Wednesday, November 6, 2013

40 LOVE to see some real change

Dear WTA:

You did an outstanding job with the 40 LOVE campaign. I'm sure I speak for most fans when I say how great it was to see so much attention paid to the Original 9, and to have the WTA's impressive history talked about so much by the sports media. Well done.

However, an excellent marketing campaign about the spirit and intention of the Original 9 isn't the same as really honoring the spirit and intention of the Original 9, which was to grant women what was rightfully theirs--to compete on an equal level with men.

The prize money issue is a big one, and great strides have been made in that area. But sexism is still sexism and there's a lot more to the concept of equality than just prize money. I'd like to see the WTA take an authentic position on behalf of women that would benefit the players, all sportswomen, and women and girls everywhere. As WTA player Sania Mirza (and what a wonderful spokeswoman she is) said recently: "When a woman wants to do something on her own way, she is criticised, dubbed as a rebel." She's right, and when a man wants to do something his own way, he's called "an individual" and "a maverick."

As Mirza points out, sportswomen (and all professional women, I'll add) are asked about what they wear, about when they're going to have babies, etc., while the media concentrates on men's athletic endeavors. The sports media calls male athletes "warriors" while it creates gossip about female athletes' private lives and encourages the "cat fight" mentality among fans.

I was around when the WTA was formed, and believe me--we haven't really come that far, baby, in sports or in any other area of society. In fact, we've gone backwards. In the U.S., bigoted attitudes toward women and girls that were at least held up for inspection in the 70s are now condoned and even encouraged. Sexism and misogyny are such a part of the fabric of world culture, girls grow up not even realizing that they are being treated as people who are "less than" men.

In no particular order, these are things I'd like to see from the WTA:

1. Get rid of on-court coaching. 
I don't want anyone, male or female, to receive on-court coaching because on-court coaching goes against the spirit of the game of tennis, which is a sport that's as much mental as it is physical. The tennis player stands alone (unless it's a doubles match), and has to figure things out for herself. In the case of the WTA, on-court coaching--and this is especially true since there is no ATP on-court coaching--makes the women look as though they can't figure it out for themselves. To make matters worse, almost all of the coaches are men, so there they are--young women being directed by older men on how to play an opponent. It reeks of paternalism.

2. Create a program to encourage the development of female coaches.
We have so few of them in professional tennis. (And by the way, ATP--you need to do the same thing; where are the female coaches?) You can encourage girls all you want to be anything they can be, but until they see women coaching players, the message won't be transmitted.

3. Do not ever threaten to create a device that intrudes on a woman's body. Ever.
The concept of using a grunt-o-meter is not only ridiculous, it's offensive. I've never known what all the "grunting" (most of it isn't) fuss was about. No one complains about grunting on the ATP. As far as I can tell, the sports media created the "controversy" and people hopped onto the bandwagon.

But even if there are legitimate reasons (I don't think there are, but for the sake of argument....) to stop players from making noise, the idea of using a measuring device is really no different in spirit than previous concepts like putting female flight attendants on weight scales, requiring women in certain professions (or relationships) to get plastic surgery, and conducting "virginity tests" on adolescent girls. Women and girls have had our bodies measured and encroached upon enough.

4. Stop calling the head of the WTA a man.
An organization that claims to promote the well-being and advancement of women and girls really needs to stop saying "chairman" when it refers to the current head of the organization. What decade are we in, anyway?

5. Find some female masters of ceremony.
Tournament after tournament, including those that are women-only, the person doing the on-court interviews, making the announcements, and conducting the activities is a man. Often, it's a man who is sexist and/or paternalistic. (I heard a master of ceremonies tell a little girl who had won a competition that she couldn't make a celebratory run around the court because "girls don't do that." Another, ubiqitous, master of ceremonies calls grown women "young ladies" every time he interviews them or talks about them.) At the very least, get men who show more respect to the female players. But we really need some female masters of ceremonies.

6. Don't just sit there--fight sexism when it occurs.
When members of the sports media always compare female players with male players and never the other way around, say something. When an ATP player declares that women can't possibly compete as well as men because of our hormones, show your outrage. When members of the media make wink-nudge jokes about what that ATP player said, put them in their place.

When masters of ceremonies patronize players, educate them. When commentators assume that a female player is "copying" an ATP player and she isn't, complain. When commentators call women "girls," correct them. When the sports press (I'm talking to you, Great Britain) makes sexually oriented comments about WTA players' bodies and refers to the tour in demeaning ways, call them out and make them stop doing it.

The Original 9 were women with spine. The WTA couldn't have better role models.


Doug said...

Agree on every point!!! Go Diane!!!

Diane said...

Thanks :)

sunny nine said...

I agree with all your points. I wish though that more women would wear outfits (shorts) that make them look like athletes. Basketball and soccer/football players where more athletic looking kits. I don't like the shorts skirts or dresses with short shorts that get stuck in women's behind and also ride up so they look like underwear. It is sickening to me. Half the time you see the side part or lower part of their butt.

Anonymous said...

Grunting needs to stop as it is pure gamesmanship.

I understand your point but there's a difference between a natural grunt like Wozniacki and whatever noise that Azarenka is making.

Diane said...

Yeah, there are grunters (Woz, Schiavone) and screamers like Azarenka and Sharapova. A bit of a slippery slope, though. I give them all the benefit of the doubt.

Sabey said...

Thank you Diane this is fantastic! I hope the powers that be at the WTA actually see this. I hope they do a better job of calling out sexism from the media and players when they encounter it.

Diane said...

Sunny, the skorts are a holdover, I think, of all the "tennis is for proper and blue-blood people" mentality. That's my best guess, anyway.

Diane said...

Sabey, we cross-posted :) Thanks!

And--in the words of you-know-who--God luck with that :(

Anonymous said...

