Sporty Sexism

I’d like to begin this post with a preface for my readers who, like me, do not follow sports news very closely:

Here’s a little bit about Serena Williams*:

200px-Serena_Williams_July_2008She has been ranked World No. 1 by the Women’s Tennis Association on four separate occasions; as of July 4, 2009, she is ranked World No. 2.

She is the reigning US Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon singles champion and has won 22 Grand Slam titles: 11 in singles, 9 in doubles, and 2 in mixed doubles.

She has won two Olympic gold medals in women’s doubles.[2]

She is the most recent player, male or female, to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously. She is also the only active female player to have won all four Grand Slam tournaments during her career (one French Open, three Wimbledon, four Australian and three US Opens).

She also has won more Grand Slams than any other active female player.

Additionally, Williams has won more career prize money than any other female athlete in history.

After looking at that impressive list of accomplishments Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports would like you to know one more thing about Serena Williams: She’s an underachiever.

According to Whitlock, “With a reduction in glut, a little less butt and a smidgen more guts, Serena Williams would easily be as big as Michael Jackson, dwarf Tiger Woods and take a run at Rosa Parks.” He wrote a whole article but this one sentence sums up his point pretty well: according to Whitlock Serena Williams is not attractive enough to be a really good tennis player and, as a result of this, she deserves to have her body publicly commented upon and shamed, presumably in the hopes that this shame will ‘inspire’ her to lose weight.

He hides his judgments about her appearance, as people seem to always do, underneath the thin veneer of health and physical prowess. Observe:

whitlock“[Serena would] rather eat, half-ass her way through non-major tournaments and complain she’s not getting the respect her 11-major-championships résumé demands. She complains about being ranked No. 2 in the world when she’s not bitching on Twitter or her blog about new rules that forbid Wimbledon players from eating in the locker room. Seriously, how else can Serena fill out her size 16 shorts without grazing at her stall between matches?”

Okay, so, he didn’t hide it well. What we’re supposed to get from this paragraph is that Serena is lazy and disgusting because she appears to (gasp) enjoy eating and would maybe like to be able to eat between matches… I can’t imagine why any athlete would want to eat after a physically exhausting match, can you? I mean, its not like food would give her energy to play the next match or anything.

The Wimbledon rule may or may not make sense (there are places where players can eat between matches and certain foods are available in the locker room, the simply do not allow food from outside to be brought in) but Whitlock’s reaction to William’s complaints about this rule are telling. Lets look at exactly what he said:

“…bitching on Twitter or her blog about new rules that forbid Wimbledon players from eating in the locker room. Seriously, how else can Serena fill out her size 16 shorts without grazing at her stall between matches”

Okay, so, from the top.

“bitching”: this word alone sends off warning signs in my head, warning that there is misogyny ahead. Bitch is a highly gendered insult, obviously associated with females; men are rarely accused of bitching (rather they complain, debate, or take issue with something) while women are often so accused; furthermore whenever anyone [male or female] is accused of “bitching” about something the word is used to imply that their complaints are unreasonable, petty… you get the picture. Whitlock is invalidating William’s complaints with one word.

“rules that forbid Wimbledon players from eating in the locker room”: I don’t want to sound vain but, um, apparently I’m a better journalist than Whitlock because I at least took the time to understand the situation. Williams is not complaining about food being banned from the locker rooms all together, rather she is complaining that they cannot eat anything in the locker rooms except for the fruit and heath bars supplied there. Furthermore, I can understand her complaint as Wimbledon officials claim the rule is in place “so they are not having to change among excess food and cartons and whatnot.” I can understand that sentiment, but in that case; why allow any food at all? Powerbar wrappers and fruit peels, cores, etc. all make messes too – if you can trust tennis players to throw away those pieces of trash, why not trust them to throw away other pieces of trash?

“how else can Serena fill out her size 16 shorts”: This, obviously, was meant for shock value, as in: look how fat Serena is, she doesn’t deserve our respect… fortunately most readers are smarter than Mr. Whitlock. First of all, where did he get this number? I spent quite a bit of time trying to find his source with zero success, no mention of Serena’s dress size anywhere. I’m not surprised. Considering how varied the patterns used in women’s clothing are very few women even have a size. Rather, most women have a range of sizes that changes based upon the garment and the manufacturer. Between this and his confusion about the locker-room situation I’m not sure how I can trust anything this man says.

