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Old Sep 8th, 2002, 10:00 PM   #1
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Unhappy 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 three friends of mine about the dominance of the sisters in the women's game.

"Venus/Serena are like robots." Impressive Robots." said the first friend, a white male.

"Venus/Serena are great," said my female Persian friend, "but I wish they were more feminine like Anna Kournikova."

Most tellingly 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 they are black, but the great problem may be because of their gender. Two strong black women dominating their sport may erase or provoke the color barrier, but it also arises the question of society's perception of ambitious women who succeed in their given profession. Tiger's dominance in golf is thought to be good for the sport because it brings so much attention to the game and has broken down the color barrier in many parts of the golfing world. Venus and Serena's dominance is viewed as boring and detrimental to the game when in fact they are elevating the game. So why is their a difference? Sexism is a big reason.

The reason that I pointed out to you my friends ethnicity was to demonstrate the perception that people of all races have about women today. 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.

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. While a man is labelled as 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 the only power a woman feels that she has is to use her sexuality to gain attention. These women may feel empowered, but they are often most remembered for showing their skin rather than any accomplishment they may possess. The WTA, only 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 brand 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 they left the tour.

Martina Navratilova- Formerly thought of as a manlike lesbian whose strength overpowered dainty feminine players. Now 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. Now thought of as a loving 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 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. 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.
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Old Sep 9th, 2002, 10:37 PM   #2
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Thumbs up I agree!

That was an excellent post Apoet!!
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Old Sep 9th, 2002, 10:40 PM   #3
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Bump!
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Old Sep 10th, 2002, 03:01 AM   #4
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Interesting post, although I'm not sure I totally buy your theory. And here are two examples from both a male and female perspective.

Pete Sampras, in his glory days, was certainly not embraced by fans or sportswriters, who basically decided he played great tennis but wasn't very interesting. Really, it's been in his later years, especially during his struggles, that the fans and the press have taken him to heart.

No one has ever accused Chris Evert of not being feminine. And yet, in her glory days, she was not the fan favorite. She was thought of as cold and calculating. Bud Collins dubbed her the "Metronome Queen." It wasn't until that Chris began losing matches that the fans embraced her.

Ditto for Monica Seles. In her younger days, fans and especially the press did not care much for Seles. Once she was stabbed and returned to the tour, however, she became a crowd favorite. I don't think it's because she is a woman though, but rather that she is viewed as a tragic figure and people sympathize with what she endured. Had a major male tennis player had the same thing happen to him, I think the results would be the same.

Another case in point is Jimmy Connors. He was reviled in the early days of his career and people enjoyed seeing him lose. By the end of his career, he was considered THE fan favorite.

Now let me tread carefully here because I don't want to offend anyone. First, I am not a fan of Venus or Serena. It has nothing to do with their race or their gender and it has everything to do with my early perceptions of both girls. My early perceptions were very negative because of what I perceived as arrogance and conceit and an extreme lack of professionalism. I gladly admit that I no longer carry many of these perceptions about Venus and Serena. In fact, as someone who genuinely loves tennis, I happily admit they have raised the bar in women's tennis. Serena and Venus are in a class by themselves. And while part of me relishes their rags to riches story (It's the "American dream" in reaility, although I don't buy into all that much as they were millionaires at age 12 or so!), another part of me just can't overcome those early perceptions.

Are Venus and Serena making the game boring? I don't agree with that -- it's too easy of an explanation, the converse of which could just as easily be that the rest of the tour is making the game boring because they aren't keeping up with the Williams sisters. Venus and Serena simply have raised the game to a new level, and the other players don't have the goods to match them. The problem, from my perspective, is that unlike past rivalries between say Chris and Martina or Steffi and Martina or Steffi and Monica, etc., there is no contrast of styles when Venus and Serena play each other. And although some may take exception to this, with the exception of this year's Wimbledon final, the two sisters simply haven't played a great match against each other. In fact, remove the hype of their sister act, and there really hasn't been anything to get inspired about. Compare that to the other great rivalries in the game, and you can get some understanding as to why people are disappointed by their matches.

And by the way, golf is not a sport! And golfers are not athletes! Hey, it's one man's opinion!
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Old Sep 10th, 2002, 03:28 AM   #5
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Sexism will always be around because it's a man's world and women are always treated in a second class way. Women have to work extra hard to get ahead in this world and we have to except it. We should always fight for equal rights even if we know that men will always be getting the better treatment in the end. It really sucks but that's the way it is until maybe we get a female president. LOL
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