Why does tennis continue to infantilize women or make them seem as if they are unable to walk and chew gum at the same time?
Why must we continuously have these discussions about women as if they are not strong enough to withstand any and everything?
Why must we be continually defending women who are professionals in their own right with the power to hire and fire as they please, as if they are unable to make decisions for themselves.
I recently had a discussion on social media regarding how we discuss the bodies of female athletes. I commented that Caroline Dolehide, an aggressive young tennis player either had really big breasts or the tennis kit that she was wearing was so ill fitting as to make her bust seem quite large. Clearly there were other people who had similar views, most of whom did not express their views in the way or in the manner that I did. Many, as they are wont to do focused mainly on the size of her breasts. That was sexist. Commenting on her physique and her fitness level, the ill fitting kit that she was wearing, was in my opinion fair commentary game, but apparently that is not the case in tennis world.
Recently Darren Cahill tweeted that women who take a break from the game to start a family should be afforded the opportunity to retain their ranking when they return, or in essence should not be penalized for starting a family. My question to Mr. Cahill is this, what about the other women who chose to continue their careers and not pause to have a family? Will they not be penalized for losing their ranking when Serena or whomever else returns from maternity leave? How is that fair to those women?
It seems as if it is only in tennis that these conversations happen. Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, a multiple Olympic gold medalist from Jamaica who was crowned Jamaica and the world’s Sprint Queen took time away from the sport to start a family. She has just started training again and once she is ready to compete, she will have to go through the same selection process that everyone who wishes to represent Jamaica has to go through. If she fails in qualifying to represent Jamaica then she will have to hope that the selection committee looks at her overall record and appoints her to the team, to the detriment of someone who has posted faster times and who has a better chance of medaling. In that scenario it is not because the selection committee doesn’t believe in Shelly-Ann’s abilities, but that she didn’t meet the threshold to qualify. Chances are if Shelly-Ann ends up in that situation, she will not make the cut to compete for Jamaica.
Serena Williams is playing her very first competitive tournament after being away from the sport for 14 months. In the match that she played against her sister Venus on Monday night, the rust was quite apparent. The rust has been apparent from her very first match. Simona Halep by contrast, the No. 1 player in the world, while she has been frustrated with her game, is hitting a better ball and performing at a higher level than is Serena. Should we then have relegated Simona Halep, a player who reached the final of the first Grand Slam tournament of the year to a lower seeding just because Serena is back? Simona seems to think so, but I would suggest that she is only doing so because of the views held by her coach. Simona’s own thought process as it relates to the equal treatment of female athletes is well known to most of us who follow tennis as she has said in no uncertain terms that the men deserve to be paid more than she does. One wonders if that is also the view of her coach.
Serena struggled, as was expected. She faced an opponent who was match tough and whose game, while a bit shaky at times was more nuanced. Half the time in her match against Venus, Serena was left flat and/or wrong footed. There is no doubt in mine or anyone else’s mind that Serena will probably get back the No. 1 ranking, but to gift it to her just because she returned from maternity leave is a slap in the face to not only Serena but to all the other women who have worked their asses off to attain a higher ranking.
Serena currently has an ad out that says there are many ways to be a woman. I am going to add that one of the ways in which to be a woman is the ability to be able to figure things out for yourself. Most women will tell you that in order to accomplish some of the greatest things in life they have had to rely on themselves moreso than anyone else. Neither Serena or Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce or any of the countless professional female athletes in the world need anyone, least of all some administrator to give them something that they themselves can earn.
In an effort to be seen as equitable people seem to be adopting a paternalistic approach to the issues that affect female athletes. It needs to stop.