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Serena Williams, Motherhood and Non-Feminine Behaviour

Maybe the heat was getting to me this week. Or maybe I’m just tired of the unfair treatment women are subjected to… Every. Single. Day. So this week’s vlog is a RANT about tennis star Serena Williams and the way we ALL get judged, especially when we display non-feminine behaviour:


Hello and welcome to the weekly vlog!

OK, warning: this week’s post is a RANT!

Let me set the stage for you first:

For the last several weeks, I’ve been preparing for a talk that I’m giving in Toronto on gender differences and communication in the workplace. So I’ve been reviewing several studies on how people judge men and women differently in various situations like when they make decisions or express strong emotions.

Suffice it to say most of these studies show that women ARE judged more harshly than men, especially when they exhibit “non-feminine“ behaviour.

I guess the unfairness of this situation has been very much top-of-mind for me lately.

(Because, let’s face it, business is not exactly about “feminine” behaviour, is it? It’s all about how FIRM we are when we deal with a difficult situation, or how TOUGH we need to be in negotiations, and so on… And I know I’m making a judgement right here when I say being firm or tough are not usually considered “ feminine behaviour”… OK, Please bear with me!)

Anyway, the day after I finished reading all those studies, while we were driving to a family event, I mentioned to my husband Heinz something that I had just read on my phone about American tennis player Serena Williams pulling out of the Rogers Cup in Montreal. He’s a big tennis fan, so I knew he’d be interested. He was.

And that’s when he said something like, “well I hope it’s to focus on the baby she just had.“ Maybe he didn’t quite say that but that is how I heard it. I know he didn’t mean it maliciously.

Regardless, the comment just rubbed me the wrong way. I laid into him!!

I grilled him: would he ask the same thing if Roger Federer had pulled out of the Rogers Cup? Would anyone question if a MALE athlete had pulled out of a competition because of his child?Wouldn’t they instead focus on the concern over the guy’s health and not even think about the parenthood connection??

It struck me as such a sexist comment!

And my husband, I think, is one of the “good guys.” He is very supportive of me, his daughters, and the women around him. It just goes to show how deep our biases go.

Is it fair? Of course it’s not!But it’s a reality that women face all the time.

Whether they are professional athletes or small business owners or executives in a corporation.

And ladies we have all joked around, haven’t we, that things likely won’t change completely until we find a way to get a man the ability to produce offspring… RIGHT?

Women are constantly judged according to our femininity, our maternal instincts or status.

Women are judged if they are childless. They are judged if they have children and work. And they are judged if they have children and don’t work. We are constantly struggling between love and business.

And the judging is not just from other people. We do a lot of judging towards ourselves as we’ve talked about before. Serena Williams herself has done that in recent interviews.

Questioning gender roles and perception is a big part of the dialogue that we need to continue having amongst ourselves and in the business world.

Because right now, even in the most recent studies that I was reviewing, men and women are treated differently.

One study I was reading reported that when participants of both sexes witness a woman getting angry, they are more likely to see her as “out-of-control” and not suited to a leadership role. But when participants saw a similar angry reaction in a man, both men and women were more likely to say the reaction was due to stress, and not a lack of control.

Anger didn’t seem to hurt the man’s credibility, but it does hurt the woman’s.

Study after study, it seems, report that we have different yardsticks when assessing men and women show any emotion at all, from anger to sadness and even empathy.

What can we do to change the narrative?

Well, one thing we can do is to call one another out on it. To have conversations.

What are we telling one another? What are we telling our daughters or nieces or granddaughters?

Are we speaking up when someone unfairly judges a woman for her “non-feminine behaviour”? Or for the way she parents? Are we QUESTIONING what we are expecting of ourselves in the workplace, in our extended family or community, never mind our own families?

Because we will never get equitable treatment unless we are willing to take a stand, speak up and make real changes for ourselves and those immediately around us.

So here we are. There is no tip or advice today. Just what I hope will create conversation.

Speaking of which, please leave a comment below.

I would love to hear your thoughts or questions. Do you agree? Are things changing from your perspective? What else could we be doing differently?

As always, thanks for watching. Have a great week ahead!

Yours for love and business,

Doreen's signature in blue


Featured Image Photo Credit: Serena Williams, Official Facebook Page

2 thoughts on “Serena Williams, Motherhood and Non-Feminine Behaviour

  • I totally agree with you Doreen, we need to be role models at so many levels from personal lives to business and family life. We are still far behind, and the beginning is to change our own mindset and belief in who we are and what we can do and what we can achieve. When I opened my business 20 years ago, I was told that I would not make it as a business entrepreneur, well I did and have… because I embraced and challenged my own beliefs, always learning, being informed, strategically networking and surrounding yourself with like-minded business people who ‘cheer you on’, and not jealous of your success, but proud! We all make mistakes, but you learn from them, pick yourself up, and continue, but take the time to dissect one’s business, are you going in the right direction, are there key changes to be aware of that has or can change things for the business you have embraced, always ask the question, the big question ‘Why’! Never, never become complacent… there is an entire world of opportunity, as long as you really want it! Thank you for always sharing your great insight with us. Gaby Eaton, Women Mean Business Professional Network of Eastern Ontario

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