Serena Williams just announced her first pregnancy to the world. Hannah Banks-Walker explains why certain media outlet's reporting of this was a shining example of straight-up sexism.
It would be an understatement to suggest that the media’s (and in many ways, the world’s) relationship with women is problematic. From the representation of women’s bodies to that tricky issue of their fundamental rights (or lack thereof, in some places) 2017 is a weird time to be alive. I mean, if anyone had told you at the beginning of last year that a self-confessed sexual predator, who refers to women as ‘pigs’ and ‘slobs’, would be President of the United States of America, would you have believed them?
I digress. Other than moaning (again) about the fact that a bonafide nut job* currently has access to the nuclear codes, I’d instead like to express my anger (but not surprise) at the ways in which some publications, websites and individuals have reacted to the news that Serena Williams is pregnant.
Williams, who is one of the world’s most talented and successful athletes, posted a picture to her Snapchat account, appearing to reveal her pregnancy with the caption ’20 weeks’. A representative then confirmed the news, saying: “I’m happy to confirm Serena is expecting a baby this Fall.”
The eagle-eyed of this world were quick to point out that this means Williams would have been eight weeks pregnant when she won the Australian Open. Can we just think about that for a second? The woman is incredible.
While many commentators applauded this fact while congratulating Williams on her news, I saw too many headlines like the below, from The Telegraph:
Some of you might not take issue with such a headline. Some of you may not even notice it. That, in itself, is a problem. Because in what world do you think this would ever be written about a man? In what world would a man’s career be called into question because he’s about to become a father? It’s also quite hilarious to think that Williams would ever have to ‘fight’ her way ‘back to the top’ when she just won a major tennis tournament while eight weeks pregnant.
And don’t think it’s just a poorly worded headline, either. The article itself, written by a man, goes on to say: “The real question relates to motivation: how much will she want her career back? Even Williams herself may not know the answer to that one yet.” Sorry, what? That’s the real question? I don’t remember the piece that The Telegraph wrote about Roger Federer’s motivation and desire to return to tennis following the birth of his second set of twins. Nor do I recall the article regarding Andy Murray’s own sports career and how this would be affected when he became a father last year. Oh wait- that’s because THEY DON’T EXIST.
It’s not just The Telegraph, either. Hollywood Life’s headline read ‘Serena Williams Pregnant: Will Baby Slow Down Her Tennis Career?’
Serena Williams has been subjected to racial and sexist abuse in her years as a public figure, so I doubt she’ll be losing sleep over this. But the point is, if such an outdated, restrictive view of gender is constantly forced on us, things won’t ever change. We need to reposition the ways in which we, as a society, view women’s roles in general. Sexism is insidious, as exemplified by The Telegraph’s headline. We need to address it.
As for Williams, she’s a role model for us all- regardless of gender. In the words of Serena Williams herself: “You just have to prove to yourself that you can go out there and be the best that you can be and not prove anything to anyone.”
*All views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of TimeInc. Although I guess we’d all hope they agree with me.