Wednesday, August 4, 2010

If they hate us so much, why do they watch us play and perform?

The most cursory exploration of tennis forums on the Web will quickly yield a collection of comments about WTA players that range from sexist and offensive to misogynistic and obscene. 25-year-old women are called "girls," which is bad enough, but the players are also routinely called "bitches" and "sluts." Very recently, it was suggested on one forum that a player retired in her match because she was thinking about sex, and on another forum, it was written that she retired in order to get off the court and have a sexual encounter.

Female players are routinely "suspected" of having problems with their menstrual periods--of course some of them have problems with their menstrual periods, and they play through the pain and complications. Players' disagreements--real, imagined, or exaggerated--are referred to as "cat fights." The women's game is often irrelevantly-- and malevolently--compared with the men's game. And there are frequent conversations about how "ugly" or "masculine" some players are, right down to detailed analyses of their body parts and their imagined personal lives. All of his talk is unbearably hate-filled and vicious.

The hatred of women (funny how that isn't referred to as bigotry in the media and in conversation) is nothing new. Women and girls struggle to gain both equality and respect in every culture in the world. Among women, internalized sexism is rampant. If you are a woman and choose to open your eyes and ears, you are affected by sexism and misogyny every day. What I don't understand is, why do those who have nothing but contempt for women choose to watch women play sports and perform?

The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour has a lot of real fans--men and women (and some children, too) who enjoy the game and like to watch their favorite players in action. Most real fans are also knowledgeable enough to criticize the flaws within the tour, as well they should. In fact, the tour could benefit itself by reading the comments that such fans contribute to tennis forums.

People who watch women's tennis and then insult the players because of their gender should have something better to do, it would seem, than to preoccupy themselves with a group whose members they hold in contempt. And the name-calling is not excusable because of "the culture" or "the times." Indeed, it is the culture and the times that create such a climate of hate. Calling women "bitches" and "sluts" is unacceptable in any context. And the argument of  "free speech" is a legal one (and one I support), but it has little to do with societal rules, in which people of all classes, genders, races, ages, etc. are granted equal respect.

Some of the woman-haters go for a double--or even triple, portion of bigotry--by also attacking players who are African American, or who are "suspected" of being gay. These people--and there are multitudes of them--do not know how to criticize the behaviors of a player without also attacking the player's gender, race and real or suspected sexual orientation. And some of them skip the behavior criticism altogether, and just make bigoted comments or "jokes" about the players.

Almost all Web forums have rules about hate speech and bigotry, but I have never seen those rules enforced when it comes to bigotry toward women. It is up to the rest of us to demand that they be enforced. That won't be easy, since sexism and misogyny are considered acceptable forms of bigotry. But as long as those who despise women insist on watching women's tennis, their expressions of hate and contempt--which affect all women and girls--need to be kept among themselves.


Overhead Spin said...

Diane, I feel your pain. I really do. As someone who is of African descent, I am apalled at the hate levelled against people of colour. I am also apalled at the dismissive way in which women on tennis forums dismiss other women.

They will devote hours of their time on message boards describing who is pretty and who is not. Make fun of a player's service stance and wonder if so and so is gay or not. Never do you hear them talk about the tennis prowess of these women and they are quick to dismiss the women's game because of the double faults, the shrieking and grunting and for some the mental lapses of the women.

Then when they start to elevate the men's game by comparing it to the women, one only has to shake their head because as far as I am concerned there are only 2 men in the ATP. Federer and Nadal. Everyone else is an also-ran headcase, but when you say that they are quick to defend the men as trying to find their games. Yeah, right.

I think right now the WTA has a better product than the ATP. It would be good if the WTA as well as fans recognised this, and promoted the Tour accordingly.

Sunny nine said...

The WTA does not speak out against the climate that the women play in-emphasis on looks, sexism, racism other isms. At the same time they want to encourage people to watch the athletes. Sometimes I want BJ King or someone else to speak out but like the WTA I feel like they are afraid to emphasize the negative atmosphere for fear it might drive people away. I think the tour (the unique personalities and play of the women) can sell itself. I don't know much about the WNBA but do they market the women in a different way that could be used by the WTA? My husband and I were trying to figure out why we have this "gut" feeling that men are thought of as ATHLETES more than women(in almost any sport.) We couldn't put our finger on it. Just listening to commentators and reading different things gave us an impression.

