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.
I heart you for this post. Like, a lot. I really missed your blog during my self-imposed working month!
I agree 200% with everything you said, I just see one argument you didn’t address, it’s the ‘economic’ one. Because when I discuss the matter with friends, I’ve come to realise that even when people admit that there’s no reason to pay less the women just because they play less long matches (which is like you explained a bullshit argument), they keep pointing out the fact that tennis is a sport, not a job with wages that can be fixed, but a sport where money comes from sponsors and audience and ratings. So they just say that women’s tennis is lest ‘interesting’ and that people watch more the men’s matches and tournaments. And thus they claim it’s normal that the money goes to where the audience is, and it’s hard to fight off this idea! I hate that argument because it defines everything in terms of yield and benefits when it shouldn’t imo, but it’s still the state of the world we live in unfortunately…!
Hmm that’s an interesting point.
I would ask whoever raises that argument which final they thought was better – the Brisbane 2010 women’s final? Or the Brisbane 2010 men’s? Wimbledon 2005 women’s final? Or Wimbledon 2005 men’s? Don’t get me wrong, I love watching Roger absolutely slaughter everyone, but the women’s final was just something else.
The point is, even the idea that women’s tennis is less interesting is deceiving. Back in the noughties, before Rafa came along, I watched only women’s tennis because they had the drama and the fabulous personalities. I do admit that even for WTA fans, the standard has gone down in the last few years, but there is a whole tweenage girls market the WTA has yet to really tap into. That’s where the money is.
Everything you wrote is true,especially the tendency of women as a gender to ‘attack their own’,human nature really,but still,why are we not above it?
And yes,we seem to feel that on a superficial level the fight for equality is ‘over’,but the gulf between men and women is alive and well,especially in employment,I’m lucky that in comparison with Western women 30 years ago,I’ve never felt I’ve really been a victim of sexism,but I know that that’s more than likely to change in the ‘world of work’,which is pretty damn sad really!
In the context of sport,I think a lot of it goes back to just the very idea of women having a prominent (never mind equal) role,which has only happened as we know it in the last 30/40 years right?A lot of people are still uncomfortable with it,an example of this is my Mum,not a judging woman in the slightest,but still can’t stand watching women’s soccer because it doesn’t ‘look right’…
Female tennis players in one way are pretty lucky though,try and think of another sport where women are on as equal a footing as men in terms of popularity and revenue?I can only think of athletics-might be different in other parts of the world though!
Errrr sorry about the length of this one! 😉
I’m with you on that. Who does watch women’s soccer? Or women’s golf?
The only sports I can think of where women attract more sponsorship and prize money than men are synchronized swimming and archery.
Figure-skating, too, I think.
PFFFFFT. Stop with the politics dootz. It’s spoiling this website.
LOL. Then let this website be spoiled, because I’m going to write what I want to write.
I’d kind of have to agree with alex. Cause lets face it. We can’t compare the likes of Karlovic with Dulko, cause even though there isn’t much difference in the number of titles between them, Dulko is pretty much hot n cold in comparison to Karlovic who comparatively has a more consistent run into tournaments which might reason in him winning more career prize money than her.
Warwick, but that’s an issue to do with the appropriateness of my comparison, no?
You’re free to disagree with me, but disagreeing with what I say and telling me not to say it are two different questions. The former I don’t mind, the latter – which I believe Alex was referring to – I do. Very much.
My point is that it’s my blog, my voice, so I will say what I want to say. If Alex or yourself don’t want to read these posts, the choice to scroll is yours. If you disagree, you’re free to click in and give me a piece of your mind.
oops….I thought the previous comment was only saying that he/she didn’t agree with the article. Sorry for the error of judgement dootsiez. all I wanted to say was I didn’t agree with the comparison between gisela and karlovic. sorry if you took it too hard.
Thank you for writing that!! I don’t have anything intelligent to add to this right now (multi-tasking major fail), but I’m so happy you brought this up 🙂 thank you!
Taking a break from writing my thesis to say: way to go Doots! The only sports in which women seem to do well compared to men are mostly those who requires them to look “graceful” (figure skating) or “sexy” (beach volley) never mind the level of athleticism required.
Don’t move to North Queensland, Doots! Several women I know up here, including me, have not been allowed to drive cars for work outside of the town because I quote “women are responsible for most of the accidents” on our roads. I know a few insurance companies that might say otherwise, but not many men up here. Aside: have you see the TV ad for Budget Direct “Budget Direct, love…” (talking about patronising)! I’ve been told that I’m not allowed to do certain things because they (colleagues) wouldn’t allow their wives or daughters to do it. “Equality” only exists as tokenism in Australia, and it’s not a whole heap better anywhere else, that’s for sure!
However, since last year, I believe that the women’s prize money for winning Grand Slams has been higher than for the men, despite playing shorter matches. That’s not equality either. However, I believe one of the reasons for this is that when they were reviewing the men’s tour, Rafa & Nole (and I assume Roger & Gonzalez, etc on the Player’s Council) argued for a redistribution of prize monies to the benefit of earlier rounds and lower-ranked players who have less sponsorship and need the money more than higher-ranked players. While that has nothing to do with equality between sexes, it is nonetheless encouraging that fair-play means something to the stars of the men’s game, even if not to the sponsors.
I’m not even going to get started on the issue of double standards which you touch on, but you are absolutely right and sometimes women are our own worst enemies in our judgements of other women.
I totally support you saying what you feel – it’s your website and the issues don’t go away by not talking about them!
