Playing Out Loud: How Sexism Is Stifling Tennis
Inspired by a particulary nasty, sexist, article, A_Gallivant (@A_Gallivant on Twitter) wrote the following piece. I completely agree with her words and am honoured to post it on Any Given Surface.
In 1996 – NIKE Women created a commercial with the following copy:
If you let me play sports
I will like myself more,
I will have more self-confidence,
I will be 60 percent less likely to get breast cancer,
I will suffer less depression.
I will be more likely to leave a man who beats me.
I will be less likely to get pregnant,
I will learn what it means to be strong.
If you let me play sports
I read this article today and I immediately remembered this advertising campaign. At the time, when watching the ad I was drawn to the girls’ diverse faces. I heard their words and wondered if the ad’s claims about the power of sport were true. In the end, I decided even if they weren’t, if girls wanted to play sport, why shouldn’t they? Today as I re-watch the ad, I am drawn to a tiny word, ‘let.’ Are these little girls asking their parents to let them play, or are they asking the world? If it’s the former, it’s sweet and cute, but if it’s the world, it’s revolutionary. They are pleading to the world, to us, to let them be more than society dictates. They want to:
Stop hating themselves
Stop being insecure
Stop being sick
Stop being depressed
Stop being in abusive relationships
Stop being weak.
However, these girls’ pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Every time a Grand Slam comes around, people crawl out of the woodwork to critique the women’s game. Do they talk about strategy, shot selection, or the depth of the field? No, like Ms. Gold, they talk about clothing, behavior, and grunting.
It’s dismissive, reductive, and paternalistic.
People who have the opportunity to talk about women in sport and influence a global audience shouldn’t spend precious time critiquing whether Venus looks like she’s at a disco or what a possible final between Azarenka and Sharapova would sound like. It is a moment to inform and inspire. Sadly, any young girl listening to these people learns that it doesn’t matter how she plays; all that matters is how she looks, sounds, and behaves. Not how, where, or why she strikes the ball.
What these articles fail to understand is that while their critiques may seem silly and off-the-cuff to the ardent and more knowledgeable fan, it suggests to a novice watcher that what the women are doing on court – playing tennis – is inconsequential and meaningless. Yes, we ‘let’ the women play sports, but we don’t take them seriously or allow champions to have centre stage. Imagine if John McEnroe and Ted Robinson were to discuss Rafa’s anal picking, fist-pumping, and wail? If they spent time talking about Roger’s tucking back of his hair, twisting his racket, or his preening strut? God forbid, they spend a minute talking about the men’s respective clothing! But entire articles are written and segments are produced about the women’s court ticks and habits. It’s preposterous and I’m calling fault!
To suggest that women should wear fashions that are modest and uncontroversial. To recommend they play silently, and play nicely. To call them out for showing any kind of personality on the tennis court. To let them play – yes – but then take away all individuality and personality from their game, this goes against everything we value: equality, freedom of expression, and free will.
The Nike Ad wasn’t just suggesting that you allow girls to play sports, it was asking you, the audience, for something finer and more subtle: to look beyond their appearance and attend to what they are doing.
It was to allow them to sweat, scream, and play.