Tennis star Serena Williams pens letter to address gender inequality in sport and beyond.
Serena Williams has long proved her dominance in the tennis world and in recent years has come to be known as one of the best athletes the world has ever seen. Still, despite her superiority, she continues to battle gender inequality in athletics. Headlines about Williams usually read “greatest female athlete” thereby relegating her legacy to one gender and diminishing her success. Essentially, the demarcation of “female” implies that her preeminence will never be on par with her male counterparts. Williams is not the only female athlete to experience the subtle undermining of her talent. Ronda Rousey is, pound for pound, the best MMA fighter in the world, male or female, yet she still faces criticism in the male-dominated sport. The belief that women athletes, no matter their accolades and accomplishments, will always be second-class in the history books that permeate the sports world. [There is an ever-present attitude that says “She’s good for a girl.”]
In the past few months, Serena Williams has started to utilize her platform to speak out on issues that matter to her. Her most recent message was an open letter in Porter Magazine addressing gender inequality. Williams discusses her frustration with unequal pay, stating, “I, like you, have done the same work and made the same sacrifices as our male counterparts. I would never want my daughter to be paid less than my son for the same work.” In many cases, female athletes actually make more sacrifices and work harder than males in order to overcome gender-specific obstacles in sport and society.
Unfortunately, this debate often spirals into arguments about head to head competition, i.e. male vs female - Williams could never beat the best male tennis player in the world, Roger Federer. This kind of discussion is unproductive and misses the point. The push for gender equality is not about physical athleticism or men against women. It is about equal recognition and compensation for the same level of achievement. As Williams writes, “we should always be judged by our achievements, not by our gender.”
Shortly after Williams’ letter was published, former Olympian Deidra Dionne hosted a Facebook discussion on gender equality in sport, urging men to engage with the issue. In and out of sports, women typically support other women who are breaking barriers and achieving greatness. Still, as Dionne points out, progress will not be made unless male athletes and fans champion the incredible talent and perseverance of female athletes.
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