Also I read a blog where I respected the writer, his talent and for the most part what he said. But when talking about Ivanovic maybe playing the challengers or qualifying, he put the photo up of Ivanovic that was in SI Swimsuit. I told him it was inappropriate given how women are perceived. He put up another photo but still pointed out that Ana was a good model and exposure from this sells tickets. It really bummed me out. The same person wrote an article for another blog, saying that it is hard not to root for Ana because she is "adorable and supremely sweet..." I wrote that I root for her because she has a great forehand etc. Well that is a detailed example of this focus on the wrong thing. Why do they watch-it is because some people do like to compare the looks and from what I read, the ones who turn the heads of some fans are the ones rooted for-but not their play.
I hope I made sense.

Sunny nine said...

In speaking of the blogger who put up the SI Swimsuit photo of Ana, I meant to say that when he put up different photo after my comment, it was just not different but definitely appropriate the second time.

Diane said...

I read that blog post. The "adorable and sweet" comment was not all relevant to the article, and was lame.

Why are men considered real athletes and women are not? Because the patriarchal culture insists that certain qualities "belong" to men, and therefore cannot be attributed to women. Physical strength is often valued above other athletic characteristics because physical strength is a characteristic in which males, through biology, dominate.

And because women are just considered flat-out inferior.

Diane said...


I forgot to say--wonderful that you wrote and protested. If more people would do that, editors and bloggers would be forced to address their own sexism.

Bex said...

Really interesting article. I wonder if someone like Laura Robson has any idea that her "sluts" comment makes the woman haters feel they are justified in commenting on/attacking the players and their chosen - private - lifesyles. I've seen many of the blogs commenting on players private lives as a result and speculating which ones are the "sluts".
Equally as bad was Robson insisting that her comment was "taken out of context" - implying that calling women "sluts" is fine in the right context.

Svente said...

It's not just bloggers or their commenters though. It happens during matches and sexist language has been used on air by Mary Carillo, Brad Gilbert, John and Patrick McEnroe, Darren Cahill...

It's obnoxious and offensive and frankly, should result in losing one's job. But it's so acceptable and 'typical' that it's merely chuckled at and allowed to continue.

Diane said...

Bex and Svente,

Thank you for your comments. You're right, Bex: There is no "appropriate" context for calling someone a slut. Robson, however, is a product of her upbringing, and I'm sure she's received all the messages about women and girls not being "permitted" to have sex without becoming "sluts."

I, too, am alarmed over the things I hear commentators say--I could make a long list. It's as though the Second Wave never existed. Men and women need to contact the networks at every opportunity, to express displeasure. I am still appalled that Justin Gimelstob was allowed to keep his job on Tennis Channel.

The Fan Child said...

Hey all. Well, I must say that it hurts me a tad to have my blog (and other writings) singled out as a culprit here.

Have you guys seen the amount of sensational things written about the Spanish male players? Do you see me complaing that Feliciano Lopez has more fans than his less attractive yet higher ranked counterparts?

Of course not.

I'm here, just like you guys are, to enjoy the tennis. But that being said, there is no reason that I shouldn't be able to express my feelings about certain people (in a very harmless way, might I add).

I definitely hear - and respect - much of what is being said on this blog and in the comments, but I honestly think that men (particularly Nadal) are adorable and sweet. Baghdatis, for that matter is adorable and sweet as well. Was that wrong of me to say?

As a tennis writer, I am sorry that I have offended anybody, and I want you all to know that I am 100% open to criticism and advice. I have so much respect for the women on the WTA tour it is ridiculous, and if there is a way that I can help them to get more of the respect they deserve and less of the ---- that they don't, than I am open to any and all opinions on that.

That being said, as I mentioned to Sunny a few weeks back, we must realize that both tours need to sell tickets and try to survive financially. Both tours, to a certain degree sell the sexuality of their players. All sports, in fact, do this. To me it's okay. And I know that the more attractive our tennis players are to the general public, the better chance we have of growing the game and increasing it's exposure.

So if 1/2 of the fans watching Nadal are there to see his biceps, or because they have a crush on him because of his smile or sweetness, I'm not going to complain. Let's sell some tickets and get some T.V. Exposure, right?

The Fan Child said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Fan Child said...

Hey all - if I sound snitty at all, I apologize. It's just that we are commenting on a post that mentions hate, and I read the comments to see that my blog is singled out. Quite Frankly, it hurts, and I don't think I'm deserving.

That being said, the experience has made me aware that perhaps the issue is even more sensitive than I am aware of.

And, yes, I do respect that, and I will definitely take all of this into consideration when I write about tennis.

