Monday, September 14, 2009

Troubling comments from the US Open

Ok so I have decided to address the Serena Williams incident in the context of all the other interesting gender stuff that occurred at this year's US Open.
We had all the "women's game sucks" comments from the print and television media. Commentators of course were not saying such things--preferring to highlight the interest that comes with not knowing who is going to win any given match. The men's game, at times in the not-so-distant past, have been subject to similar criticisms. But much of the "lousy women's game" discourse entailed some problematic blaming on fragile minds (and a little on fragile bodies). The Serena situation and Melanie Oudin's amazing run quelled some of that talk. But it has re-emerged with Kim Clijster's win last night.
In the end, though, this was not--obviously--the big issue. Which I will get to--hold on.
First, let's talk about smiles. I heard a lot about them this tournament. In addition to the usual talk about "girls," John McEnroe mentioned, during the Wozniacki/Oudin match, the two great smiles out on the court. It was if it did not matter who won or lost because they both are so pleasant and smiley.
What's wrong with smiling? Well nothing if you believe all those Crest Whitestrips ads. In fact, it is actually helpful--again if you believe said ads. But historically women have been compelled to smile according to various social theorists, most notably Erving Goffman who found that a woman's smile is viewed as proper deference to a man. The smiling woman is also found to be taken less seriously. In short, she is less threatening.
And speaking of threatening...Serena Williams, as most of us know by now, lost her semifinal match against Kim Clijsters when she received a point penalty for her second code violation--a tirade directed at the linesperson who called a foot fault on her second serve. The point was match point unfortunately for her--though I have heard some say her behavior warranted a default anyway.
Diane over at Women Who Serve did a nice job with her take on the situation--which I completely agree with. Since then though there has been plenty of discussion of the incident--which continues to be investigated--including by commentators. Mary Carillo's comments last night were ridiculous: that she has never seen such behavior by a woman and that it is a blight on the sport and that Serena should be suspended. She tried to equalize things a little bit and add by a man either but that rings a little false--especially given who she was sitting next to for much of the tournament. That John McEnroe--who was actually defaulted from the Australian Open one year for his behavior (as in he actually had the three strikes that warrant default)--can still hold such a position of respect in the sport is ridiculous. The man works with junior players and has represented the United States as Davis Cup captain. His reputation as a bad boy gets a nostalgic chuckle. (This article mentions some other bad male behavior including by the beloved Andre Agassi. After watching one of Agassi's tantrums when I was a youngun, I tore down the poster of him in my bedroom. Quite a traumatic teenage moment for me.)
But there's just no way tennis or the media are going to let a black woman get away with the same behavior. The talk about a blight on her career is maddening in contrast to McEnroe's career. (I would be interested in his post-tantrum press releases and whether he apologized for his abusive behavior.)
I in no way think what Serena did was acceptable. But I in no way consider what the media and those in the tennis establishment are doing to her--and have done to her in the past--is acceptable either.


Jennifer Doyle said...

great post! thank you!

Steve said...

I'm glad I wasn't the only one shocked by what Mary Carillo said.

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