“without grazing at her stall between matches”: The word grazing here really makes me mad. Grazing is, without a doubt, most often used to describe animals – perhaps a heard of cows or sheep grazing in the field? In this context it evokes a comparison that it is all to obvious Whitlock was trying to make; calling Williams a fat cow without actually using the words is impressive… Whitlock has somehow mastered the role of ‘pompous jerk’ while somehow missing out on most of the skills that go along with being a competent journalist (like fact checking, for one!)

I’ll leave you with a few more quotations, just in case Whitlock’s underlying, misogynistic message was not clear yet:

whitlock2“Think about it. At 5-foot-9, 145 pounds, Serena would be unstoppable on the court, on the cover of every magazine still in circulation and downloaded on the Internet three times more often than Anna Kournikova.”

Translation: Serena won’t be successful (even though she already is) until I can fantasize about her while I watch her play tennis! Oh, and also, since I’m such a great journalist I’ve decided medicine shouldn’t be such a hard field to take on as well – see? I know what weight Serena should be just by looking at her! I’m a doctor now too!

whitlock2“Instead, Serena is arguably pushing 175 pounds, content playing hard only in the major tournaments, happy to be photographed on dates with pro athletes and proud to serve as a role model for women with oversized back packs.

BBWs — Big Booty Women — do not write me angry e-mails. I’m only knocking Serena’s back pack because it’s preventing her from reaching her full potential as an athletic icon. I am not fundamentally opposed to junk in the trunk, although my preference is a stuffed onion over an oozing pumpkin.”

Translation: How dare Serena (possibly, since all I have to go on is outdated speculation) weigh 175 pounds, have what I consider a large butt, and be proud of it? She should not be going on dates with other athletes, she should be in hiding, preferably at a gym, until her butt is more pleasing to me.

Don’t hate me though BBW# for I cannot help being an expert in tennis technique, as well as a doctor and a Pulitzer worthy journalist. I’m only against Serena’s big butt because my knowledge lets me know that her butt makes it harder for her to play.**

Don’t hate me BBW, but don’t get any ideas either; because I do of course prefer small butts in bed as well as on the tennis courts. In fact, the only place I don’t require a small “onion” butt is in my own pants.

# An acronym that, in common use, denotes Big Beautiful Women but I have decided to co-opt in order to both  group together and shame women who I consider to have displeasing behinds, all at the same time!

whitlock2“Right now I’d put on Serena on par with Paris Hilton. I know that’s harsh. Serena’s accomplishments are far more substantive than Hilton’s. But Paris Hilton doesn’t have one discernible skill (that I can publish in this column without earning it an R rating). Hilton’s monumental overachievement is her accomplishment of becoming a celebrity.

Serena’s greatest feat might be avoiding establishing herself as the greatest tennis player of all time.”

Translation: Let me end with a completely nonsensical metaphor involving Paris Hilton because she is hot, and she does R-rated things… but she has no talent. Serena Williams is a lot like Paris: she has a lot of talent but she doesn’t make me think about R rated things and she’s not the greatest tennis player ever so I’m perfectly within my rights to call her lazy and underachieving – see? One I find talented, one not; one I find sexy, and the other not… those may look like opposites at first but really, they are one in the same.

They have their differences but at the end of the day I don’t find either deserving of respect. See? Same thing.

So I had a bit of fun today making fun of this crappy article, but the reality is no fun at all. Whitlock’s piece represents a highly depressing larger opinion that female athletes are somehow less worthy if they do not fit the standard definition of  attractive. This opinion has been rearing its ugly head lately, particularly within the tennis world it seems: just look at Wimbledon’s exclusion of female players deemed less conventionally attractive (but higher ranked) from the center court and the plethora of sexist comments made about female tennis players grunting.

Its important, because of this larger cultural disrespect for female athletes, to hold people like Whitlock accountable for the sexism in their writing. These women deserve respect for being powerful athletes, the same respect as their male counterparts deserve and (typically) recieve; thus, they deserve to be judged, first and foremost, as athletes rather than as pretty things to look at.

There’s a contact form here if you’d like to help me take a step in the right direction and educate Jason Whitlock about the serious sexism he’s been spewing. Its not much – but its a start!

***************************************

* From wikipedia – though I checked each fact elsewhere before inclusion here.

** Can someone please explain to me how he knows Serena William’s butt is somehow impeding upon her potentially legendary (oh wait, she already is legendary?) tennis abilities? While you’re at it, can you also explain to Whitlock that even if Serena did lose weight she would not, necessarily, have a small butt as people’s bodies all carry weight differently…. and then stop thinking about Serena Williams butt because, really, she’s the only one who needs to be worrying about it.

This piece on Jezebel offers a lot more, really fantastic, insight!

3 thoughts on “Sporty Sexism

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