Since Wimbledon is well and truly under way now (my absolute favourite time of year), I thought I would address John McEnroe’s comments on Serena Williams last week. In an interview that was promoting his new book, he commented that Williams is the greatest female tennis player in the world. When questioned on the word “female,” (why not the best player, full top) he claimed if she were placed in the men’s circus, she’d be “like 700 in the world.” While I adore McEnroe and don’t believe he should apologise if he doesn’t want to, I don’t adore the comment and it is unsettling.
I have had a few discussions about the comments and I’ll start with my main problem. It is widely accepted the men’s and women’s tour are different. Serena Williams has commented on this herself, and that is nothing controversial. And it’s not McEnroe’s comment that offends me, it’s the sentiment behind it. Why compare two tours that are considered so different? The question could have been dealt with far more professionally (I question whether it should have been asked in the first place) and like he has said himself, it could have been left unsaid. Further, why 700, McEnroe? Plucking a number out of thin air is not only unfair on Serena and women’s tennis more generally, but on seed 700 himself. The whole affair screams unnecessary. While I don’t consider McEnroe or those who disagree with me to be sexist, the fact remains that we are pitching one woman (and indirectly, a whole bunch of female athletes) against even more men and saying, “You lose, sweetheart.”
When talking to a male who simply didn’t see the problem although understood the backlash, I asked him if he was looking at it from a different point of view to me (me as a woman and him as a man). A point of view promoted by his gender; the gender that is told essentially from birth that when it comes to sport, you’ll always win, son. And he agreed. He agreed he would be seeing it from a different point of view for reasons x, y and z and I think those who disagree that the comment was unnecessary need to try and empathise with my view as once a girl and now a woman who loves sport.
And here is where I explain why the comment made me feel a little heartbroken. All of my life I have felt and seen other girls experience the weight of gender expectations their athleticism. When I won the cross-country in year 5 a boy told me his placing 6th in the boys’ race was still better. Last year I was told a male friend would beat me in a 200m race because “he’s a guy” (even though he admits to doing no exercise while I train quite passionately). Biological differences unfortunately do count for some differences in sport (as a kid and as professional athletes), but premium athleticism is something to be celebrated. Comments that pitch men against women and boys against girls strike a chord with me because myself or fellow females excelling in sport was never as big of an achievement as the first place boy.
~ Kat ~