The WTA is sexist itself.

The airbrush on the website is just horrible.
The "Strong is Beautiful" campaign doesn't work as you can't even recognized the players in the glittering darkness.

The website is also a mediocre, cheap mess.

All around, the WTA needs to hire a better PR/marketing adviser as I don't think they really know what the hell they're doing.

Getting a decent TV deal would be nice.

Diane said...

"The WTA is sexist itself."

It certainly is.

You know, the airbrushing was ever worse for a few years. I mean, it was all the same face. There's still too much of it, though.

My main problem with the "Strong is Beautiful" campaign is that the players aren't dressed for the court.

Sam said...

This is a great article and I totally agree with your points. I do like the artistry of the "Strong is Beautiful" campaign but there are so many other pictures where the players are wearing so much make up to make them look "feminine" and those are both offensive and make the players look ridiculous. They're great athletes and they don't have to/and shouldn't look like supermodels.

Unknown said...

I agree with all of your points (especially the coaching!) except the grunting/shrieking. I don't like it in the men's game and I don't like it in the women's. I left a Sharapova match at the US Open because of the noise. I back up Navratilova's opinion on this, and she should know.

Great post, otherwise.

Diane said...

Thanks, Katarina,. My real point is--even if we all agree that screaming is bad and should be stopped--that any kind of device that "measures" part of a woman's body is offensive. Find another way to stop it--that's my point :)

Thanks, Sam.

Anonymous said...

Author of this letter is abolutely mental patient. :)

Anonymous said...

Im a fervent defender of the WTA, but some of these points are just overreaching.

Like 5 i mean, thats just a total joke i almost stopped reading at that. From the select few examples you have you basically assume that the majority, if not all, of the male ceremony masters are in some way sexist towards the woman.

The grunt-o-meter doesn't "measure" a womans body, only the sound they produce. That's overreaching in order to tip the argument in your favor. It will measure the noise made by either sex, so it isn't the problem. The only problem is an apparent uneven use of it.

A program that would "encourage the development of female coaches" would be just as patronizing towards women as the notion that only WTA players need on-court coaching. Who is to say that the retired female players who aren't coaching would like to be? Has anybody come forward to say that they've been institutionally barred from professional coaching?

You make good points but 4 and 5 just make me want to facepalm.

Diane said...

There was no intention to imply that all of the masters of ceremonies are sexist. However, as I pointed out, the one who is used the most is sexist, therefore, the main events have a problem. And even if none of them was sexist, there is obvious sexism in the simple fact that female masters of ceremonies do not exist.

Measuring the sound from a woman's body-- her voice--is indeed measuring a woman's body. It's no different in intent than measuring her weight. It is a physical intrusion. And, by way of correction--the device was not suggested for the ATP--only the WTA.

Anonymous said...

Some good points (especially regarding on court coaching, which is a disaster in every way), and some silly ones (especially the "chairman" and master of ceremonies items).

The point about finding female coaches is a bit simplistic. You ignore that it is the women themselves choosing male coaches--one reason they do is that most coaches double as hitting partners and a woman coach of, say, 40 years old can't duplicate the power the player will face on the court from Serena or Vika. So they pick a male who can both coach and hit hard in practice.

Sabey said...

I think the only way that shrieking/grunting is going to stop is if opposing players complain and the umpire issues a warning and then calls interference.
Incidentally Sharapova and Azarenka are not the only horrible shriekers on the tour. Vesnina, Errani, Schiavone and some others are just as bad. I don't care if it's a grunt or a shriek it's a problem if it is loud and it goes on after the ball has left your racquet.

Anonymous said...

Good intentions but a few hiccups.

Men are also called "rebels" - in Western societies it's either complimentary or neutral.

Chairman is now a gender neutral term. Much like we don't call some of the species huwomans.

I agree with addressing sexism as it occurs but the things listed in #6 aren't examples of sexism.

The rest I agree with.

Anonymous said...

As the male offspring of a single mother who worked so hard to provide me with a good life, I have always been an advocate of women's rights. There's a point, however, when women do themselves an incredible disservice with some of the issues that are elevated to "sexism." Equal work deserves equal pay. Period. Mandating a training program for female coaches? Why? Virginia Rucizi, a fine former player, is working as part of Simone Halep's management team. When asked if she would coach, she said that she could help Halep with advice but had no interest in being a full-time coach. Real feminisim is about choice, and I suspect many former players may share Rucizi's opinion. After years of taxing global travel and living in hotel rooms, maybe a stable life in another professional role is more desirable. "Chair" is a nice neutral term, but the word "chairman" is ubiquitous in many English-speaking countries. Time may change that. How big is the issue? Negligible. The issue with grunting is not a media creation. Read fan feedback. Male AND female fans turn off the sound during televised matches where Sharapova and Azarenka are in shriek mode or walk out of their matches. The sounds they make extend past contact with the ball and could certainly be considered a hinderance to their opponents. Gamesmanship (sorry, there is no gender neutral word there) is not limited to males. And it is gamesmanship. I'm glad you are standing up for women's rights, but, please, choose your battles wisely.

Diane said...

My concern is about measuring a woman's body part--not about whether "grunting/shrieking"is okay or not okay.

Of course real feminism is about choice. But women and girls have to know what the choices are and believe that they exist. In my country, there used to be no female doctors or female attorneys. When women attempted to do those things, they were humiliated right out of med school and law school (they are still treated as less than men in many schools). Only when girls and women are encouraged and programs are developed, do women realize that formerly closed doors can be opened.

If we know a person's gender is female, not calling her a woman is indeed sexist. "Chair" and "chairperson" work as gender-neutral if we don't know the person's gender. And language isn't trivial--language is everything. (And "gameswomanship" is a perfectly good word.)