On International Women’s Day, I heard a lot about the inequality between men and women. I understand that this may be the biggest issue for all women. However, I heard very little about the problem of inequality amongst women–until I listened to an unrelated story about Maria Sharapova, the famous tennis player.
On The Exchange, a Canadian business program that airs on the CBC every night, I heard brief news about Maria Sharapova having lost her endorsement deals with large companies because she failed a drug test. The news was not very interesting. What was interesting is the little known fact that she is the highest earner of all female tennis players. That news made me sit up and ask, “Why is she the highest earning female tennis player? She isn’t the best!” I checked her record on the internet right away. Apparently, she won five grand slam singles titles and she is the number 7 ranking player in the world. This record maybe impressive. However, the record is not as impressive as it should be if one compares it to Serena Williams’ record. Serena Williams has won 21 grand slam singles titles and she is the number 1 ranking tennis player in the world. So, why is Maria Sharapova the highest earning female tennis player? Why does she earn more than Serena Williams?
The answer lies in an ugly truth that is obvious but not always acknowledged. Maria Sharapova is white, blond, 188cm (6 ft 2in) tall and weighs 59 kg (130pounds). Serena Williams is black, brown haired, 175cm (5ft 9in) tall and weighs 70kg (154 pounds). Does everyone see the issue? Or, do I have to spell it out?
It is interesting that more and more large corporations are giving money to charities that help girls accept their own body image and beauty. At the same time, other, or maybe the same, large corporations offer advantages to those women who fit the stereotypical barbie image. Even the number 1 ranking tennis player cannot become the highest earner by her skills only. If she is not the stereotypical blond, she can only be second in earnings to the blond. The message is clear from some industries. Skills alone does not make a woman succeed; her looks still matters–a lot!
Hence, there is inequality even amongst women. The average woman does not only have to compete against men on the job market, but she also has to compete against the women who fit the stereotypical image of being good looking. This makes the average woman’s life much more challenging. Imagine that four candidates show up for a job interview. The first candidate is a forty year old man with a great education and ten years of experience. The second candidate is a forty year old man with a less impressive education record and five years of experience. However, his cousin works at the company and he knows people in the office. The third candidate is a twenty-five year old tall, attractive blond with an impressive education record and almost no experience. The fourth candidate is a forty year old average looking woman with an impressive degree and ten years of experience behind her. The question is: how much chance does the fourth candidate have? Probably, the average woman has the least chance of getting the job before the interview even starts!
This means that there is a lot more to do to make women more equal. Not only do they have to be valued as much as men are, they also have to be valued as much as their stereotypically beautiful counterparts are valued. I would have to say that humanity is a long way from making the average hard-working women equal.