Modern trends in the media mean that women are asked stupid questions. It is a reality we are all forced to reckon with while we watch Red Carpet coverage at awards shows; listen to interviews during pre-productions; browse our dashboards looking for quotes from the women we watch and admire. Rather than insightful questions about their work, women are asked about their looks. Who are you wearing? How did you lose the weight? Where’s that smile?
This is a pattern many women in media have been trying to break. The recent #AskHerMore campaign has been pushing media outlets to ask women walking the red carpet more substantial questions. To point out the inherent sexism of questions about diets and balancing their careers, female actors are calling out the reporters. It is with this pattern in mind that Serena Williams made headlines for her response to a reporter at a recent press conference following her loss at the U.S. Open:
A reporter in the crowd asked Williams why she was not smiling after her loss at the U.S. Open Tournament this past weekend. The reporter may have expected Williams to throw on a smile for the rest of the press conference. However, he received another reaction:
Many women are told, during interviews or photo-ops, to keep a smile on their face. It makes for a better picture, and arguably, for a better lie. The media does not want to portray women as the complex human beings that they are. They like to pretend women are normally docile and sweet, with a permanent smile brightening their face. This forces women like Williams to fake a smile for press conferences and give everyone else the picture they are looking for, regardless of personal feelings.
Williams’s actions are an important break in this pattern. Instead of remaining docile, she said no. Even more important, she said why. The secret of being a woman — that we are human beings first and foremost — has been revealed. Williams did not put up with reporters looking for a great picture. She experienced a professional blow to her career and rather than make herself uncomfortable, refused to lie for the sake of the cameras. She placed the discomfort on everyone else and proved it was okay to do, a lesson other women are still learning.
Some will try to explain away what Serena Williams did as just being “angry” or “emotional.” However, it is so much more than just an annoyed outburst. This is a strong, confident woman denying the media’s attempt to make her uncomfortable, like they do to so many other women. This is a woman saying no, and telling the truth — this is how we tell the media that we are not faking it anymore.