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
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:
Serena Williams has a muscular frame. Her rivals choose not to emulate her physique http://t.co/IecMzg4AwV pic.twitter.com/gEGHd3NI3z
— The New York Times (@nytimes) July 10, 2015
Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one upset. People took to social media to decry the piece’s inherent sexism:
@nytimes really? Because the only women worth emulating are tiny white girls who attract the gaze of men watching tennis for other reasons? — Shauna James Ahern (@glutenfreegirl) July 11, 2015
Though sometimes, while well-meaning, the attempts to decry were problematic in and of themselves:
.@diegtristan8 “she is built like a man”. Yeah, my husband looks just like this in a dress. You’re an idiot. pic.twitter.com/BCvT10MYkI
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) July 11, 2015
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.
However, social media also discussed the piece’s inherent racism:
What’s fascinating is that the article attempts to normalize/glorify white mediocrity, sexism, and body image pathology @nytimes — Doc Ock (@OckyJ83) July 11, 2015
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.
If you think it’s JUST about looks you’re missing the racism of the article. And the white aesthetics it worships.
— Rod TBGWT (@rodimusprime) July 11, 2015
This black people as “beast” thing needs to go down like the #ConfederateFlag…starting with you @nytimes. Seriously. Apologize to #Serena — A • R y e © (@angela_rye) July 11, 2015
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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