To our women of the future and men of the past,
I am proud to be the CEO of Mission Elite, a company that supports and oversees many of this sport's participants and leaders for both men and women.
Prior to my role at Mission Elite, I had the good fortune of being a member of multiple NCAA Men's Power 5 Teams and to experience life for many years on the Men’s Professional Tour. During my time on tour, I traveled to over 40 nations, where I have seen both privilege and disadvantage and had the chance to discuss those sights with some of the most brilliant minds.
Today, in partnership with the Mission Elite Foundation, ten barrier-breaking women and I will shine a light on an issue I believe to be worth acknowledging for the benefit of all.
- Raheel Manji
A MAN'S PERSPECTIVE
Growing up through this sport, as a player, and in my roles to follow, the female side of the sport of tennis was a relatively foreign concept to me. I spent my whole career on the men's side of the game in the juniors, NCAA, and on the Pro Tour. Until my second year at Mission Elite, when we started supporting players on the women's side, I was incredibly naive to the challenges women face while navigating this sport. Despite the introduction to women's tennis, it wasn't until one moment that the barriers for which women face began to consume my mind.
In 2020 I was in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan, for the ATP Challenger event when I came across a book by Richard Yates called "Revolutionary Road'. The book detailed a man and a woman pressured by society and its forces into the stereotypical roles for a man and a woman, which, although less frequently, still occur much too often today. The story significantly impacted my life during that time because of how little I knew on a more than basic level about the challenges women have faced for years. I encourage all others to read the story themselves. After viewing the book, I began to think and research deeper into the obvious and subtle inequalities for women that still occur today.
As a man of privilege concerning this sport, having been surrounded mainly by men with the same advantages, my current awareness of women's challenges puts me in a position to potentially make some impact and provide insight. I believe deeply in the importance of my speaking on this subject coming from the lens and privilege I grew up with.
I believe that change can occur more immediately and significantly when both the advantaged and disadvantaged shine light on the restriction and disadvantage which immorally takes place. This is my hope and goal throughout this feature. I encourage all others, especially other men, to check their privilege, speak up, and get involved in the positive change that I hope to take place.
SOCIETY TOO OFTEN DEFINES OUR ONE LIFE
As a man, I was, in many instances, encouraged by society to pursue my sport. At the same time, women were, in so many instances, out rightly or passively discouraged by society from pursuing their sport. This is incredibly unfortunate, considering humans are psychologically inclined to value what we find others to value within us. Therefore, when others discourage behaviors and actions within us, we, from a majority standpoint, subconsciously become much less likely to pursue these behaviors and actions. Suppose others look down on the advancement of women in sports and we do not firmly stand up and solve this problem. In that case, further improvement of women in sports will unlikely occur.
Furthermore, when we value what others value, we risk the future fulfillment of our lives. Especially when their values do not align with the well-being of our mental, emotional, or physical health or our purpose and passions. This is how we find ourselves in a world of tragedy.
If you'd like to understand this concept further, read "Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life."
For those unaware of the danger behind mimetic desire, and most people are, the chances for increased fulfillment are much more likely for a man than a woman. Why? Because men are much more often encouraged to pursue their dreams, take risks, and have a full life consisting of their family, career, and passions. While women, especially in the past, have been typically urged to support men throughout their dreams, risks, and lives.
There are many underlying issues with young women coming to face a world with this reality, especially before the age of 25, when their brains are at their highest levels of neuroplasticity. Society expects boys to explore, get in trouble, set their own path, and progress physically and mentally. Exploring and failure are typically societally permissible for boys in the infant to the pre-adult stage. They are allowed to be bold, imperfect, and make errors freely, which tends to be where real growth and maturation are nurtured. As the boys' age, there becomes more societal pressure to meet specific compliance standards. By then, they have already had the opportunity to explore what they do or don't want to do with their lives.
Unfortunately, the encouragement for these necessary pathways to growth, well-roundedness, and fulfillment provided to growing boys is not typically the case for females.
Females are encouraged and expected to be complete, put together, and perfect before ever having to embark on the journey to attain that. They are looked down upon for competing and climbing for status or power. They are encouraged to be peaceful, nurturing, pleasant, and supportive at all times. Where they are encouraged to thrive, they tend to be in fields with less competition or room for excess power or reward, such as caretaking or the arts. They are often encouraged to not stand out or be in the way. Think about it. They are expected to be not too skinny nor too fat, not too bright nor too dumb, not outspoken, within the rules, and not too ambitious nor aggressive. They are encouraged to stand out in beauty, arts, and caretaking, all areas which will not disrupt and may even act as pleasantries to society.
The truth is society works so hard to keep women limited.