And equality is a moral issue, not a political one, as far as I’m concerned. But then, what do I know? I’m just a girl… 😉
“Don’t move to North Queensland, Doots!”
Oh-trust-me Raindelays. North Queensland and Tasmania are the two places in Australia I would never move to.
And I despise the Budget Direct ad. Boojay Deeerect my eye!
I don’t agree with women having equal prize money, they shouldn’t have it in the slams they don’t play best of five sets and women’s tennis matches are so low in quality, if I had choice between watching world number 2 Wozniacki play anyone in the top 5 and two male players both outside the top 50 play, I’d watch the men, it will never be the same quality as say a Nadal vs Federer match but it’s better than watching pushing, errors, double faults and sometimes even crying from the women, even the men’s errors are much better to look at than the women’s. Sharapova, Henin, Williams sisters, Clijsters are becoming such a bore to watch these days, they are some high qualitiy matches but there are too many poor matches. I think the Williams siters have actually killed womens tennis, this power tennis leaves less margin for error and puts more stress on the body the women.Sorry Women don’t deserve the same prize money as the men besides if they want more money they might as well just take all their clothes off as some look better suited to be models rather than tennis players.
Just wondering…. Is it second-degree? Because if it is, then well done, it’s funny! If it’s not… It’s completely scary!!
I really like your blog, and not just because of I’m sure to have my part of Federer in short shorts.
Because you’re really clever, because your analysis are interesting, because you’re a smart person and not just a hysterical fan.
I’m a feminist too (sorry, it’s soooo old fashioned) and they’re a lot of inequalities in our world. In the south, when women and little girls are treated less than animals, in the north when for the same job you’re paid less. Sexist behaviours are everywhere, at work, in the street, but in sport too especially from commentators during match.
Your analyse of inequalities in tennis is absolutly right, I’m very happy to continue to read your blog !
Thanks for this post which goes hand in hand with another one that GV Girl did recently on depression. They do not correlate but what they do is look at other issues that arise in tennis apart from who won and who lost. I am divided on equal prize money. On the one hand I am of the view that if a man and a woman does the same job then they should be similarly rewarded, but then I look at other things, the quality of matches and the marketability (or not) of the WTA. I was brought up in a very colonial household where the man was king and it is hard to change people’s perception. I still believe that it is a man’s duty to provide for his household and I believe that men abdicating that responsibility to women, or indeed women taking up the responsibility of becoming a single parent because she can has led to most of the ills befalling society, especially where I am from (Jamaica). That being said, in terms of the whole equality thing with women the marketability of women’s tennis, I will point people to an article done circa 2002 by Sports Illustrated when the ATP was struggling to find sponsors and a market because women’s tennis ruled and men’s tennis basically sucked. In that SI article the gurus of the ATP actually met with the WTA to have the WTA hold dual events. . That is how popular women’s tennis was back in the day.. Do you know the name of the player who ruled women’s tennis during that time. If you answered Serena Williams you would have been correct. . She was a one woman money machine for the WTA until injury derailed her career in 2003. In 2004 the WTA decided that rather than continue to promote the Tour as a whole they changed the whole complexion of women’s tennis and decided to promote a single player to the detriment of the rest of the women. It did not help that at that point in time one Roger Federer had started winning majors and the ATP were then able to market him instead of Lleyton Hewitt. In order for women and women’s tennis to take its rightful place at the top, I believe the time has come for the women of the WTA to be author and finisher of their own destinies. Why can the women not come together and form their own network. This network would have broadcast rights to all WTA events and would focus solely on women’s tennis. Stop depending so much on the men in suits to pave the way for you. Do it yourself. You look at Serena who finds all ways and means to promote herself, her clothing line, cosmetics etc. That is what you call a one woman stimulus package.
Yes, I’m with you on that. Prior to 04, I followed WTA exclusively. Then I lost interest, before I got interested in Rafa, then Fed.
Part of it was Serena, but I think it has a lot to do with her competition and how “new” everything was back then. Two young black girls coming out of the slums to dominate women’s tennis. That was a massive story.
Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova – also massive stories, and intriguing and amusingly shallow characters. Mary Pierce and her crazy dad. Yup yup. Jennifer Capriati finding herself out of nowhere? Also fabulous.
Back then, the women’s tour was fascinating.
These days, I can’t say I find the same level of intrigue with the Dinaras and Anas of the tour. There are so few characters with an “It” factor, and Serena’s not that interested in non-slam tournaments.
But these things tend to work in cycles. In 5 years, when Fed and Rafa are no longer dominant, maybe someone will come along and spark interest in the WTA again.
Funny you should say that when Rafa and Fed are gone the ATP will go into decline because frankly it is already happening. For some reason both Tours do not have players coming up that excite fans. There is Del Potro but sorry although he has a powerful game his personality is practically non-existent. On the women’s tour, Wozniacki who seems to be the one being groomed to be the new IT girl has no killer instinct. I swear sometimes the marketers are trying to dumb down the women’s tour or at least get it back to the days when Evert ruled when we had these long gruelling rallies being played by women who just did not show any passion on the court. I like my players fiery and in your face. It is like every WTA player is a clone of the one before. I watched a match this morning from Fes that had a player losing 0 and 0. In this day and age no player should be losing a match like this on either Tour. The competition is just not improving, or it could be that the top is so much better than the rest of the Tours. Perhaps rather than equal prize money we should pay players based on merit. If you do well you get paid, if not, that is it, on to the next tournament. I think a lot of the men and women on both Tours are just there to take advantage of the fight that many others before them have fought to put tennis where it is today.