All hail Queen Serena. She stands on the threshold of her seventh Wimbledon singles title, and twenty-second Grand Slam win, yet her post-match press conference after reaching today’s final left a sour taste in the mouth. It was not Williams’s fault: she dealt with the questions with grace, class and a healthy dollop of sass. No change there.
But it is a travesty and an insult to her intelligence – and ours – that on the eve of her ninth Wimbledon final, she is asked if she deserves to be paid as much as men. Then she is asked about the baby-doll dresses on the market for female tennis players. And she is also asked about the perception of women’s tennis.
And it is offensive that, as she was crushing Elena Vesnina so utterly in the semi-final, one national newspaper chose to run a story on how she was “flaunting her nipples”, rather than admiring her supreme ability, her longevity and her dominance.
Angelique Kerber, who saw off a battling Venus Williams to prevent an all-Williams match-up and so reach her first Wimbledon final without dropping a set, was also asked if the women’s game was “value for money” for fans.
Let’s be honest. There is a nasty and sometimes blatant sexism that is endemic in sport – be it fans, governing bodies or, in this case, the media, who routinely overlook women and the achievements of female athletes.
Serena is no fool. She was as powerful in her replies to the pointed questions as she was in hammering Vesnina 6-2, 6-0. When asked if she deserved equal prize money, because her match was much shorter than the marathon men’s quarter-finals, she replied: “Yeah, I think we deserve equal prize money. Yeah, absolutely. If you happen to write a short article, you think you don’t deserve equal pay as your beautiful colleague behind you?”
The subject of equal pay was brought up again, and she was asked how she would like women’s tennis to be perceived before she retired. Her answer speaks volumes. It transcends sport and it silences the critics who try to undermine not just what she has achieved – 21 Grand Slams – but also those who seek to ignore, disrespect and ridicule women’s sport. It’s about equality.
She said: “I would like to see people, the public, the press, other athletes in general, just realise and respect women for who they are and what we are and what we do. I’ve been working at this since I was three years old. Actually, maybe younger, because I have a picture where I’m in a stroller, I think Venus is pushing me, and we’re on the tennis court.
“Basically my whole life I’ve been doing this. I haven’t had a life. I don’t think I would deserve to be paid less because of my sex, or anyone else for that matter, in any job.”
I wrote another article for the Mixed Zone on why women, be it in sport or life, deserve equal pay. It is not about time spent on court, although I believe women should and would want to play five sets, nor about how much money women’s sport generates, or how many hours of television coverage it gets.
Fundamentally, it’s about women not being seen as second-class citizens. It’s about women’s sport being regarded as good sport for sport’s sake, and not “all right for a girl”. And it’s about realising that sport speaks to the wider society as a whole and has an immense force for positive change to women’s and girls’ lives.
The treatment of the four semi-finalists at Wimbledon, who were all asked in one way or another if they are worth as much as their male counterparts, was a stark reminder that although women’s sport has overcome many hurdles, there is still much more to do.
Serena, though, had the final say and delivered the line with such panache, eloquence and downright sass, it has gone viral on Twitter. When asked how she felt about “talk of her going down as one of the greatest female athletes of all time”, she replied, simply: “I prefer ‘one of the greatest athletes of all time’.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.