When is sexism actually sexism?

Editor’s note: This article is reproduced from our friends at Men’s Human Rights Ontario

BY Baldwin Bravo

THERE is an old saying, ‘ask a stupid question, unleash a wave of outrage on a global scale.’ Or, at least, I think it goes something like that.

Earlier this week, a reporter in Australia asked an extremely stupid question of 19-year-old Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard.  Bouchard had just made Canadian tennis history (yes, such a thing actually exists) by becoming the first Canadian woman to reach a semi-final in a Grand Slam. It was the latest milestone in Bouchard’s amazing journey in becoming a serious force in world tennis. A smiling Bouchard, breathless but clearly thrilled with her win, was asked – ‘if you could date anyone in the world of sport, of movies, who would you date?’

Social media reacted instantly with severe criticism of the reporter, an accomplished athlete in her own right, as well as the network that prompted her to ask such a question.

Eugenie Bouchard prepares to serve. Copyright, Edwin Martinez


My first reaction to this story was that there is no story here. It is a stupid question to be sure, but sexist? On the surface it would seem that yes, it is possibly a little sexist, but no more sexist than asking a male athlete what kind of car he’d most like to own. Sexist, but nothing worth getting your Y-flys in a twist over.

But look a little closer, and you’ll find that the answer to the question ‘would a man be asked this?’ is an overwhelming yes, a man would be asked this question. American swimmer and Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochete, was asked this very question in a cringe-inducing article by that most progressive and venerable of media institutions – the Huffington Post.

The mental obstacle here is the word ‘man’. I don’t know about you, but when I picture a ‘man’, he’s in his mid 30’s to mid 40’s.  If we were to pose the question “would a 40 year old woman be asked that?” we would tend to assume the answer is no… that would make it ageism rather than sexism. Do we still need the pitchforks and torches? Of course not, ageism is not society’s pet form of discrimination.

It’s just a stupid question.

But, of course, there is more to it than that. This is, we are told, ‘just another example of female athletes not being taken seriously.’

And again I find myself in agreement. That the “only” question the network could think of to ask this young woman after all she has accomplished is about cute boys, then that is indeed quite sexist.

Except that isn’t what happened.

The clip that was included with just about every story that was written about this was only a moment in a much longer interview. Eugenie was first congratulated on her accomplishment, then asked to comment on the match itself, then asked about her coach, then asked if her on court composure transfers to her off court life, then the stupid question, and finally she was asked to comment on her past experiences in competitive tennis.

One stupid question notwithstanding, she was very much taken seriously as an athlete.

Interestingly, if you compare the full interview with the clip that has been included in articles published by sources such as The National Post, you will have no doubt noticed something else.

The clip, it seems, conveniently starts just after reporter Samantha Smith reveals that this is a  question submitted by a viewer. It wasn’t the reporter’s question, it wasn’t the network’s question, it was a fan question. Does anyone believe that this was just an accident?

There seems to be a much bigger story here than I originally thought. Not a story of sexism, but a story of deliberate, manufactured outrage.

Bouchard made over $550,000 from her exploits at the Australian Open.  That was more money than she had made in her entire career to date.  She also broke into the elite group of top twenty female tennis players in the world.

Maybe it will be easier for her to do the intelligent thing and brush off the question for what it was – a dumb question from a dumb person – solely designed to provoke outrage – and nothing else.

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