But, as I said, I tend to enjoy the attractiveness of athletes in general. I think Marat Safin, just like hundreds of thousands of other fans did, was incredibly attractive. I feel the same way about many players. Should I leave that part out when describing him, and just mention that he has a temper and a big serve? Would that really tell the whole story on who - and what - Marat Safin is?

What I'm saying here, is that you can call the writer out, as you have called me out, but sometimes you have to give some leeway, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

Diane, I'm sorry for coming so late to this, because I feel like I've just read one of the most perfect analyses of the web and women's tennis. I plan to send this to my feminist tennis friend, and share it with my wife.

I agree with you 100%. The very fact that this stuff continues to flourish in 2010 is so utterly appaling and frustrating that I've reached the point where I stay far away from any sports forums. I can't deal with it anymore.

I have written to the Tennis Channel in the past re: their coverage of the women players, and their sexist BS, and though it felt somewhat satisfying to get it off my chest (sans snark), I'm sure they ignored my complaints.

Why do they watch us play and perform? Deep-seated psychological need to imagine that these strong and powerful women athletes are one jump away from falling into bed with them, at which time their manly manhood will strip the woman's power away, leaving her vulnerable in their arms. Assuring that they are, truly, more powerful than any woman athlete could ever be. Do I know this for a fact? Of course not, but it's what I imagine from the sheer volume of sexualizing that's done to women athletes.

To Fan Child: I don't know your blog; I don't know your writing. From what you've said, here, I vehemently disagree with you that what's really needed is to emphasize how attractive the tennis players are. That's how the sport will accumulate fans. What is the point of fans like that? What business is it of ours to emphasize or de-emphasize the physical beauty of an athlete? Whether or not a player is pretty, or handsome, or cute, or shiny is completely secondary to how they play, as far as this fan of too many years to count is concerned.

I don't understand why the WTA doesn't do more to emphasize the players' athetic skill, and ignore the level of "pretty." Simply ignore it. Their website is filled with photos of the women, glammed up, some of the strictly tennis poses are even close to pin-up photos. I don't get it. It's as if, instead of being truly supportive of the women, the WTA is buying into the entire mythos: women athletes are judged as women first (and how sexy and pretty they are) and athletes second.

I am SO damned tired of it all.


Anonymous said...

To Fan Child: I don't know your blog; I don't know your writing. From what you've said, here, I vehemently disagree with you that what's really needed is to emphasize how attractive the tennis players are -- that's how the sport will accumulate fans.

I don't understand. What is the point of somehow getting fans like that? To what end? Constantly fluctuating numbers of viewers? How would that work, exactly? The "hot" players would have higher numbers and so they would get more airtime even if they were lousy players as long as they showed leg and wore flouncy dresses and had appealing facial structure, and so.... ?? How would that promote the sport?

I keep wondering what business is it of ours to emphasize or de-emphasize the physical beauty of an athlete? Whether or not a player is pretty, or handsome, or cute, or shiny is completely secondary to how they play, as far as this fan of too many years to count is concerned. It's not that I don't see the beauty in some players, or think some players are hot (like MoMo), etc. But I watch to see the game played as brilliantly as possible. That's what gets me excited. An extraordinary running forehand -- ::sigh:: that is the thing of beauty.


Anonymous said...

::sigh again:: -- sincerely sorry for the weird double/triple posting. I got an error from Google saying that my comment was too long so I cut it and put it into 2 pieces.... and Google published all of them anyway. Ah, the internets in all of their technological glory.


Diane said...

Sorry, everyone--I only just noticed that this thread had been continued.

"So if 1/2 of the fans watching Nadal are there to see his biceps, or because they have a crush on him because of his smile or sweetness, I'm not going to complain. Let's sell some tickets and get some T.V. Exposure, right?"

Not quite...and here's why: Because no matter how many underwear ads Verdasco does, he is still always considered an athlete first. A woman is never considered an athlete first. The comparison is therefore invalid because sexism prevents people from looking at female athletes the way they look at male athletes.

Recbecca, thank you for your comments. The tour's promotion of the players is often sexist in nature. (In fact, when everyone's features are airbrushed out, there is an ethnic component involved, too.)

rcm said...

Sorry I'm so late to comment but I just came across this post today. Thank you for bringing up this subject. It's always difficult because doing so brings out the very worst of the hateful comments.
Thank you also for clarifying how it is NOT the same for men when their personal appearance is commented on. Men have not been subject to constant evaluation of their appearance. Etc. I could go on, but I just want to make a point of thanking for bringing up the topic.
People who come to tennis blogs to make derogatory comments about women aren't here for the tennis. They're here express their hatred.