This is a major issue, and although the presence of these societal tendencies is improving, they are not improving at nearly a rate that I believe we should deem acceptable. Now, even with change, it does not necessarily mean that women will choose roles that men are more often known for occupying. That has not been the case, even in areas with higher levels of support between men and women. However, they should have the option to pursue their chosen pathway. They should also be encouraged to explore what may improve their lives without facing outright or passive-aggressive judgment. There is an immediate need for this to change.
As I see women in this day and age fight the system to branch out and respect themselves as individuals separate from their stereotypes, there is hesitation towards accepting such. Society bats their eyes at the sight of anyone or anything doing the unexpected and breaking outside the norm.
So what are females expected to do? Just give up on all their dreams and ambitions that may disrupt society's current comfortable but tilted state? What a way to draw emptiness, hopelessness, and resentment.
This will hurt not just women but everyone. As the famous English historian once said, "All power tends to corrupt." not only does power oppress the weak, it also corrupts the powerful.
IT WILL TAKE COURAGE AND VULNERABILITY
Drawing back to mimetic desire, I've thought deeply about why many of the inequalities in society fail to shift into a better state. It is because sometimes the shift into a better state requires the vulnerability of one's reputation. "Revolutionary Road" depicted the ideal family to the outside world but, in reality, was filled with destruction, mental imprisonment, and unfulfillment inside of their family. The perfect family depicted to the world was a symbol of achievement that showcased that their family fit into the current state of the world. However, we all know that achievement does not always lead to peace and fulfillment. Yet we buy into chasing the achievement often, even when it contradicts our inner desires, because we value what we believe others will value in us. Few people will risk their reputation and social belonging. Instead, they will bite their tongue, bury their feelings, and take their place to portray to the world that they are, in fact, a person that fits and/or belongs. Breaking free from this norm is often more terrifying than the alternative. As a result, most choose to make the best of the cards society has dealt them despite knowing they will never win the game of life. Breaking free from this norm will take courage, honesty, and vulnerability. But each person who does break free or is willing to switch their cards is placing a steeper footprint for the next generation to do the same and form a stronger foundation for a better world. Remember that for us to go to a better place, we must be willing to go to a worse place first.
CARING FOR WHAT DOES NOT IMPACT YOU
I spent eight years going to work with teammates and coaches, who were all men, and being exposed to an extensive amount of common male-dominant thought patterns. I know the inability to relate to a woman's worldview as much as anyone. It’s not been easy for me to see the lens or perspective of a woman, but it has been necessary. Men like me, more than anyone, must struggle and place the effort to understand and gain compassion for the challenges which women face in order to improve everyone's quality of life.
How would you feel if you were cross-checked every time you tried to do what was best for you and your life? Imagine having to live in a world where you would be unspokenly questioned when your actions didn't align with society's depiction of you. And if you ever gave in to society's roles for you, you would be sentenced to a life of unfulfillment, limitation, and unhappiness. In essence, you would be sentenced to society's own version of prison. It's a lose-lose. I'd wish this upon no one, especially knowing that each individual only has one life to live.
Reflecting on this, it becomes apparent that we must break the conditioned oppression brought forward from the past and lead with compassion and understanding. And those with privilege and opportunity are the most important ones to convince or inspire to lead this movement because they are the ones that can really impact change. A change that can liberate our society from the visible and invisible systems of privilege and oppression that inhabit our world today.
I find myself compelled to contribute to the movement by providing women as much support in leading and living their lives most fully, especially through tennis and sport.
I believe they should have many more encouraging voices telling them it's okay to strive for a wholesome life and pursue what their heart desires. Because at the end of the day, with only one life, we should all be able to make the most out of it in spite of negative societal judgment or influence in pursuing our goals.
So what can we do to make a difference? The most obvious answer is to share this message and initially provide as much opportunity as possible through the domains in which we specialize and have the most impact.
Through our support, we would like as many women to feel the encouragement to pursue their passions and have the greatest opportunity to be everything they were meant to be. Even if it does not fit the ill-disposed norms of the past. I hope the same for men through their own baleful societal pressures they face, and I believe with enlightened awareness, good intentions, and strong actions, we can make the world a better place for both women and men.
Here's the thing: when women can be the most full versions of themselves, it will ultimately help all of humanity. When we stop consciously or subconsciously discouraging women from that which may positively serve them, it will increase the chances for everyone to pursue the same. Therefore it is up to both women and men to make the change.
There is no better area for an individual to start to make that impact and change than the areas they currently can impact and change. For us at Mission Elite and the Mission Elite Foundation, to start, that is sport.
In the coming months, we will detail our action steps to carry out this initiative. These action steps will provide young girls and women with an increased provision of scholarships to Mission Elite, improved access to female role models, and extended efforts to combat female dropout rates in sports.
Please email our Director of Operations at [email protected] for ways to get involved and support.