Serena Williams: The Empress Has No Clothes
The oft-consecrated champion decided to clothe herself in the time-worn mantle of the poor oppressed woman and young mother suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous male sexism.
The title of this article is meant to be provocative, but obviously not to be taken literally. When a man writes about a woman who has claimed to expose an act of blatant sexism, if he fails to agree with her complaint, he will automatically be suspected of sexist overtones. This is especially true considering that the metaphor in the title also calls forth a mental image that many might find disconcerting, proving the scorned propensity of males like the author of this piece to body shame women.
But surely if it’s OK for the emperor to have no clothes, the empress can also suffer the same fate? Any other attitude would be hypocritical. To some this may sound like an old-fashioned argument in an age that has turned a certain type of public hypocrisy into standardized behavior, not only in the media, but even in the corridors of power in Washington.
But, more importantly, what could the metaphorical “clothes” in the title be referring to? In Williams’ recent painful moment of Grand Slam tennis tribulation, during which she became totally — what else can you call it — hysterical (though perhaps moved as much by cunning as by emotion), the oft-consecrated champion decided to clothe herself in the time-worn mantle of the poor oppressed woman and young mother (“I have a daughter”) suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous male sexism. “I mean,” she seemed to be telling us, “the referee is a man, isn’t he?” And he’s disciplining her! It is just so awfully abusive — it seems to be a real #MeToo moment.
Except, when you analyze it, it isn’t. It is simply what it looked like at the time on center court: an astoundingly bad sport acting out as a spoiled child. Of the countless times she’s thrown tantrums, it is always when she’s losing. In turning to the #MeToo ethos to rationalize her untoward behavior not only was she not acting on behalf of oppressed women everywhere, but she was instead actually betraying the entire feminist movement, in two manifest ways.
First, she failed to reign in her emotions and thus became hysterical in a way that validated how men have long characterized women’s behavior under stress. Second, she strove to cover up her “feminine failing” by claiming to be the victim of sexism.
The latter is the worst possible betrayal of the #MeToo movement because it blatantly reveals the willingness of women — even rich, powerful women — to hypocritically exploit the idea of discrimination against women for their own selfish reasons and goals, even when it so transparently does not apply to the circumstances at hand. Her adversary wasn’t the umpire; it was a talented young woman who had shown the ability to get the better of her.
This should be transparent to anyone who watches tennis regularly. A quick check of past Grand Slams, for example, shows that men are penalized significantly more than women (1,517 times vs. 535 since 1998). But again, any true tennis fan understood that her claim was absurd at the moment she enunciated it. Added to this ludicrousness is the fact that her coach straight out admitted to coaching her, which is obvious in this short video. He had no choice but to admit it: You can see him actually moving his lips as he addresses her with his signals and then nods when he sees she has received the message.
So she was not only complicit in an act of cheating, which only led to an anodyne warning, but it turns out that she, not the referee, is the liar when she asserts that even if her coach coached, she didn’t see it. The Donald would be proud. From a logical point of view, her assertion is even on the face of it absurd. We are supposed to imagine that her coach is making those gestures to a person who is not even looking at him.
See No Evil
But the media — especially the sports media, the vast majority of whom are men — saw none of this. They have an important but unspoken agenda: to protect the sporting star, come hell or high water. But there are other reinforcing dynamics at work here as well: The media’s overwhelming commitment to the paper-selling feminist movement whereby practically any event involving men and women can be characterized as newsworthy by simply averring some sort of discrimination or female abuse. The content problem of the 24-hour news cycle is solved.
But a further, even more insidious force is at play, as reflected in an article recent article by S. Suresh in Fair Observer: the age-old male ideal of the knight in shining armor saving the damsel in distress. This has become a surreptitiously motivating factor in the male-dominated media. And in this case, it is not just one distressed damsel, one threatened empress. Instead the media knight nobly steps up to save every distressed damsel in the world.
The result? The self-proclaimed unbiased mainstream media in its coverage of Williams ends up doing exactly what it accuses Fox News of doing in its coverage of Trump: generating a controversy by ignoring the facts that any fair observer would corroborate and using the opportunity to plunge into its own ideological agenda, in this case the one-way street of feminism’s “sexism.”
And here is perhaps the ultimate irony: If tennis were to give way to the demands of anti-sexism and become truly gender blind, it would entail having the Grand Slam matches as single events, open to all people, without distinguishing the men’s tournament from the women’s, just like in the real (non-sports) world of work. In which case there would be no women competing at all, or would be hard pressed to win even a couple of games in a match against a top-100 male player.
Furthermore, Serena’s outburst could even backfire to the extent that someone might want to reverse one of feminism’s greatest PR victories by questioning just how it is that women receive the same gaudy amount of prize money as the men at the Grand Slams for playing less (two out of three sets instead of the grueling three out of five) and doing it at a much lower skill level.
Sometimes differences in nature lead to differences in circumstances and behavior. Systematically denying difference to play the victim may not be the best strategy for winning — though Serena Williams did win over a rather servile press, afraid not to endorse her complaint. As far as winning goes, Williams definitely lost that match, with or without the penalties. But in pushing her self-serving version of feminism, she ended up spoiling the victory of, and a moment of deserved happiness for, another woman — Naomi Osaka.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily