It’s no secret that professional sports has long been a bit of a boy’s club and while the wage gap in sports is slowly closing, the differences in the treatment of men and women in athletics goes well beyond pay.
This has been made apparent most recently with professional tennis player, Serena Williams.
In tennis specifically, women have a history of wearing skirts, long ones at that. As the time progressed however, so did the style of tennis uniforms and shin-length skirts were replaced by more convenient and shorter tennis skirts and dresses.
Williams in particular is not afraid to have fun with her tennis fashion as she has received praise — and some flack — over past outfit choices.
After the birth of her daughter, Williams experienced health complications in the form of blood clots and combated this with a full-body Nike “catsuit.” Williams said the suit was created to prevent the formation of blood clots and maintain blood circulation in her legs.
“All the moms out there that had a tough pregnancy and have to come back and try to be fierce, in a middle of everything. That’s what this represents,” Williams said in an interview with Tennis Channel. “You can’t beat a catsuit, right?”
Health benefits aside, Williams looked striking in her suit, akin to a superhero. Many people and even Williams herself compared the outfit to Marvel’s Black Panther’s garb.
Sadly, the suit was short lived after the French Tennis Federation President, Bernard Giudicelli said in Tennis magazine that the French Open tournament would be invoking a dress code, singling out Williams’ outfit.
“It will not longer be accepted,” Giudicelli said. “One must respect the game and the place.”
What’s disrespectful about wearing an outfit made to aid in health issues?
Giudicelli also said, “I think that sometimes we’ve gone too far;” again, what is too far?
Williams handled the comments with grace, rocking a custom-made tutu for her next match, but the damage and discrimination was done.
The policing of women’s bodies is nothing new in the sports world and expands beyond athletics. The double-standards women face in sports don’t stop, even if you have an impressive list of accomplishments like Serena does such as three French Open championships, seven Wimbledon singles championships, and an Olympic gold medal.
The image of Williams’ outraged expression as she wagged her finger at U.S. Open officials was hard to miss Saturday.
In a heated conversation, Serena accused the umpire Carlos Ramos of being a “thief” after penalizing Williams over on-court coaching.
She also had a point taken away for breaking her racket and then penalized a third point for the comment aimed at Ramos, resulting in a loss for Williams as well as a $17,000 fine.
Teary eyed, she pleaded with referees.
“Because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me?”
With this sentence, Williams slammed the hammer right into the nail, causing professional athletes and non-athletes alike to take to social media to show their support for Williams, with many adding commentary about the inequality of gender treatment in professional sports.
Just this year, French professional player Benoit Paire destroyed three tennis rackets in the span of three minutes in a display of frustration and received only a point penalty.
Imagine if Serena had done the same — the world would implode as we know it.
This mindset that women must hold it together all the time and not express strong emotions is what caused publications to claim that she had a “meltdown” as well as say that she acted like a “brat.”
Williams felt as though she was being treated unfairly and demanded an apology telling Ramos, “I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose.”
During a post-game interview Williams said, “I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal coordination — to be able to take our shirt off on the court without getting a fine. This is outrageous.”
There is no sure cure or remedy to stopping the unfair treatment of women in professional sports, but if we all raise our voices against discrimination it’s sure to make a difference — or maybe they’ll just accuse us of being hysterical.