Quotable Quotes: Down-with-prudes. Hoes-R-Us.
With Wimbledon lurking just behind the last few days of the French Open, Laura Robson was interviewed by Vogue’s Ami Sioux. For her “first interview”, LRob certainly didn’t disappoint, with the Daily Mail subsequently pinching a few quotes under the headline “Laura Robson’s verbal volley against the ‘sluts’ of ladies’ tennis“.
But beyond calling her fellow players “sluts”, the rest of the article turned out to be shallow, airheaded and at times, down-right sexist. Not all of which was Robson’s fault – she happened to have the misfortune of being interviewed by a bit of a “Rita Skeeter” who took a rather stereotyped, uninformed view of women’s tennis. What else is new?
Consider the second paragraph of the resulting article.
It’s an arcane little world, women’s tennis. Even though the game’s been enlivened by beauties Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova, with their blonde manes and famous boyfriends, it’s the grunting butch girls with their blunt bobs and stocky frames that are the enduring image of the game.
I’m sorry – famous boyfriends? I just had to look up the spelling of Sasha Vujacic and Enrique Iglesias?
And what’s with the “blonde manes” v “grunting butch girls”? What is this? High school?
Perhaps it is purposefully “high school” considering the age of the interviewee. But then again, I don’t know how many high school students have trust funds, tote Balenciaga’s and strut the streets in their ‘black leather DKNY bomb jackets’.
[Robson’s] love of fashion, she says, is inspired by the magzines she buys on her way to tournaments (she reads British, French and US Vogue), and the “edgy and feminine” way Parisian girls dress (she trains just outside the French capital). Today, she’s in black Acne skinny jeans, a sailor top, a grey cardigan, black leather DKNY bomber jacket and black ballet flats. As she speaks she twists her long dark hair into a side plait and fishes a Blackberry out of her aforementioned Balenciaga.
“Did you buy that with your winnings?” I ask, pointing to the bag. “My parents don’t give me any money,” she says with frustration. “I have no idea what’s in the bank, they keep the lot – something to do with a trust fund.” Later I find the amount she’s reported won to date – $117,997 – marked on her Wikipedia page. $34,000 at the Hopman Cup alone.
“My parents gave me the bag for Christmas,” she says, changing the subject. “Actually they gave me a pink Marc Jacobs one with gold studs first, but I didn’t think it was umm … Actually I wanted something that I could wear with everything, and pink isn’t something that I wear.” Deftly and tactfully put, because it’s obvious she loathed their original choice.
If only she could be “deft” and “tactful” on some of the other topics. The conversation soon turned inevitably from fashion to tennis, as “Rita Skeeter” probed about life on the WTA tour.
“It’s so much fun,” [Robson] says. “We all know each other so well. I’m known as the Gossip Queen, but I’m careful never to repeat a word.” She goes on to show me a video on her Blackberry of herself and her friend, the Canadian player Eugenie Bouchard, dancing in their underwear to Miley Cyrus’s “Hoedown Throwdown” – Adidas pants on their heads – and then flick to a picture of a tray of the most perfect-looking cookies and cupcakes she baked in a hotel kitchen while at the tournament.”
Not satisfied with underwear dancing, ‘Rita Skeeter’ kept prodding away, hinting at the ‘lesbian’ stereotype on the WTA tour. Fortunately for LRob, her answer completely missed the point.
But it can’t all be roses can it? A bunch of hormonal girls all competing against each other? Give me some stories, I say. What goes on in the locker room? Are the Billie Jean King stereotypes still true? “They are unbelievably strong women,” she says steadily. “So it goes on from there. But now you’ve got Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic, so it’s changing, everyone’s doing photo shoots. It’s more glamorous.” So are lesbians, I nearly added.
“And what about the naughty stuff?” Continued the horrid interviewer.
… She denies any naughty business in Paris – no running off after curfew. “We’re tucked in by 10pm,” she says. “My coach knows that I’m sensible and that I will go to bed at the right time. I don’t like the taste of alcohol and I really hate smoke. Some go to nightclubs, but I don’t. I’m not really interested.”
