By Tate Frederick, IV Form
Serving Up Equality: The Quest in Women’s Tennis
With the rampant gender inequality in professional sports, tennis could easily be considered one of the least sexist due to its recently equalized prize money. In fact, the World Economic Forum recently wrote that “the Women’s Tennis Association [is] pushing the women’s game and pioneering gender equality” (Edmond). Contrary to public perception, the professional tennis circuit still has to make significant improvements in order to achieve gender equality. The financial distribution still heavily favors men, some of the rules perpetuate sexist values, and unfair stereotyping of female players is frequent.
Despite the fact that prize money became equal in 2007, women still make far less than male players. On the Forbes’ list of top-earning athletes, Serena Williams only comes in 51st, behind five male players, even though she has won more grand slam titles than any player, regardless of gender, in history, and holds endorsements with companies such as Nike, Gatorade, and JPMorganChase (Wang). Williams has earned tens of millions of dollars less than Novak Djokovic even though she has won many more titles than he has (Macur), due to the overall amount of prize money. If Williams, arguably one of the greatest athletes of all time, can’t achieve equal pay in comparison to her less-winning counterparts, where is the hope for women in less acclaimed positions? By maintaining this inequality, the tennis circuit is discouraging and discrediting the achievements of women in the sport.The rules regarding dress code also show inequity. If you were to turn on a men’s tennis match in the summer, you would most likely see a player take off his shirt to change it with no consequences. Why should there be? No harm is done by quickly switching shirts to improve comfort and performance. But if a woman does this, she receives a warning from the chair umpire — all for a short flash of a sports bra (Macur). Even though the umpire later apologized and the rule was changed, this instance demonstrates the sexism that has become normalized in tennis culture. The rules around dress code also unfairly impact women players. Williams was also banned from wearing a catsuit outfit designed to prevent blood clot issues she developed after pregnancy because it “didn’t respect the game” (Macur). The dress code for women’s tennis should not be the focus of the sport. The goal of the association should be to bring attention to the entertaining matches and incredible talent that is so common in the circuit.
This goal is also often overshadowed by the male players, press, and tennis officials who often give statements that are blatantly discriminatory and sexist. For instance, a female player, after winning a match, was asked by a reporter to “do a twirl” in her skirt, completely ignoring the real focus – the hard work and effort she had just exhibited on the court (Wang). Another player was asked about her makeup (Wang). One of the top male players said in 2016 that he thinks men deserve more prize money than women. He added that he has respect for the women who face difficulties such as “hormones and stuff,” and only offered a half-hearted apology after facing criticism (Chapin). Additionally, a previous leader of the Indian Wells tournament even said “that female tennis stars ‘ride on the coattails of the men’ and that they should “go down every night” on their ‘knees and thank god that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport’” (Chapin). These comments distract from the impressive success and talent in women’s tennis, and instead objectifies the players and places the attention on the men’s side of the circuit.
Although tennis has made some recent improvements regarding gender equality, advancements still need to be made. In order to combat the inequality in tennis, and in society in general, the viewers need to first be aware and informed. Being informed of the sexism that takes place in the circuit is the first step to preventing the spread and normalization of gender inequality. Next time you are looking for something to watch, turn to a women’s tennis match. Watch the match with a new perspective and appreciate the immense talent that women in professional tennis bring to the game.
Chapin, Angelina. “The Sexism in Tennis Needs to Stop.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 29 Mar. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/angelina-chapin/the-sexism-in-tennis-needs-to-stop_b_9557106.html.
Edmond, Charlotte. “How Women Won the Fight for Equal Prize Money at Wimbledon.” World Economic Forum, 7 July 2017, www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/07/wimbledon-women-equal-prize-money/.
Macur, Juliet. “Serena Williams Spotlights Tennis Inequities, but in the Best Way?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Sept. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/09/09/sports/tennis/serena-williams-us-open-equality.html.
Wang, Mary. “Think Tennis Is the Most Gender-Equal Sport? Here’s Why That’s a Problem.” Vogue, Vogue, 26 Aug. 2017, www.vogue.com/article/womens-tennis-gender-equality