Some of you may have seen the Daily Mail feature, "Babe, set and match: Why looks count for more than talent when Wimbledon decides which girls will play on Centre Court." The title of the story itself is sexist, since the majority of the players are women, but one would not expect the British press to care about that. It surprises me a bit that this story has gotten so much attention from what I think is a very large "post feminist" fan base. Much of this fan base appears to be fine with the heavy marketing of sex on the tour, but suddenly--upon learning that Wimbledon officials are brazenly using very sexist standards to promote Centre Court--there is some outrage.
To be sure, many--including players, apparently--also think that Wimbledon's marketing ploy and similar types of marketing are perfectly fine. Serena Williams reminded us that "sex sells" but did not say anything beyond that. Maria Sharapova, asked a couple of years ago whether the tour sells sex, said "I don't care what they're selling" (shortly after that, somone began selling Sharapova pillows visually designed so that owners could fondle "Maria's breasts" all night). Gisela Dulko, when told in a press conference what a babe she was, told the press how grateful she was to know they think that of her. And Venus Williams, alleged spokeswoman for equality, has answered every question about sexism in women's pro tennis marketing by changing the subject. She and other players may indeed obeject to it, but as long as they remain silent, things will only get worse.
28- and 30-year-old players are called "girls." The tour promotes its top players in "sexy" (they are actually more like a satire on sexy) photographic poses. Outgoing Sony Ericsson WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott made sure we all knew that the players desire a "balance" of being athletes and "feminine," as though the two were mutually exclusive. (And anyway, what is "feminine"?) As a reader recently pointed out, he may as well have just come out and announced not to worry--no lesbians here. I agree with that, but I think that is even more to it: I also think Scott didn't want anyone to think these women were strong, independent females, since that, too, would not be "feminine." Because we are living in the 1950s.
In other words, it came as no surprise to me at all to read about the Centre Court selections; I find this news to be part and parcel of the sexist culture of my nation and other nations that produce tennis players, as well as the sexist culture of sports in general. As ugly as the sexism is, however, there is more than sexism in play in these selections. The "babes" selected to play on Centre Court--except in situations in which the selections are default--like the "babes" selected as the tour's hottest women on the Australian Open website, have one thing in common--their skin color. Serena Williams is not a babe. Li Na is not a babe. There are a lot of people, incidentally, who think these two women are beautiful, but they do not qualify for "babe" status. And while I realize that consideration of beauty is very subjective, it is hardly a coincidence that African American and Asian women do not ever appear on the list. The world's most beautiful lesbian could be on the tour, too, and--if she were out--you can be assured she would not be on the list, either.
The BBC, according to the Daily Mail article, is all for Wimbledon's marketing technique because it increases the number of television viewers. British fans and players frequently complain that their country doesn't care about tennis at all, except for two weeks out of the year. The babes, then, need to make sure they play as well as some of their non-babe peers. Perhaps if the British public were subjected more often to the like of the Williams sisters Svetlana Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova, and Zheng Jie, they would appreicate tennis more.