Opinion: Serena Williams plays for more than match point

During the 2018 French Open, Serena Williams delighted fans when she stepped on court donning an all-black bodysuit with a red waistband. This match came nearly a year after the birth of her daughter, which during the pregnancy of she had multiple life threatening blood clots. Following the event, Williams stated she felt like a superhero and was wearing it to honor all moms who had a tough pregnancy like herself.

So why was it subsequently banned?

President Bernard Guidicella of the French Tennis Federation told Tennis Magazine there would be a change in dress code citing Williams’ bodysuit as going too far and being disrespectful to the game. Without citing what exactly is “too far” nor how her outfit was disrespectful leaves people to derive their own thoughts from his coded language.

His statements echo cliches women hear in general about how their clothing represents them. A female student’s exposed shoulder is too provocative for school, a distraction for male students. In Willams’ case, power as much as perceived sexiness (or lack thereof) was the central issue. Her decision to conceal her body displayed autonomy over it and directed attention to her skill on the court rather than her exposed skin.

There’s no doubt skirts, and more broadly femininity, is traditionally linked to weakness. There are few better examples of this than the comments made by the Toronto Blue Jay’s coach, John Gibbons, about the ruling to break up double plays. “Maybe we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow…It turned the game into a joke. That’s flat embarrassing.” It’s hard not to see the indirect insult of women’s sports as a joke or the little leagues.

This erroneous thinking of femininity linked to weakness is also seen in women’s sports as performance. Women tennis players need to be feminine because their sport and matches are a display for men. Forced sexiness and hence objectification undercuts women as serious athletes.

Williams’ outfit choice is being criticized instead of discussing her as a serious athlete with many accomplishments to her name. Similarly, Alize Cornet was fined for simply adjusting her shirt, another detraction from her talent. Female players should have the same freedom their male counterparts enjoy of not worrying that their clothes will come under official fire.

To say that Serena Williams, the top female athlete according to Forbes, is disrespecting the game of tennis doesn’t make any sense because she is the game.

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