Darn it. No goss there, but I hear the men in tennis have fine moobies. What do you say, Laura?
And here, the ‘Rita’ got what she was looking for.
But what about boys, surely there are boyfriends?
“Some of the tennis girls, they’re sluts. They go with every guy and make such a bad name for themselves – and you don’t want to be known for stuff like that. You want to be more discreet.” She once pretended to a reporter that Marat Safin (a now retired Russian player) would be her date to the Junior Wimbledon dinner. “He’s phenomenally good-looking,” she says. “But he’s old – he’s 30.” So she likes older men? “Guilty,” she says. A vice, finally.
The use of the “S” word caused some controversy soon after the publication of the article and Robson later attempted to back out of it, claiming that it was ‘taken out of context’.
Tell me – in what context is it okay to refer to your colleagues on tour as – and I’m quoting the dictionary meaning here – “slovenly and promiscuous women“?
… Unless you work at a po-mo, boob-baring, bra-burning feminist lobby, in which case the word ‘slut’ is generally thrown around as a ‘down-with-prudes, hoes-r-us-yo!‘ type compliment.
Prompted by Laura’s mother, ‘Rita Skeeter’ asked Robson about her famous temper.
“Ah, yes,” says Laura, “I came runner-up at this tournament in Poland. They gave me a trophy but I was so angry I threw it on the floor and smashed it. I was so annoyed losing to this girl I didn’t think was good. Not one of my best moments.”
No. It’s not. And neither is this interview, which ends on another airheaded note.
What’s intriguing is the extent of her interest in fashion and glamour – not something normally associated with driven young female tennis prodigies. “I get so excited every Monday and Wednesay when Net-a-Porter send out their What’s New emails,” she says, “they light up my day.” Last year, Christopher Bailey invited her to visit the Burberry headquarters. “It was surreal, Emma Watson was on the walls and I was in awe,” she says, eyes shining. “I had to walk past a whole collection and I was just looking around thinking: “I want all of this.” Did they give you anything, I ask? “No, they didn’t, but I really want a trench coat, and those shoes I wore on the shoot.” Burberry’s Christopher Bailey is effusive about Laura: “it’s exciting that we have another great British tennis player who will fly the flag around the globe looking beautiful and playing with such grace.”
Is it possible, I wonder, to get to the top without a laser focus that won’t get distracted by a Burberry trench? The only real comparison is Anna Kournikova, who reached a world number-eight ranking, but is better known for making the cover of Sports Illustrated and FHM. For a 16-year-old kid, Laura Robson has a precocious understanding of the adult world and what she wants from it. Whether Laura makes it to world number one or not depends on whether she wants that or a brand-new Balenciaga bag more.
And ultimately, we come to my biggest problem with the writer and the interview – the same-old argument that God forbid(!) a woman should be fashionable and successful at the same time.
“The only real comparison is Anna Kournikova”?
First of all, plenty of successful, fashion-minded female players have made it to the top of the game without “getting distracted by a Burberry trench“. (Oh what foolish, easily-distracted creatures we are as women!) Serena, Venus certainly know their fasion – oh wait I forgot, they’re not blonde and they have muscles. They can’t possibly be prototypes for tennis fashionistas.
But what of Maria Sharapova, who won 3 slams by the age of 21? It’s a lot more than what you can say about 90% of the WTA and ATP tours. Sharapova’s tennis woes were never caused by the ‘distraction’ of her off-court shenanigans – unless New York Fashion Week was really where she injured her shoulders.
And lastly, at some point, the tennis world needs to stop with the subtle digs at Anna Kournikova. The woman had talent. Sure – not in obscene amounts like the Serena’s or Justine’s of the tour, but Anna K was – at one stage – 8th best in the world at what she does. How many of us can say that about our careers? You don’t get to diss Anna K this easily just because she has looks most of us mortals don’t possess and chose to flaunt it.
It’s not new, we see it all the time. But still, it angers me when women’s magazines keep enforcing the stereotypes many women out there struggle with on a day-to-day basis.
Sluts, whores, skanks, prudes, “grunting butch girls” and “Anna Kournikovas” all within a 3 page article? I’m canceling my subscription, Vogue.