Serena Williams:The modern Venus Hottentot

Misogynoir, Body Image and the Sporting World
There are no ifs and buts about it, the majority of Images of black women in media are overwhelmingly negative and fall squarely and even cartoonishly into the various black stereotypes.
Professional status, worldwide sporting achievements and wealth cannot protect one from these archetypes.
Throughout her impressive career Ms. Williams and her sister, have been compared to savages, chiseled men, monkeys, the cartoon character hulk alongside other disgusting slews of characterizations.
Serena Williams is not supposed to be a tennis superstar.
She is not supposed to excel in a sport that has been typically the domain for a white audience and white athletes
She is ought to have packed her bags and given it a rest after the racist debacle that occurred in Indian Wells.
She ought to have a criminal record and fall into line with the various stereotypes and archtypes that have been constructed for her.
She ought to be defined solely by her body and sexuality.
She ought to have public outbursts that mar her wins and make her fall in line with the angry black woman stereotype.
Since she has bucked every expectation that the society and racists have placed on her shoulders, the next best way to establish dominance is naturally to target her is by employing a body shaming narrative.
They have over the years attempted to turn her into a Sara baartmanesque type freak show, viewing her body as something for amusement and something to express disgust at. We see you furiously trying to fit her into a stereotype that denigrates and puts her in her place in society.
Let’s not forget the debacle in 2012, when a supposed close friend, Caroline Worniack decided to attempt to emulate her friend by padding her breasts and buttocks with towels. Yes the good old oversexualized stereotype. Then we can explain away our misogynoir actions by stating it was just a joke. Followed by the standard tearful apology of “I meant no harm, I did not mean to be racist and will as a dutiful person learn from my mistakes”. “Intentions” aside, it was racist.
To Jason Whitlock whose distasteful comments, I can’t even repeat without blowing a blood vessel. We see through your manipulations and cry “SHAME”.
The supposed hypersexuality of a black woman’s anatomy is a ceaseless trope that is always used to get a laugh.
Next in line is the narrative of the brute.
I am sorry that it hurts your delicate racist sensibilities, but there is no way you can attempt to explain away her success in her area of sport. We see through your attempts as to place her squarely in the brute stereotype box. The more you harp and try to rally the conversation around her brute strength, savage strokes, overwhelming power, ferocious, domineering , physical overpowering and other such narratives that pit her against her hapless white rivals, the more we see through your machinations and cry “SHAME”.
In 2014, Shamil Tarpischev a tennis official infamously called the Williams sisters “brothers”. He had the audacity to go as far as saying, “It’s frightening when you look at them. But really you just need to play against the ball.” To this comment we cry “SHAME”.
How can one forget Sid Rosenberg who called Venus Williams an “animal” and remarked that the Williams sisters “would more likely be featured in National Geographic than in Playboy”.
An article written by Ben Rothenburg of the New York Times is yet just another recent example of this. The article is supposedly about body image but read as an open season bash on Ms. Williams. He refers to Ms. Williams as having “large biceps and a mold-breaking muscular frame, which packs the power and athleticism that have dominated women’s tennis for years”.
Insultingly, he then goes on to add that, “ Her rivals could try to emulate her physique, but most of them choose not to”.

The article in painstaking detail goes on to juxtapose Ms. Williams with her other white rivals.
“It’s our decision to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10,” said Tomasz Wiktorowski, the coach of Agnieszka Radwanska, who is listed at 5 feet 8 and 123 pounds.“Because, first of all she’s a woman, and she wants to be a woman.”

