Sunday Confessions: Breaking silence.
Part of my studies these days involves an internship at a women’s lobby, and as a result, I found myself being hauled out of bed on a warm Friday morning for a “feminist breakfast”, where discussions turned – as they inevitably always do – to issues of equality, stigma and leadership.
Our parliaments (well … most parliaments in the Western world) legislated to give women equal rights and equal pay, and somewhere at the back of our minds, a little voice said “voila! Mission accomplished. Men and women are now equal.”
“No one talks about equality anymore. We now have the same rights under law, but on the ground, things are still unequal,” said one speaker while Dootsie gobbled up danishes. Women are underrepresented in government, receive lesser pay than men of the same age. At law school, over 60% of students are female. At the top end of a law firm, over 80% are male. The simple fact of life is – somewhere along the way, women lose out.
But shhh. We don’t talk about it anymore, didn’t cha know? It’s so … like … 70s.
Having no life outside tennis, my mind then turned – as it inevitably always does – to the parallels between society and tennis world and how feminism has become the new ‘F’ word.
Consider a few stats –
- Kim Clijsters: 2 slams, highest ranking of No 1, 37 career singles titles, 11 in doubles. $17.2 million in prize money.
- Lleyton Hewitt: 2 slams, highest ranking of No 1, 27 singles titles, 2 in doubles. Prize money? $18.4 million.
Taking into account the time Kim had off the court – not too bad. Let’s stroll down the rankings ladder a bit shall we?
- Gisela Dulko: currently ranked 34, turned pro in 1999, 3 singles titles and 10 doubles. Prize money? $ 2.3 million.
- Ivo Karlovic, ranked 31, turned pro in 2000, winning 4 singles titles and 1 doubles title. Prize money – $3.6 million.
- Iveta Benesova: ranked 67 (highest 25), 1 careers singles title, 7 in doubles, turned pro in 2000 and has made a total of $2.
- Andreas Seppi, fractionally less success – currently ranked 49 (highest 27) with no titles as yet, turned pro in 2002 and has made around $2.5 million.
Okay? So the girls played longer on tour, won more titles but earned less? Even further down the rankings –
- Tatjana Malek: ranked 74, born in Aug 1987, no titles, a singles win/loss record of 218-149. Prize money? A grand total of $449,000. Enough to buy her a nice house in the outer suburbs of Melbourne.
- Mischa Zverev, ranked 91, born in Aug 1987, no titles, a singles win/loss record of 158-141. Prize money? $1.3 million.
In each case, not only has the female player earned less than the roughly equivalent male player, the difference becomes more pronounced as we progress down the rankings.
This means one thing: sure, it’s all very well that the slams have made significant and very prominent moves to give equal prize money to men and women, but the same equality hasn’t trickled down to the minor tournaments. You don’t need me to tell you that the average earnings for a female player ranked in the 50-100 bracket is less than the average earnings of a male player in the same group.
Yet we don’t talk about it anymore. Billie Jean King has done her bit. Venus Williams wrote a letter to the Brits. The minute Wimbledon caved in and joined the 21st century, it seemed like our job was done in the world of women’s tennis.
It’s not. Indeed, there are a lot of people out there who still think men and women should not be paid the same in slams because men play 5 sets, women only 3. Someone in fact confronted me about this as we were chatting at the Australian Open. I told him to define “work” for a tennis player. Is it the time you spend on court? Or is it the time you spend training in preparation for a tournament? Because I don’t believe for a second that the players on the WTA train less than the men of the ATP. In a way, this is typical of the way our society has always distinguished between work inside and outside the home, and likewise on-court and off-court.
And of course, inequality and social stigma extends far beyond the issue of prize money. The way that Maria Sharapova has been portrayed – blonde, shallow, commercialised; or Serena Williams – rude, tempestuous, violent even, all this is at least partly due to a wider stigma surrounding high-profile women.
Think of it another way – Rafael Nadal shot a steamy music video with Shakira last month. Fan girls enjoyed it. Fan boys nudged-nudged and then they winked-winked. All in all, it was well-received and gave everyone a bit of a laugh.
What if it had been Maria Sharapova lying half naked in a music video with – say – Justin Timberlake? How many eye-rolls would she have gotten? How many whistles? How many of you would secretly think: “oh yer skank”?
And how many of these thoughts would come from women?
You know, sometimes we’re our own enemy, girls. And that goes out to every woman out there who’s ever “tsk-tsked” at women’s tennis. Myself included. I’m not hypocritical enough to deny it.
At the end of the breakfast on Friday, a middle-aged woman stood up and asked “that’s all very well, but what can we do about it?”
Everyone was at a loss, before someone stepped forward and said, “by naming the problem.”
I guess my point in subjecting you all to this rant (quite apart from my sudden realisation that this blog has gotten considerably dumber in the last week as Roger Federer got hotter and hence the need to smartened it up with complete and lower-case sentences) – is precisely to name the problem.
To talk about something that isn’t news, hell – it isn’t even new. But it persists, it persists with our knowledge and with our silence.
For the thousands of visitors who visit this blog today, tomorrow and next week, I wanted to break that silence. Even if I don’t have a grand solution for it.
Even if I sound “so-70s” in doing so.