fitness · tennis

Do Venus and Serena Williams compete against the men? Yes they do!

In case you’ve been on a social media hiatus, 1) congratulations; and 2) among the things you missed was director Jane Campion accepting a Critics Choice Award for Best Director, giving a speech that included the following:

“Venus and Serena– you’re marvels but you don’t have to compete against the men like I do.”

Yes, she was referring to Venus and Serena Williams, tennis legends. Venus’ non-reaction reaction was clear:

Venus Williams, tennis legend, who clearly has a lot of experience at maintaining grace under uncomfortable circumstances.
Venus Williams, tennis legend, who has a lot of experience maintaining grace under uncomfortable circumstances.

Venus and Serena were at the awards ceremony as executive producers of “King Richard”, a film about them and their father. It was nominated in four categories and won the best actor award for Will Smith.

Jane Campion’s comments were awful and racist. They were wrong, dead wrong. Yes, she later apologized (here’s a CNN article about the apology). Campioin pointed out that both Venus and Serena have faced off against men on the court and opened doors for women, etc.

But hey, that doesn’t even begin to cover the degree to which the Williams sisters have competed against men. Their entire lives they’ve had to compete against boys and men:

Apropos of the last item: Serena has 23 Grand Slam wins, #2 behind Margaret Court. Both of these women have won more Grand Slam singles matches than any male tennis player. While we’re at it, so has Steffi Graf, with 22 wins. Male tennis player Rafael Nadal is number 4 (behind Steffi), with 21 wins. In 2021, Venus had the all-time record for number of Grand Slam tournament matches played, at 90. And she’s won seven Grand Slam titles. And yet: even the Wikipedia page for Grand Slam wins lists the men’s singles wins first. Look here:

Yes, it's small print, but you can clearly make out Men's Singles above Women's Singles. Accidental? I think not.
Yes, it’s small print, but you can clearly see Men’s Singles above Women’s Singles. Accidental? I think not.

Any woman who’s played a competitive sport, or knows a woman who has, knows how we have to compete with men:

  • for time
  • for space
  • for training and coaching
  • for acceptance as athletes
  • for programs
  • for money and recognition

And we have to fight for access, safe conditions for activity, bodily autonomy, the right to choose sportswear that fits and covers us, an occasional break from all the domestic and emotional labor we perform at no cost to others… I could go on.

Yes, folks, Venus and Serena are marvels. They are marvels at competing successfully in the world with men, with racism, with sexism, with all sorts of barriers that ordinary and extraordinary women athletes face every day. Thank you, Williams sisters. Thank you so much.

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