“Don’t Patronise Me”: Johanna Konta’s Reaction To This Journalist Is How We All Feel At Work Sometimes

Infantilising professional female competitors at Wimbledon? No thanks

Johanna Konta

by Sofia Tindall |
Updated on

Have you ever had a boss ask you whether you're having 'women's troubles'? Perhaps you've been told that you need to be less emotional in an office-related matter? Have you ever (brace yourself) been humiliated on national television by a reporter and asked whether you feel disappointed by yourself in your career? If the answer to one of those questions is 'yes': then chances are you might be able to empathize with how Johanna Konta might feel today.

The British Tennis player has fought against multiple top-10 players in the last few days of Wimbledon, winning in three sets against Sloane Stephens and Petra Kvitova - and you would think making it to Wimbledon alone is a career-defining achievement and one that any athlete would be proud of (especially considering that for most of us - getting out of bed in time to properly dry your hair in the morning is accolade-worthy). I think we can all agree: Johanna Konta is doing pretty well for herself in her career.

However during a post-match news conference on 9th of July, a journalist spoke up to tell Konta that she had to 'look at herself a little bit now' adding 'there are key points where you could have done better'. Looking visibly astonished (wouldn't you if you were a professional athlete who'd just been asked that question?) Johanna responded 'Is that in your professional tennis opinion?'

'I don't think you need to pick on me in a harsh way, I think I'm very open with you guys' she continued. 'I still believe in the tennis that I play and I still believe in the way and I don't have much else to say to your question'. When the reporter continued 'I'm just asking you as somebody who wants to go on from here and learn from this,' Konta was forced to finally respond - though with remarkable grace in the circumstances – 'please don't patronize me.'

'I'm a professional competitor who did her best today, and that's all there is to that.'

Boy oh boy. Where to begin? Obviously, Konta was utterly valid in her reaction (honestly, I'm more surprised she didn't bring a tennis racket down on his head). But it's disappointing in 2019 to see a player of her calibre infantilized and criticised on national television. Furthermore, it's resonant - because we've known for a long time that this is a universal aspect of the female experience. Even in an age where we're talking about the gender pay gap and lack of female CEO's more than ever, it's heartbreaking that we're still seeing a narrative that undermines women in their careers reflected in the media so often.

Konta's exchange is a textbook example, but another came about last year when Serena Williams accused a tennis umpire of sexism. Her on-court transgression? Breaking her racket and calling the umpire a 'thief'. However at a media conference, she said 'I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief’, and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief’. At the time, when she argued that the penalties were unfair on the court with the referee Brian Earley she said 'Because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me?'

These kind of reactions are what lead to women consistently being labelled in their chosen field of career as everything from 'aggressive' to 'difficult', 'volatile' or - the ultimate blow-to-the-jugular 'emotional' while their male counterparts are 'competitive' 'no-nonsense' or 'ambitious'.

Subtly-gendered insults percolate through different industries in toxic ways, and though we might not have all experienced it in front of a room full of journalists, chances are that you probably have experienced it - at least once. The numbers back this up: in 2018 a third of women reported sexual discrimination while looking for work, and 52% of women said that their work had a negative impact on their mental health compared to 42% of men. But there are no studies going into the daily micro-aggressions and insidious discriminations that we've probably all had to absorb in the workplace at at one point or another.

In Konta's instance being told to 'look at yourself' is a form of discrimination as toxic and belittling as any other. Needless to say that we're all behind the British player (and that if you ever receive an email or a similarly sexist comment in your field of work, you would be completely justified in having the same reaction that she did).


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