Guest Post by Ludmila Andrea
Living in today’s world, it is surprisingly easy to become desensitized to the pervasive sexism that plagues the media on a daily basis. Often times, it is hidden by clever vernacular that to some extent disguises misogynistic sentiments. Other times, it is blatantly malicious. Regardless of the particular scenario, however, the media has set a precedent that suggests that chastising women based on their physical appearance is somehow acceptable. The sad part is that, through such behavior, much of the general public now seems to think they are entitled to voice their opinions on women’s appearances whenever they see fit. We’ve seen this in many different scenarios – from Kim Kardashian to Hillary Clinton – and though the circumstances may vary, the root of the problem remains the same: the status quo dictates that no matter how successful a woman may be in her chosen field, men (and other women, for that matter) are entitled to comment on and criticize their appearance as though it actually had something to do with their ability to excel in their chosen endeavors. Does this sound extreme to you? Then maybe you haven’t been paying enough attention.
Although this is not, by any means, strictly a 21st century phenomenon, globalization and the pervasive nature of social media have made it increasingly easy to bash and publicly ridicule women with little to no individual accountability. Following the culmination of the 2013 Wimbledon Singles Final this week, winner Marion Bartoli was faced with a seemingly never-ending stream of cruel, sexist comments – not based on her athletic ability but instead on her appearance. Hundreds if not thousands of Twitter users took the opportunity to voice their opinions on her breasts, her hair, and her overall appearance. These sentiments, which were so poignantly shared on Twitter (and also by a few Wimbledon commentators as well as other news sources) and behaviour like this in general begs the question: what does Bartoli’s physical appearance possibly have to do with her ability to play tennis? And for that matter, what does ANY woman’s appearance have to do with her ability to do ANYTHING? That’s just it: there is absolutely no correlation between the two things.
The reality is that this type of behaviour, along with slut-shaming, cat-calling or any other unsolicited voicing of one’s feelings towards a woman’s appearance, is the embodiment of a culture in which the male gaze is the first priority. Whether in sports, fashion, music, or any other facet of contemporary culture, most of it is predominantly marketed with the male gaze in mind. Because of this, all women who part-take in contemporary culture are expected to be pleasing to the male gaze (though, even things that are marketed towards women are structured with an implicit tagline that says this is what guys want to be seeing and therefore this is what you should want to look like). So when I read comments like “Bartoli you fat shit. I don’t want an ugly b$^&# to win,” (Twitter) as much as I am pained and alarmed, I am sadly not surprised. We live in a society in which girls and women are repeatedly told that no matter how incredible their capabilities and strengths may be, even if they achieve the greatest successes they are somehow undeserving of praise and recognition (or, conversely, deserving of criticism and torment) if they are not ‘adequately’ attractive. This happens all the time, in sports and entertainment, even in politics. The double standard, however, is that men don’t have to be any of these things in order to achieve success, and rarely have to deal with such hateful reactions to their physical appearance. Ultimately, by denigrating women to scarcely more than an object whose sole purpose is to fulfil the aesthetic standards and expectations of men, we are perpetuating the existence of a culture that subsequently makes it okay to treat women as somehow less of a person than their male counterparts.
As horrifying as this may seem, these are actually the times that we live in; times where we are told to judge others, especially women, on their appearance instead of their capacity and are encouraged to voice our opinions on matters of female appearance whenever we want. However, we can use stories like Bartoli’s as a lesson and a source of education through which we can draw attention to these glaring problems in our society; problems that are irrefutably rooted deeply in misogyny and sexism. Hopefully, down the road, social media blasts like this one will be a thing of the past. Until then, let’s applaud women like Bartoli, whose priorities seem to be delightfully in check, even after what was undoubtedly a painful experience: “It doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry,” She said, in response to her recent criticisms. “But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.” And win, she did. Congratulations, Marion.