THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

Jun 16, 2021 | Sandra Pierce


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Many have opined about tennis player Naomi Osaka’s treatment by The French Open. Days before the tournament began, she surprised the tennis world by declaring she’d no longer do press conferences, citing the effects of reporters’ questions on her mental health.

I’ve often felt that people have no regard for athletes’ mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one. We are often sat there and asked questions that we’ve been asked multiple times before or asked questions that bring doubt into our minds and I’m just not going to subject myself to people that doubt me.

Acknowledging that she would likely be fined for this decision, the current World No. 2 expressed a desire that the money would go toward a mental health charity.

She was indeed fined $15,000, but it didn't stop there. She was given a warning that she could risk default from the French Open, and all four Grand Slam tour organizations released a joint statement threatening to suspend Osaka from future tournaments if she continued to "ignore her media obligations."

Via a painfully revealing tweet, Osaka shared that since the 2018 US Open she had a hard time coping with the long bouts of depression.

Anyone that has seen me at the tournaments will notice that I’m often wearing headphones as that helps dull my social anxiety,” she wrote. “Here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences.”

And with that said, Osaka feeling she had no other alternative, pulled out of the tournament. The French Open did a quick about-face articulating their concern for her well-being and wishing her the “quickest recovery possible.

Support for her came pouring in from around the world, from big-name athletes and celebrities including Venus Williams, Steph Curry, Nicki Minaj, Will Smith, Pink, Bubba Watson, and Lewis Hamilton.

Subsequently, the conversation became all about mental illness in the workplace and how we treat those who suffer from it. Definitely important, but in my opinion, this was just the tip of the iceberg.

Isn’t there a bigger issue playing out here that needs to be addressed? The issue that women are treated more harshly than men when they speak up.

In a conversation with my very supportive spouse, he said that “you don’t know it’s just women – the Tennis world could have treated a man the same way.” And he’s right – we don’t and we’ll never know. As I’m sure the Tennis Bureaucracy, after all the negative backlash, to their less than sensitive reaction, will think twice before they attack someone again.

But from the floor of the US Senate to auditions for orchestras, research has shown that men are often seen as more competent and powerful for talking, while women are more harshly criticized and, at times, punished.

What played out at The French Open was a prime example of a forceful woman, taking charge of her life and well-being, being shut down and treated almost as if she’s a naughty, misbehaving child who needed to be reprimanded and scolded.

In a recent study, psychological scientist, Adam Grant, confirms that speaking up about ideas for improvements at work—also known as “voice”—can be a risky undertaking for women. It challenges the status quo and often threatens managers. “Numerous studies have shown that many female employees perceive managers as discouraging, penalizing, or punishing voices,” Grant writes in the Academy of Management Journal.

Political scientists have found that when groups of five make democratic decisions if only one member is a woman, she speaks 40 percent less than each of the men. Even if the group has a majority of three women, they each speak 36 percent less than each of the two men. Only in groups with four women do they each finally take up as much airtime as the one man.

In too many teams and too many workplaces, women face the harsh reality that it is better to stay silent and be thought polite than speak up and jeopardize their careers.

Remember Yoshiro Mori? The male leader of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, a former prime minister of Japan, who complained that women speak too much and that being the reason he saw no need in adding any more of them to his Olympic Committee.

When asked at a news conference whether he genuinely thinks women talk too much, Mori responded, “I don’t listen to women that much lately, so I don’t know.” And therein lies the problem.

I’m mad that Osaka was bullied for speaking up and I continue to question if there’ll ever be a solution to this particular gender gap. Maybe, like many things in life, one has to accept the current reality – the words of the French film director, Claude Chabrol, expresses it best:

“You have to accept the fact that sometimes you are the pigeon and sometimes you are the statue.”