Um Ok Brah? 
Well, now that we are done with the brute stereotype, it is time to disparage her accomplishments by making allegations in the face of reality.
Then comes along, David Frum, a neoconservative Canadian-American political commentator and a former speech writer to President George W. Bush. He had the temerity to assert quite forcefully that Ms. Williams has been using steroids. Why? Quite obvious to Mr. Frum, who believes that anyone with eyes would agree with his point of view, is simply her body. His tweets read, “Steriods? Oh no no no, “Body image issues”.
Again, against all logic, he fails to take into consideration that she is one of the most frequently drug tested players in men’s or women’s tennis. In 2014 only, according to the figures provided by International Tennis Federation (ITF), Ms. Williams was tested four to six times during competition and more than seven times outside of competition. Ms. Williams has never been implicated in the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs or other drugs much to the disappointment of Chris Evert and Pam Shriver.
Ms. Shriver had the gall to say during the Wimbledon doubles match in 2014 that, “It’s almost like she has taken something that makes her feel dizzy, disoriented, and she cannot reach up and strike the ball.”
Evert even questioned Williams’ intent “Is it a virus? Is it something unintentional or intentional in her system that they may drug test for?”
Why is this important you ask? Why should we care?

Lambardo succinctly puts it as it is an attempt to intentionally separate her as African American from intellectualism which in turn removes her from equal status in society. It insidiously attempts to mar her accomplishments by attributing it to genetic superiority while excluding her hard work. It propagates the racist undertones and overtones that mar relationships in society. James Mckay and Heather Johnson argue that it is time for a new critical race consciousness that can inform sporting commentary and media narratives to enable African American women and men to envision and achieve equality within a broader framework of social justice. I for one agree.
It is arguable that no social institution garners as much media attention as sports do. Everybody at some point in their lives has been involved in sport whether it be via direct participation or as a spectator. There is no need for me to extol the importance on sports, there is no controversy there. It is a field that arguable unites people in spite of racial makeup. This is a perfect arena to combat issues of racism and sexism. With time, it is hoped that the changes in this arena would have wide reaching consequences.
For many years, there have been alarming trends in the reduction of young girls and women who are participating in sport. At a women and sports conference I recently attended in Quebec, I heard from Chandra Crawford, a gold medal Olympian that young girls are 6 times more likely than their male counterparts to drop out of sports. So much work is been done to ensure more participation and integration, through campaigns such as This Girl Can, NGO’s Fast and Female (Shameless Plug, Look into supporting Ms. Crawford’s NGO. She is so awesome!) and the tireless work done by associations such as the Canadian Association for Advancement of Women and Sport (CAAWS) just to name a few.
It is infuriating to see such hard work being countered by stupid, Yes STUPID articles in the media. It is infuriating to think of all the girls of colour who could become top athletes but quit sports because they’re afraid of being demonized, sexualized and harassed.
Enough body shaming
Enough stereotypes promotion
Enough attempting to place femininity within the narrow grounds of the Eurocentric standard of beauty.
To Ms. Williams, we stand behind you in sisterhood. We applaud all your achievements.
We thank you for showing us that women can excel in sports
We thank you for showing us with flair how to hold our heads high in the face of adversity and racism.
We thank you for being an example of mental strength in the face of decades of taunts.
We thank you for showing us that although many may be against us, focus on the price and hard work pays off.
We thank you for showing us that it is ok to have different body types, and the importance of placing health and a competitive spirit over societal expectations of what we ought to look like.
We thank you for being a black women who wears confidence as surely as the hair on her head and showing us that although our bodies in the media will always be dissected, it is perfectly ok to be different and cherish ourselves as we are.
We thank you for embracing your body and unapologetically so. 
As my good friend would say #unbothered.

To Mr. Rothenberg, the next time you want to write an article on body images in tennis, I suggest you stay away from inflammatory anecdotes and focus more on diet, workout strategies and focus tactics. You’re welcome.
Please spare us the often pulled out card of ” I didnt mean for it to be racist or offensive”. Just do better! As for the editors that determined the article was appropriate enough to print, I am still in disbelief.
We ought to do better.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 12:  Serena Williams attends the Wimbledon Champions Dinner at The Guildhall on July 12, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 12: Serena Williams attends the Wimbledon Champions Dinner at The Guildhall on July 12, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s