Serena Williams has been an athlete I have watched since I was little. I used to watch her compete with my dad, always in awe of her talent and passion for the sport she loves. She was one of the few female athletes I had to look up to growing up, and her continuous success is no surprise to me.
The Women’s Tennis Association has ranked Serena number 1 seven different times in singles throughout her tennis career, with her first number one ranking coming on July 8th, 2002. She has won 39 major titles; 23 in singles, 14 in doubles, and 2 in mixed doubles. She is one win away from tying the all time record of 24 single victories. She has won 7 Wimbledon Titles, 7 Australian Open Titles, and 14 Grand Slam Double Titles with her sister. In 2015 she was named Sports Illustrated’s SportsPerson of the Year and was the highest paid female athlete in 2016, earning $28.9 million in prize money and endorsements.
Despite her impressive resume, she is seen for her physique, her gender, and her race rather than her remarkable accomplishments. She Serena Williams has been regarded as one of the best female athletes, but not one of the best athletes. Now this slight difference in categorization is huge. The hegemonic masculinity encompassing sport highlights that sport is a man’s world and women are not welcome in it. Women have struggled to gain equality in sport in terms of opportunities and how society views them since they were first allowed participation.
Serena Williams is one of the most decorated athletes of all time: female and all. She is a woman, but that does not stop her from proving herself in the sport she loves. She has been accused of taking PEDs, being a man, and discriminated against as an African American tennis player. What scared me the most when researching her tonight was one of the suggested searches I came across. When typing “Serena Williams” into the search bar, I saw “Serena Williams was born a man.” Now this shouldn’t be something I see when I search the athlete who inspired me as a young girl who loved and still loves sports. This is what is wrong with the culture surrounding sports. When women are muscular athletically built, they are not praised. Commentators and the general public ridicule them for being “manly” and posing an unfair advantage for the dainty and skinny women they are competing against. This reiterates the idea that sex sells in sport and people don’t want to see a woman actually possess athletic qualities.
Now, I could talk all night about the issues with inequality and sexism in sport, but what I will end on a happier note. Serena Williams has advocated for equal pay for singles players, and currently all four grand slam tournaments institute this. She has also stood up for all women in sports when she wrote a public letter to Ray Moore, a woman who said that female tennis players should thank Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for carrying the sport.
The portion of her letter that stood out the most to me read as followed:
“ … as we know, too often women are not supported enough or are discouraged from choosing their path. I hope together we can change that. For me, it was a question of resilience. What others marked as flaws or disadvantages about myself—my race, my gender—I embraced as fuel for my success. I never let anything or anyone define me or my potential. I controlled my future.”
Serena Williams has not let anyone else define who she is as a person or athlete despite numerous obstacles, speculations, and comments she has encountered.
I’m not going to end this by suggesting what you can do to change this stigma for female athletes. Instead, I ask you to reflect on what I have said, reflect on what you know about athletes like Serena Williams, and how each account impacts you in your daily life.