Serena Williams’ defeat of first time finalist, Garbine Muguzura in a Wimbledon match recently sparked delight and praise from people around the country. This was her sixth Wimbledon title and she won the first three legs of the 2015 Grand Slam. Overall, she has won twenty Grand Slams. Although watching tennis matches on ESPN isn’t my thing, I am very impressed with Serena Williams’ athletic skills and how great of a tennis player she is. However a tingle of racism and sexism always turns it’s ugly head whenever news of Serena Williams’ accomplishments comes up and this will be discussed.
Here is an image of Serena Williams from one of her matches. I don’t see anything masculine about her at all.
How can a man look this feminine and beautiful here? Not! Serena Williams looks beautiful and feminine.
Women have and will experience sexism in many professions and careers that they participate in. The sports arena isn’t any different in this regard either. Many women in the sport arena have faced blatant or more subtle acts of sexism in their careers. And for women of color particularly African American and Hispanic women, racism often intertwines with sexism to create an intersectional combination of oppression. And whatever sexism that African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women will face is also lingered with hidden or blatant racial undertones. For example, Asian women are seen as ”docile” and ultra feminine”. While this works to their advantage in the dating world, this stereotype also works to their disadvantage because many men feel like pushing Asian women around without any impunity because of the ”docile” stereotype assigned to them. And Hispanic women are seen as ”feisty” and it works to their advantage because men find their tempers sexually stimulating and interesting but the disadvantage of this stereotype is that Hispanic women are just seen as their feisty, sexually attractive women with little else going for them. However with Black women, all of their stereotypes of being seen as ”masculine”, ”unattractive”, ”domineering” etc works to their disadvantage because Black women are always placed into these limiting stereotypes by many people. And when they don’t fit these stereotypes, they are seen as weird and out casted. Many studies and surveys show that the discrimination that women of color face in the workplace and in their professions are based on stereotypical and racial notions as well as them being paid less than their male counterparts especially Caucasian men.
For example, bowls’ player, Claire Williams was banned from competing in the Shropshire Premier Bowling League because she is a woman. Mike Hinton, the League’s president of the Burway Club said that they don’t believe that women are as good at sports as men are. Yet Williams was the top player on the top and secured the team top promotion after winning a promotion the prior year. However this just showed the depths of sexism and how it affects women’s livelihood in careers that they choose to go into. Again, sexism doesn’t exist in a vaccum nor is it a trivial matter either. Sexism is still a problem that still affects women’s paycheck, how they are treated in the workplace and how others perceive them in society.
In the past, other women in tennis such as Maria Sharapova, Martina Navratilova, Amelie Mauresmo and Kelybanova also experienced sexism and also dealt with critics calling them masculine and unwomanly. Some sportscasters went as far as they can to discredit women’s ability to even participate in Wimbledon games and promoted the belief that women can’t control their emotions or play as well as men can. Needless to say, these women didn’t have to deal with the intersection of race and gender when it came to dealing with sexism in tennis.
For years, online trolls and people commented on the perceived masculinity and unattractiveness of Serena Williams and her sister, Venus. A Russian tennis official referred to Serena and Venus Williams as the ”Williams brothers”. A fellow tennis player, Caroline Woznicacki stuffed her top and bottom to mockingly emulate Serena Williams’ voluptuous figure. And a sports columnist wrote an article about Serena’s muscular and voluptuous figure being unattractive to him especially her derriere and compared her derriere to food. And news of Serena Williams’ recent win at Wimbledon Saturday wasn’t any different. As much as there were people congratulating Serena Williams for her win, there were trolls putting down Serena’s appearance, calling her masculine, built like a man, ugly and even going as far as to talk about his big her butt is. Many of the negative comments on her appearance were racialized and sexist at the same time and reminded people of comments on Black women’s bodies in the slave auction days.
JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, defended Serena Williams against a troll on Twitter that said that Serena Williams is built like a man. She fired back and said this, ”she is built like a man”. My husband looks like that in a dress. You’re an idiot”. I was very happy to hear that a woman was defending another woman from being attacked on social media especially JK Rowling out of all people.
This is what true female solidarity looks like. We need more women standing up against sexism where they see it and standing together with other women to fight against sexism. And end it once for all. Although women especially women of color have more rights now than they did back centuries ago, we still have a long way to go until women are liberated from structural patriarchy, sexism and male privilege in society.
Links to where I got my information from: