During an appearance at Melrose Elementary in St. Petersburg, Fla., Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston told a classroom full of elementary school girls they’re supposed to be “silent.” It was jarring, but sadly not surprising, to read the inherently sexist comments Winston made while speaking to these children.
"But the ladies, they're supposed to be silent, polite, gentle,” Winston said, according to the Tampa Bay Times. “My men, my men (are) supposed to be strong.”
Winston later said his comment was a “poor word choice,” and I am willing to believe that Winston wasn’t being intentionally misogynistic. Rather, I believe his comments illustrate how deeply ingrained, and accepted, sexist thought and behavior is in our society.
During his speech, Winston had all of the girls sit down and asked the boys to stand while he tried to deliver a message about being able to accomplish anything you want in life.
"All my young boys, stand up. The ladies, sit down," Winston said. "But all my boys, stand up. We strong, right? We strong! We strong, right? All my boys, tell me one time: I can do anything I put my mind to.”
Except for excluding the girls from this part of the speech, there’s nothing wrong with what Winston said here. Encouraging boys to believe they can accomplish anything and telling them they’re strong — that’s all fine. But Winston didn’t stop there.
“Now a lot of boys aren't supposed to be soft-spoken,” Winston said. “You know what I'm saying? One day y'all are going to have a very deep voice like this (in deep voice). One day, you'll have a very, very deep voice.”
Boys, it’s OK to be soft-spoken, if that’s who you are. If you don’t have a very, very deep voice, that doesn’t make you less of a man. None of this is going to keep you from accomplishing anything you set your mind to in life.
Winston said he had a particular reason for approaching this the way he did.
"I was making an effort to interact with a young male in the audience who didn't seem to be paying attention, and I didn't want to single him out so I asked all the boys to stand up," Winston said.
Video of Winston’s talk shows that he did single one kid out for this after his speech, anyway.
"During my talk, I used a poor word choice that may have overshadowed that positive message for some,” Winston continued.
What really overshadowed the positive message was his reinforcing traditional gender roles and his casual dismissal of every young woman in the room, and this illuminates something very important. This type of thoughtless sexism is widely accepted in our society, and that’s something we all need to confront.
Girls, don’t let anyone tell you to be silent. You don’t have an obligation to be polite because you’re a girl. You don’t have to be gentle, and particularly not when a situation doesn’t call for gentleness. You just have to be you.
You may be tempted to brush off any criticism as overreaction or “political correctness.” You may assume that these off-the-cuff comments from Winston aren’t damaging. But they are, and not just to the young women who were told by Winston to sit down, to be silent. That’s also to the young men who had this unhealthy and wrong perspective of women reinforced for them by an NFL quarterback, who was accused of sexual assault and once was suspended for a game for standing on a table in the FSU student union and yelling “F**k her right in the p***y.”
Bonnie Volland, a speech language pathologist at the school, shared a response from a female student with Tim Jones of the Tampa Bay Times.
"One of the girls turned around and looked at me and said, 'I'm strong, too,'" Volland said.
Yes, you are strong, too. Don’t let anyone, including Jameis Winston, tell you otherwise.