Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Serena has the last word

Everyone, it seems, has weighed in on the Centre Court sexism.
But Wimbledon winner, 11-time Grand Slam singles champion, Serena Williams definitely got the last word (even if Dave Zirin wrote his column after Serena's win). Her shirt at the post-match press conference said it all. "Are you looking at my titles?" (You can see a pic of her wearing it at One Sport Voice.)
It's appropriate given the attention women's bodies received this Wimbledon fortnight--not for their athletic ability but for their aesthetics. And especially appropriate for Serena Williams whose body is often the focus of attention [too muscular, too fat, too slow, too fragile (i.e. injury prone)]. This Wimbledon was the same for Serena. A columnist felt the need to talk about her butt--which he so cleverly (note the sarcasm) termed her "backpack." Jason Whitlock, writing for Fox Sports (which explains a lot) is overtly offensive in his treatment of the younger Williams. Example:
Seriously, how else can Serena fill out her size 16 shorts without grazing at her stall between matches?
He is referring to Serena's complaints about Wimbledon's new no food in the locker rooms rule (which was indeed silly).
I don't think African-American writers, of which Whitlock is one, should he held to a higher standards regarding race. But he should be aware, as should everyone, of the problematic connections between African-American athletes and animals. His comments were disgusting and he completely failed to note throughout his column how race plays into how Serena, and her sister Venus, are received and treated in the tennis world--and beyond. He believes that people don't want to see women equal to men in the world of sports (in terms of fame), and could be true but more immediate and relevant is that "people" don't want to see a black woman at the top of the tennis world.
Whitlock was clearly going for a reaction and this is obvious in his complete contradiction: he calls Serena sexy when she is in shape, talks about black women's booties and his enjoyment of them, but chastises Serena for not being a better athlete, for being more dedicated to her sport and her training. It's really difficult to argue that the woman who holds the most Grand Slam singles titles currently on the tour is a sub-par athlete. Because she does not meet everyone's aesthetics though, she is constantly called to task for her athletic abilities, or is it her looks? Or can we even tell the difference anymore?


Diane said...

It was a truly disgusting remark, and anyone who can't see that Serena is one of the premiere athletes of her (or any) generation is, frankly, an idiot.

However, Serena--as much as any woman on the tour, and more than many--buys into the sexism again and again. Though she has been outspoken regarding "this is my body, take it or leave it"--in other ways, she supports and promotes sexist philosophies. I hope that eventually, she will develop a more thoughtful view about the role of women, but I'm not holding my breath.

ken said...

I, too, am often disappointed by Serena's attitude toward the sexualization of female athletes.
Of course if Whitlock had pointed that contradiction instead of calling her a barn animal I might have had a slightly harder time giving him a hard time.