Join Date: Oct 2001
Location: sailing my ship
Sexism in sports must be addressed
Last night, while the Williams sisters were playing their fourth grand slam final on primetime, I had three interesting conversations with friends of mine about the dominance of the sisters in the women's game.
"Venus and Serena are like robots." Impressive Robots." said the first friend, a white male.
"Venus and Serena are great," said my female Persian friend, "but I wish they were more feminine like Anna Kournikova."
The most telling conversation?
"Venus/Serena are boring." said a male, African American friend, "Tiger Woods is great." When I pointed out that Tiger was also dominating his sport, my friend stated, "Well, Tiger is a champion."
No, Tiger is a man, and there is the rub, ladies and gentleman. Venus and Serena may face discrimination because their gender may be an even greater issue. Two strong black women dominating their sport may either erase or provoke the color barrier, but it also questions society's perception of ambitious women who succeed in their given profession. Tiger's dominance is thought to be good for the golf because it brings so much attention to a white only sport. Venus and Serena's dominance is viewed as boring and detrimental to the game when in fact they are elevating the game as much as Tiger is taking golf to a new leve. So what is the difference? Gender provides a key to the answer.
Society views ambition as still a predominantly male trait. When a woman goes after something she truly wants, she is either labelled as a golddigger, frigid, cold or machinelike. The old societal standard that women have to be ambitious and driven while remaining dainty and feminine still holds true today. To many, Venus and Serena; however feminine they may be, do not hold true to this model. Tiger Woods, on the other hand, is a labelled by society as the role model for men: masculine, a champion, a go getter, etc. Although the feminist movement has ensured that women have a chance to get equal rights, those views have been distorted to the point that women associate nudity/partial nudity with empowerment. These women may feel empowered, but they are often most remembered for showing their skin rather than any accomplishment they may possess. The WTA tour, along with many players on the tour, have fallen into this trap and the lack of committed tour sponsorship demonstrates how corporations view the WTA tour and women's athletics as a whole.
Venus and Serena are caught in the middle. While neither lady has any problem modeling their style of femininity, their dominance on the tennis court overrides their beauty and the result is that people think of them as cold and machine like. They are not the first champions to be thought of in this manner. All past dominating champions have been accused of acting in a less than feminine manner and only found redemption after tragedy struck, or they left the tour.
Martina Navratilova- Formerly thought of as a manlike lesbian whose strength overpowered dainty feminine players, Navratilova is thought of as a role model for other players with her "age ain't nothing but a number" creed.
Steffi Graf- Formerly thought of as a German tennis machine who was only concerned with championships and paychecks, Graf has found redemption in her role as a wife and mother. (I was surprised to read that many people thought Steffi would be a cold mother based on her tennis attitude.)
Monica Seles- Formerly accused of acting like a brat, now Seles is thought of as a sentimental favorite due to the horrific stabbing in 1993.
Martina Hingis- Formerly known on the tour as the Bride of Chucky due to her attitude, Hingis is now thought of with sympathy due to her two ankle surgeries.
As this list demonstrates, race is not as much of a problem as the centuries long sexual codes that deem an ambitious woman is not a real woman in the eyes of society. It is only when the player has left the sport or has suffered some tragedy does the press and the fans view them with sympathy. Why? These women are no longer superwomen. They are vulnerable and that makes them more accessible to fans than a woman (or in this case two women) who wins everything in sight. Case in point, on the Kournikova.com board, a fan wondered whether Anna would lose her femininity if she starting winning championships. This is a ridiculous notion of course and majority of Anna fans don't share it. However, it does demonstrate how female athletes are viewed by the general public.
I would never argue that race does not play a role in how Venus and Serena are viewed, but I will say that there are other factors that should be considered as well and sexism is one of them.
Last edited by apoet29; Sep 9th, 2002 at 03:17 AM.