I know that readers of this blog are as sickened and disgusted as I am by some of the things that are being said about Serena Williams on various blogs and message boards. Many of the remarks (which I absolutely cannot repeat, they are so malevolent and/or obscene) are racist, many are misogynistic, and many are even gay-hating (interesting how people can slip that in).
I am already sad that Serena has had to undergo these health scares, and now seeing this barrage of insults tossed her way is horrible. But there is something else that's bothering me: Though I have (thankfully) seen many readers stand up to the racism, I have yet to see anyone stand up to the misogyny. No one is calling out the bigots for their hatred of women; in fact, no one is even mentioning it. Misogynistic remarks have been called out every now and then, but not for being what they are--antagonism toward females.
It's true that if Serena Williams were an African American man, she would be the object of ignorant and vile comments because of race. As it is, she is both African American and female, so she gets double the number of attacks. Of course, she's also hated by some because she's rich and she's a celebrity, and the rich and celebrated are constantly under attack.
Williams does not conform to my culture's image of "femininity." This is partly because she's black, and partly because she is a big woman. There is only so much that the WTA can airbrush out of Serena Williams. She also does not comform to the "accepted" "feminine" image because she makes such good use of her aggression as an athlete, and because she doesn't giggle and hair-flip her way through interviews.
Certainly, there are issues that fans have with Williams--I have a few, myself. But here's the thing: When you wish to criticize someone for her behavior or values and you attack her gender or race or ethnicity or sexual orientation in order to make the criticism, you are a bigot. Besides that, attacking someone who has just undergone two big health scares is beyond tacky. It isn't about "liking" Williams--it's about using her for a hate-fest target practice.
"Lighten up, it's the internet," one of the insult-hurlers told someone who challenged his/her insult of Williams. And that is what is has come to: Call out bigotry of any kind (but especially toward women and girls), and someone will tell you to "lighten up." Because insulting people because of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. is an Internet leisure activity.
Serena Williams is an all-time tennis great. There will never be another player like her. Her recent string of frightening health problems is extremely unfortunate, and is a matter of concern for her and her family, of course, but also for her peers and for fans of women's tennis. Those who wish her ill, or who have seen her misfortune as an opportunity to express contempt for the huge part of the world's population that is black, female, or both--can only wish they had the mental strength, self-belief, regenerative power, and talent that Williams has.
Their daughters have my pity.