How much trouble can a hand gesture cause? A tiny gesture made by a coach cost Serena Williams her 24th Grand Slam victory at the U.S. Open tennis competition. Though the calls made by the chair umpire are controversial on their own, they have ignited another discussion altogether: the presence of sexism and double standards in sports. Williams was ultimately issued three calls: one for coaching, one for throwing her racket, and once for calling the chair umpire a “thief”. As the penalties racked up, Williams became increasingly frustrated. “Do you know how many other men do things that are — that do much worse than that?” she had said. Once again, many are asking more questions about how female athletes are treated both on the court and off the court, in recognition, treatment, and the amount of money they are paid.
Stuti R. Telidevara
• “But, to me, this conversation also serves to highlight the fact that it takes a men’s team doing—or not doing—something for the analogous women’s team’s accomplishments to be celebrated. Or it takes a women’s team boycotting for fair pay for them to get attention… Nevertheless, the coverage that women’s sports receives, and the public perception of women’s sports, seems overwhelming compared to men’s sports, or focuses on the players first and foremost as women.”
• “But we also have a tendency to speak of everything a female athlete does as revolutionary, empowering, brave—carrying the mantle of all women everywhere. Is it fair to expect female athletes to put so much on the line for greater causes?”
• “It seems that if female athletes at the peak of their sport aren’t using their voices to change the system, few others will. We hold them to high standards and celebrate their achievements, but it’s lonely at the top, and the rest of the sports world doesn’t do enough to change that.”
• “From uniforms to rules of the game, competitive sports are split between “female” and “male”—and arbitrarily so—but one thing becomes clear: we live in a world divided. Other media outlets might have reprimanded and parodied the ceaseless sexism in sports journalism… but if one seeks to reform the sexist nature of competitive sports, it isn’t enough to simply criticize instances of sexism.”
• “What we do need, however, is to stop pretending that we can create a level playing field without addressing sexism as another product of an institution that inherently affirms the male-female binary—and then, we look for ways to continue challenging gender binaries in daily life.”
• “We must realize that sports cannot be alleviated of its sexism when it is fundamentally rooted in a sex-based division. Or else female athletes will always have something to prove and defend, whatever that may be, about their identities.”
• “Rather than reject spaces where sexism occurs—like competitive sports—we have a chance to confront the binary and work to correct small instances of sexism in daily life. Although it’s by no means a quick fix, we can take steps to explore personal gender identities and advocate for gender inclusivity…”
The Bottom Line:
It would be strange to refer to a male athlete as “the best male [insert sport here] player of all time”. Instead, we simply refer to men as the best - no gendering necessary. But when we talk about incredibly skilled athletes like Serena Williams, we continuously say “the best female tennis player of all time”. Female athletes deal with a burden that simply does not exist for men. Women feel like they have to prove their skills on behalf of their entire gender, all while dealing with a sports realm that is stacked against them. Female tennis players get penalties for changing shirts on the court, while male players can lounge around shirtless for much longer with no penalties. Female athletes are paid less than their male counterparts even when they consistently perform better - see the United States Women’s soccer and hockey teams for reference. Serena Williams cannot fix this problem on her own, and neither can all women. It is also the responsibility of men, who hold positions of influence in sports, to recognize and address sexism when it happens - even in the middle of the U.S. Open.