It’s been interesting to hear a few different angles on the whole Serena Williams / Naomi Osaka thing today. Being 2018, probably humanity’s most polarised year yet, responses seem to veer towards one of two extremes: disgust with Serena (how dare she ruin Naomi’s moment?!) and disgust with the umpire (how dare he change the course of the game?!)
Annoyingly, I think parts of both arguments have merit. Is it possible that they’re both right?
There is undeniable truth in Billie Jean King’s comment on Twitter:
When a woman is emotional, she’s “hysterical” and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s “outspoken” & and there are no repercussions. Thank you, @serenawilliams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.
Even I’ve watched enough Grand Slams to know that male players are routinely far less deferential to umpires than Serena was, and they are barely ever penalised. Whoever might have otherwise won, it’s undeniable that this umpire’s sexism changed the outcome of the game, and Serena was completely justified in railing against it. Whether it was wilful or unconscious sexism isn’t at all relevant–sexism ought to be challenged, in all of its forms, in elite sport and everywhere else.
Meanwhile, I totally sympathise with Naomi Osaka, whose phenomenal success has been overshadowed by this controversy. She deserved an opportunity to play in her first Grand Slam without any of this drama. The same is true for all elite female athletes–they should be treated as equal to their male counterparts, unencumbered by sexism and misogyny. But in sport, as in life, the patriarchy is still far from smashed, and the results continue to be messy.
Let’s not make the mistake of blaming Serena for distracting us all from Naomi’s victory. Responsibility for that rests solely with the male umpire who treated her in a particular way because she’s a woman.
Surely we’ve learned to stop blaming women for the mistakes of men by now?
PS: congratulations on your win, Naomi. I’m sorry that it’s been tainted.