Serena Williams' greatest achievement is changing the narrative around women's sports

The day after Novak Djokovic won Wimbledon, I took to social media to write a detailed analysis of the top four male tennis players. Nothing surprising there. I mean don’t we all take to our social media accounts to pen down sonnets in praise of these men with superhuman abilities?

But I did something different. Instead of writing about the angle of their serves I wrote about the angle of their noses. Instead of writing about their footwork, I wrote about their legs. Instead of focusing on their games, I focused on their faces. Instead of talking about the match, I talked about their clothes. A lot of people found it very odd. They couldn’t understand why I, someone who plays and follows tennis, would do something so “mindless”. But I was just being fair and upholding the principle of equality. After all, whenever a woman wins Wimbledon, we spend hours discussing her body structure, her thigh size, her clothes, her sex appeal. So it’s only fair do the same for the men, right?

 Serena Williams greatest achievement is changing the narrative around womens sports

Serena Williams. AP

Diana Taurasi, an American professional basketball player who plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg of Russia, hit the nail on the head when she said: “The biggest obstacle facing female athletes today is that many people don't give them the respect automatically afforded to male athletes. The most talented, skilled and successful male athletes are deified by society; even those with unsavory personalities or a tendency to get in trouble with the law. As long as they are superior athletes, men will be celebrated and revered. It takes more than skill or success for female athletes to be respected and recognized.

“Many women who don't fit into antiquated ideals of femininity will struggle for acceptance and battle unfair criticism and cruelty. Still others will be lauded for their physical beauty but never truly respected for the work they've put into their sport and the success that has resulted from that work.”

What Diana says gets manifested in various forms. According to Forbes, the highest earning female athlete in the world for the last 11 years has been Maria Sharapova. While there is no doubt that Sharapova is a phenomenal player but what is also certain is that she conforms to the conventional standard of beauty, which helps her rake in endorsement deal after deal. This is a situation that does not take place in men’s sport. The highest earning male athletes currently are Floyd Mayweather, Lionel Messi and Roger Federer - their earnings off the field are tied almost entirely to their performance on the field.

And if you do a quick Google search and type women athletes, you get lists with words such as “hottest”, “most desirable” and “well dressed”. The dominant narrative around women’s sports has always been to view the women as sex objects first and then as athletes.

It is keeping this context in mind that one must look at Serena Williams. She is one of the most recognizable athletes in the world and has fought the worst odds - race, gender, poverty - to reach the pinnacle of her sport. But more importantly, what Serena has done is force a change in the conversation around women’s sport. She does not conform to the conventional standard of femininity and yet has managed to make the world respect her by being a champion player on the court. Over the last 20 years, Serena has shown immense mental and physical strength day in and day out to compete and win at the highest levels.

Serena’s greatest achievement is that she is singlehandedly ensuring that the world respects and reveres female athleticism as much as male. She is creating a world where strong women do not have to be ashamed of who they are. She is creating a world where a woman does not have to conform to standards set by society to be considered a woman.

It is for this reason that I feel that Serena, more than anyone else, has been a torch bearer for women's sports. All future generations of women athlete in a way have Serena to thank for ensuring that they get taken more seriously for the way they compete and play rather than how they look or dress.

Updated Date: Aug 31, 2015 10:46:09 IST