#Everyday Sexism on Display at Wimbledon

4 years ago

“Do you think [Marion] Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘you’re never going to be a looker, you’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight?’”

BBC’s John Inverdale made the on-air comment during a Radio Five Live broadcast just before Bartoli beat German Sabine Lisicki to win Wimbledon 2013. Not sure where in the Wimbledon rules there is a requirement that champions must meet a certain standard of physical beauty but Inverdale somehow felt it was appropriate to mention .Not suprisingly, he didn't make any comments gaging the physical desirability of any of the male players.

After a fair amount of backlash, the BBC released a full apology on Inverdale's behalf saying in part: "We accept that this remark was insensitive and for that we apologise."The announcer later apologized to Bartoli via letter, though public demands for his dismissal continue.

From the beginning of this year's Wimbledon tournament, surprises prevailed. Early round exits came from some of the world’s highest ranking players including Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova.  But no one could have predicted the biggest surprise of the tournament was the overshadowing of Bartoli’s Wimbledon victory by her appearance. (Well that, and the fact that Virgina Wade was erased from history books when headlines proclaimed Andy Murray the first British player to win Wimbledon in 77 years). 

It's interesting that a Dustin Hoffman interview - part of an AFI series about the making of "Tootsie" (1982) - has recently gone viral. In the video, Hoffman says that for him, starring in the film  made him realize how many people he'd overlooked because of their physical appearance, going so far as to suggest he wouldn't give himself a second look if he was a woman.. Hoffman then tries to compose himself: "There are too many interesting women I have not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed." Tearfully, the actor reveals that for him "Tootsie"  was never a comedy. And hopefully, viewers will realize that a tennis player, like Bartoli, should not be judged by her physical appearance either. 

Bartoli lived out every tennis player's dream last weekend by winning a Grand Slam title —no small feat for any athlete, but particularly for a No. 15 seed considered to be an underdog. The French woman stormed through the tournament without losing a single set, and concluded her Wimbledon triumph with a 6-1 6-4 victory over Lisicki.

That a BBC broadcaster felt his comments about Bartoli's appearance were acceptable, or even  relevant, is shocking. Even more shocking was the criticism about Bartoli's appearance onTwitter: Nasty tweets such as “Bartoli didn’t deserve to win because she’s ugly” (and that is a tame comment) sadly reflect a wider problem within women’s sports. 

For her part, Bartoli has maintained the same level of professionalism that she displayed on the court. During a press briefing after her win, the tennis champ (who has a reported IQ of 175)  responded to critics matter-of-factly.about Inverdale’s comment:

“it doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.”

The fact is, Bartoli should not have to be commenting, let alone defending, her appearance.  What Marion Bartoli, Serena Williams, and Maria Sharapova have in common is extraordinary athletic talent and the ability to win Wimbledon. Everything else is irrelevant.

Bartoli has proven herself one of the top tennis players in the world – a woman of strength, skill, and athleticism. Her game is beautiful. That should be the end of the story. 

Thanks Dustin Hoffman, for reminding us not to judge others by their looks. 


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