In The US Open Final, Serena Williams Was Every Woman

“If I didn’t define  myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” – Audre Lorde

Racist Serena Cartoon
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” Mark Knight/Sun Herald

Naomi Osaka played one of the best games of tennis I have ever seen on Saturday. That sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true. In her first grand slam final, the 20 year old became the first person of Haitian or Japanese origin to win a grand slam. The way she did it, with pinpoint ground strokes and an aggressive all around game, bodes well for her future in the sport.

A future that Serena fought for on Saturday night.

Look at that image above. Really look at it. It’s so racist, you can almost miss the fact that her opponent, which I’m guessing is supposed to be Osaka, has been given blonde hair. It’s racist and yet, it isn’t shocking. Below is a small sampling of the racism that Serena has endured through out her career.

  • There was the time at Indian Wells, California, when she was accused of match fixing and then “When Venus and [Richard, her father] were walking down the stairs to our seats, people kept calling [them]’nigger,” One men went on to threaten her father: “‘I wish it was ’75; we’d skin you alive.'”
  • There was the time in 2006, where an Australian doctor writing in the Sun Herald, Said “It is the African-American race. They just have this huge gluteal strength,” Larkins said. “Jennifer Capriati was clearly out of shape and overweight (in Australia in 2003). With Serena, that’s her physique and genetics. (Man, not a good blog post for the Sun Herald – Ed) 
  • There was the time in 2007 when a heckler said “That’s the way to do it! Hit the net like any Negro would!”

The framing of Serena Williams doesn’t just play into lazy stereotypes, it’s also wrong.

Aus Open forehand speeds

This graph is taken from the Australian Open for the years 2014-2016. It shows that Serena Williams had, on average, the 51st most powerful forehand. The writer on the website said “Surprisingly, the Williams sisters are lower down in this list with average speeds of 73 mph, which could be a sign that they are choosy when going for a big shot.”. Maybe. Or maybe the Williams sisters win, not because they “overpower”, “overwhelm”, “pummel” or “bully” their opponents, but because, I dunno, they’re “skilful”, “cerebral”, “hard-working”, “intelligent” and have the ability to “pick their opponents apart”. Lets pause for a comedy interlude.

Obviously not all women are black and the title says that Serena was “every woman” in the final. One of the things that Serena was raging against was the double standards applied. As she said:

“…I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things and I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff, and for me to say “thief” and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark…he’s never took a game from a man ‘cos they said “thief”…but I’m gonna continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal…like [Alize] Cornet should be able to take her shirt off without getting a fine, this is outrageous…I feel like the fact that I have to go through this is an example for the next person that has emotions and wants to express themselves and they want to be a strong woman, and they’re gonna be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s gonna work out for the next person.”

Tennis players are emotional. Racquet breaking, cursing and screaming are a part of the game. It is impossible to deny there is a double standard in how these behaviours are viewed when done by a man and a woman. A woman screams in frustration and she’s “hysterical”; a man does the same and he’s “passionate”. As political analyst Zerlina Maxwell pointed out on Twitter:

I’ve worked in education and business and seen this often. Here are some things that women are penalised for that men aren’t:

  • Starting a family
  • Being angry
  • Being friendly (often misconstrued as flirting)
  • Being unfriendly (often misconstrued as being an ice-queen)
  • Asking for a pay rise (because that’s greedy)
  • Not asking for a pay rise (because that shows a lack of ambition)
  • What they wear

In other news, Serena was penalised for starting a family, penalised for being angry and financially penalised for being a woman, as the BBC pointed out:

Djokovic, world number one in 2015, won three of the four Slams last year. He was victorious in 93.18% of his matches. His reward for that, in prize money alone, was £14.5m.

Serena Williams, world number one on the WTA Tour, also won three of the four Slams. She won 94.64% of her matches across the year. Her total prize money? £7.3m.

Oh, and lest we forget, Serena’s outfit at the French open led to a rule change. It seems wearing a suit that will help prevent blood clots, which nearly killed her in childbirth, is unacceptable.

For those that would say that Ramos was right by the letter of the law in all 3 instances to penalise Williams, I would respond with the words of Albus Dumbledore:

 ‘…[H]e blew up his aunt, for God’s sake!’ Fudge shouted, banging his fist on the judge’s bench and upsetting a bottle of ink. ‘And you very kindly did not press charges on that occasion, accepting, I presume, that even the best wizards cannot always control their emotions,’ said Dumbledore calmly, as Fudge attempted to scrub the ink off his notes.

Indeed.

The idea that “the rules are the rules” is wrong. Andrew Castle said this:

What Castle misses is highlighted by American psychologist Dr Goff:

It is apparently well known that coaching happens all the time in tennis and yet the umpire decided to enforce the rule only in the second set of a grand slam final? Williams throws a racquet and is penalised for it, but Kei Nishikori did the same thing last year and wasn’t given a warning. It was the same umpire. Williams called him a thief and he penalised her. Is it within the rules? Of course. Is it fair in the context of a grand slam final? No. No it isn’t.

Serena wasn’t “hysterical”. She didn’t have a “meltdown”. Language and framing matters and on Saturday, Serena was angry. She was angry at being called a cheat, she was angry at the pedantic nature of the umpire and she was angry about the misogynistic double standards that were applied to her. Her anger was righteous. Her anger at those things should be universal.

On Saturday night, Serena was every woman that has ever been unfairly treated or had a different standard applied to them. That is to say, She was every woman.

 

 

 

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