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 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:
- to get court time as kids
- to get coaching as kids
- to get sponsorships for equipment, travel, entry fees, shoes…
- to get appropriate health care and be taken seriously by doctors when their lives are at stake
- to get accurate press coverage that covers their tennis game and not their bodies or their court attire
- to be allowed to object to referee calls during matches in the ways men do
- to get recognition for their many world-record-setting achievements
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:
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.