing about her. And it’s downright bizarre when a woman is asked about her clothing instead of the awesome thing she literally just did.

On the red carpet, the longtime home of Sexism in the Form of an Interview, we’re finally seeing some pushback.  This awards season, the hashtag #AskHerMore has become popular as fans demand that women be asked more than, “Who are you wearing tonight?” I mean, yes, red carpets are just as much about fashion as they are anything else, but when a female actor or filmmaker is being honored for her artistic work, is the designer of her dress really the most important (or only) question we have for her?

Some women have stopped playing the game, refusing to take part in shenanigans like E!’s “mani cam,” which gives viewers a close-up of stars’ rings and manicures – well, female stars’ rings and manicures. Men aren’t asked to parade their fingers before the camera because that, obviously, would be ridiculous.

Why is it that we can’t seem to help but to pare women down to their physical appearance? There are probably a bajillion think pieces about how and why that’s the case, and 90 percent of those pieces probably focus on a different nuance of the issue. But I think if we could boil all of those thoughts and arguments down to a single point, it would be that the way we’ve historically thought about women is fundamentally flawed, and we need to reboot. That, however, is a difficult thing to do; systematically ingrained paradigms don’t change overnight.

That being said, I think we all have a responsibility to chip away at that paradigm as much as we can. I’m sure I don’t have to remind Global Sisters Report readers of this, but women – as human beings made in the image of God – are doing amazing things around the world. Just in the last two weeks, for example, GSR published stories about women in Italy helping other women escape slavery, a woman in Hong Kong using innovative means to foster education in China, and women in Guatemala refusing to be shaken by endemic violence.

And that’s just in our hyper-focused corner of the media world; think of all the advances being made by women in addition to those made by Catholic sisters. Women are doing a lot, and when we tell, share and champion these stories, we’re influencing the global narrative about women. When we talk about women as capable and independent moral agents, we’re nudging the old hat worldview that says women are, first and foremost, pretty objects to be admired.

In addressing Twirlgate, Serena Williams asked if male tennis stars like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer would ever be asked to twirl on the court. Her question was rhetorical, but the answer is, “No.” I’m hopeful that, someday, making such ridiculous requests of women will be as equally taboo.

[Dawn Cherie Araujo is staff reporter for Global Sisters Report, based in Kansas City, Mo. Follow her on Twitter @Dawn_Cherie.]