Every summer, tennis players and fans gather together in London to play a little tennis tournament. You may have heard of it. It’s called Wimbledon.
I’d imagine that for a tennis player there are few things cooler than playing on the lawns of Wimbledon. Stefan Edberg, 6-time major winner and 2-time Wimbledon champ, captured the aura of the tournament when he said:
“For me, and most of the other players, too, if you had to pick one of the four Grand Slams, you would pick Wimbledon. It’s got tradition, it’s got atmosphere, and it’s got mystique.”
To play Wimbledon is one thing, to win it of course is another.
And winning Wimbledon is exactly what Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli did two weeks ago. The 28 year old, playing in her 11th Wimbledon, defeated German Sabine Lisicki to win the title. It was the biggest win of her career and her first major trophy. When you consider the years of effort, training and sacrifice, for Bartoli, it was a glorious day.
But that didn’t stop Tertullian from rearing his ugly head.
John Inverdale is a tennis commentator for the BBC. In the wake of Bartoli’s triumph, here’s what he had to say about the new champion:
“Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little ‘You’re never going to be a looker? You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight.'”
To Inverdale, I say this:
Shut it. Now.
The sad reality of a world marked by male privilege is that female athletes are judged on more than their athletic merits. In other words, too often, it’s about the clothes, the look, the fitness and the lifestyle. Marion Bartoli just won Wimbledon. Who cares what she looks like?!?
In this 2011 article, writer Mary Jo Kane summarizes the problem:
Study after study has revealed that newspaper and TV coverage around the globe routinely and systematically focuses on the athletic exploits of male athletes while offering hypersexualized images of their female counterparts. These findings are no trivial matter. Scholars have long argued that a major consequence of the media’s tendency to sexualize women’s athletic accomplishments is the reinforcement of their status as second-class citizens in one of the most powerful economic, social and political institutions on the planet. In doing so, media images that emphasize femininity/sexuality actually suppress interest in, not to mention respect for, women’s sports.
In the end, BBC and Inverdale apologized. That’s great.
Someday, we hope, apologies won’t be necessary.
This is the same kind of madness as when people focus on Hilary Clinton’s hair, make up, pants suits and physical features to the detriment of talking about her international work.
Yep, sadly this stuff happens across the cultural spectrum.