Female athletes still battle the stigma of being ‘manly’

Serena Williams won her 21st Grand Slam Title in tennis on Saturday when she defeated Gabrine Muguruza at Wimbledon. However, the criticism of Williams, specifically her body, started before the final match did. The New York Times published an article this week which discussed body image among tennis’ top female athletes.

Williams’ muscular frame and powerful serve has been the subject of praise and ridicule since she burst onto the tennis scene. While many have marveled at the Williams aesthetic, others have referred to her as a man.
Yes, you read that right. Williams, her tennis contemporaries, and every other woman who has ever displayed more than an ounce of athletic prowess, has been compared to or outright called a man. It’s demeaning, disgusting and shameful that such insults are still tossed around in 2015.

Several top tennis athletes including Williams, Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radawanska commented on how they attempt to maintain their femininity while competing at the highest level. Williams told the New York Times she doesn’t use much more than resistance bands in her training. Sharapova said lifting any more than five pounds would be too much for her and Radawanska thinks more muscle would hurt her game. 

Sigh. Women in the upper echelon of sports are still fighting the same battles of yesteryear and the same battles everyday women fight in their local gyms. Lifting weights will not turn a woman into a man. A strong woman is not trying to be a man. She is trying to be a stronger woman. The male view of beauty and femininity still dominates in places where there are no men around.

Think about why you rarely see workout videos from your favorite female athletes on YouTube or in commercials. The rare training article shows them doing Fonda-like crunches and leg lifts. That’s almost as insulting as referring to these ladies as men. They all train really hard and use methods that would make most guys tap out.

In the world of women’s sports, pretty matters more than performance (and what’s considered pretty is an issue for another day). Sharapova, a tall, blonde beauty, is the world’s highest-paid female athlete, despite losing to Williams the last 17 times they’ve played. There’s simply no way the guy who loses 17 straight times to LeBron James, Tom Brady or Floyd Mayweather makes more money than them.

Remember Anna Kournikova? She’s the former tennis star who managed to never win a singles tournament on the WTA Tour, but made millions. Is it better for women to look good or be good? Many women and girls struggle mightily with body image. They don’t need the added stigma of being called a man because they can do more push-ups and run faster than your pudgy uncle. 

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