Women’s Sports and Sexism: Isn’t Serena Williams Winning Wimbledon Enough?

“If it’s what you need to lift trophies, who cares what you look like?” - Eugenie Bouchard
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It’s sad that articles like this even exist. Serena Williams is the top female player in tennis right now, thanks to her stunning Wimbledon victory this weekend – her sixth Wimbledon win, bee-tee-dubs. She – indeed, all of us – should be allowed to enjoy the crap out of this right now without having the win clouded over by silly little things like sexism and racism. Of course, sexism and racism stop for no one. Not even The New York Times.

Before Williams even got to Wimbledon, the Times released an article called “Tennis’s Top Women Balance Body Image With Ambition,” which purported to dissect the “phenomenon” of female tennis players and how they feel about their bodies. It masqueraded as a balanced piece about how different women feel about different physiques in tennis. Worse, it masqueraded as a feminist piece “examining” the double standards women deal with when it comes to their appearance in sports, and how they deal with that. However, this piece could neither be balanced nor feminist, because of what it takes to come up with the idea to write this in the first place!

In order to even come up with the idea for an article like this, you have to think to yourself, Serena Williams is really muscular and could be seen by some as looking really masculine. I wonder how other female tennis players feel about that. And that’s the most “balanced” version of that thought I could think to write. It might seem pretty innocuous, but it means that before you’ve even put keys to keyboard, before you’ve even interviewed anyone, you’ve already embraced misogyny by 1) writing an article that pits women in a field against each other, and 2) operating under the false assumption that only men can be muscular, and so muscular women are “masculine” aberrations deserving of scrutiny.

The very idea of this article is steeped in sexism. It would be one thing if you were interviewing a female tennis player and the issue of body image came up in conversation. It’s quite another to make that the story and ask female athletes at the top of their games whether or not they like “looking muscular;” covering it as if this is a timely story and a new trend in sports. NEWS FLASH: Women are judged on their bodies wherever they fucking go. They don’t need news stories to reinforce that.

What’s more, The New York Times’ social media reinforced it, too, highlighting one of the worst quotes from the piece and pitting Williams against “her rivals” for the wrong reasons:

Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one upset. People took to social media to decry the piece’s inherent sexism:

Though sometimes, while well-meaning, the attempts to decry were problematic in and of themselves:

Rowling is attempting to be complimentary – that’s very clear. But body types vary, regardless of gender. The whole point is that we shouldn’t even be having this conversation. Rushing to call Serena Williams attractive by mainstream standards of femininity is besides the point. We don’t need articles like “Serena Williams Looked Like a Disney Princess at the Wimbledon Champion’s Ball.” It’s not about making sure Williams feels validated by reminding her she’s pretty, dammit. THE WOMAN WON WIMBLEDON SIX TIMES! Praise her freaking achievements! Either that, or start writing articles about how her male Wimbledon counterpart, Novak Djokovic, looked like a freaking Disney Prince at the Wimbledon Ball or something to even this shit out.  

cate blanchett

However, social media also discussed the piece’s inherent racism: 

It’s true, by making Serena Williams the starting point for this “story,” singling out Williams’ body type and setting it against all these other smaller, white players, the piece becomes racist as well.

It’s really disturbing to me that The New York Times, which is supposed to be a “paper of record,” can still get it so wrong sometimes, stooping to the level of a celebrity tabloid. How about we stop talking about what accomplished women are wearing or what they look like, and start talking about what they’re doing, huh? Or, how about we stop comparing body types period? Let’s all get together and agree to do that so we don’t have to deal with this crap anymore. Agreed? Great.

(via The Grio; Image via Boss Tweed on Flickr)

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Image of Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino
Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.