The Serena Williams "incident" at the US Open tennis championship has only served to underline the different ways we reflect on outpouring of passion in male and female.

I held myself back from calling the incident a meltdown because that would only further show the gender-based bias that we have as a society in these matters.

A man can boil over, but a woman melts down. A man who shouts and yells is strong and passionate, but a woman who yells is hysterical.

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When former tennis champion Billie Jean King pointed this out, she was lambasted but it seemed to me she was making out the same point. Two similar messages are received differently and attributed inconsistent weight depending on the sex of the person dropping the bomb.

Negative gender bias is also felt by the male of the species as we have sought over recent decades to right the wrongs of prejudice against women.

"Girls can do anything" is now an old mantra and I see less reason for this to be reinforced and more reason to flip that to "boys can do anything, too".

The expectation that it is "a man's world" means that boys are expected to succeed because the road ahead is smooth for them apparently, and yet if a woman reaches a height in public office or in private companies, there is an automatic assumption that she has had to fight and struggle for every opportunity or elevation.

This is a far better assumption than 40 years ago when it was expected that a woman being promoted had apparently been preferred over a male applicant because of some sleazy liaison with the boss.

But nowadays, a man who achieves moderately is an under-achiever and a woman at the same level has beaten the odds.

I recall at university in the early 2000s that the women were far more driven and achieved better results.

The young men were supposed to conform to a scruffy cohort of smelly unshaven males who went through university in a drunken haze barely scraping by.


Reinforced by television and advertising, men are, apparently, far more interested in alcohol, sport, bravado, doing dumb things and hurting themselves (while never showing pain, of course) than they are enamoured of cooking, cleaning, parenting or caring about social issues.

There is another phenomenon whereby the woman who doesn't aspire to be an astronaut is seen as letting down the team by other younger woman.

Older women who made sacrifices for raising family in terms of lost career opportunities, or who just followed the norms of the day and stayed home to look after the kids, express a different view.

Chester Borrows
Chester Borrows

They seem to think that a woman wanting to mother and succeed in a career shows them up and so they try and denigrate a woman who aspires to both as a failure at one or the other. Success at motherhood and profession will never happen in their book.
I cite New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern whose biggest detractors are women of a certain age and stage.

Mirroring this is the tribal treatment of the bloke who wants to break the mould, reject the male stereotype and cut a modern, neo-liberal track of caring and sharing. He is seen as showing the rest of the blokes up and so is also not a team player. His behaviour could lead to women having new expectations of the men in their lives to look, listen and care about stuff that was considered too girly to care about previously.

They will have to cook in the kitchen and cook on the barbecue; change the oil in the car and the timer on the oven after a power cut.

The fact is that all stereotyping is wrong — whether based on race, gender, nationality, age, occupation, school or suburb. It is really easy to do but prevents an understanding of the human condition in favour of how the world works — albeit only works for some and definitely doesn't work for others.

Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.