It gave me goosebumps to watch the interview where British professional tennis player, Andy Murray, quite matter of factly called out the casual sexism of the journalist who asked him his views about Sam Querrey, being “the first US player to reach a major semifinal since 2009”. Murray corrected the journalist by saying “male player” and had to repeat it twice before the journalist and others even realised their mistake. Serena and Venus Williams, Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys — all American players — have reached Grand Slam semifinals since 2009.
This is not the first time Murray has called out such sexism. After he won two gold medals in tennis at the 2016 Rio Olympics, some people called him the first player to do so. Once again, he pointedly said that Venus and Serena Williams had both won several each.
Contrast his responses with that of retired American tennis player John McEnroe, who recently told NPR that if Serena Williams played the male tennis circuit, she would have been ranked 700 in the world.
The kinds of comments made by McEnroe and various journalists belittle the accomplishments of women and promote the idea that women’s sports do not matter, only men’s sports do. This is all too often reinforced in the pay differentials between women and men athletes, as well as differences in the endorsements they receive, the training facilities they can access and the air time given to the sports.
Also Read: Serena Williams Talks About Sexism
Women are also simply respected less. Take for example the recent Indian women’s cricket team. They won several of their matches at the ICC Women’s World Cup 2017, yet during the post-match interview, the skipper Mithali Raj was asked who her favourite cricketer is between India and Pakistan. She responded by asking the reporter if he had ever asked a male cricketer who his favourite female cricketer was. She further explained that women cricketers should not be compared to their male counterparts and expressed regret for the lack of recognition the women’s cricket, had in a country where the sport is like religion.
A few days ago, the Women’s Tennis Association asked fans to rank female tennis players on their clothing in a “Best Dressed” poll, reinforcing that no matter how athletic and powerful women are, they must be visually beautiful as well. Of course, there was no such poll for the male tennis players.
To demean the accomplishments of women is absolutely not acceptable. These sportswomen are working hard to push the boundaries in their sport and overcome mental and physical odds.
Serena Williams recently won the Australian Open whilst pregnant with her first child. Kenyan Alysia Montano recently competed in the USA Track and Field (USATF) Outdoor Championship while five months pregnant; she previously ran in the USATF Outdoor championship while eight months pregnant with her first child. American Olympian Kerri Walsh Jennings was five weeks pregnant at the London Olympics, where she won a gold medal in beach volleyball.
At a time when all over the world women are fighting to be equally represented at decision-making tables and power tables, equally paid and equally accepted as 50% of the population, it is important to have role models in every field. These women role models exist and we do a great disservice to them by belittling their accomplishments.