US tennis player Serena Williams argues with referee Brian Earley during her Women’s Singles finals match against Naomi Osaka of Japan. AFP PHOTO
By NJOKI CHEGE
I know nothing worth mentioning here about tennis. However, I am a big fan of Serena Williams. She has won 23 times grand slam titles and has been ranked number one by the Women’s Tennis Association eight times.
She is a wealthy businesswoman with an impressive portfolio of endorsement deals, a fashion line and investments in the media industry.
She has not only excelled professionally, but her personal life is equally thriving having recently married a tech billionaire — an attractive white young man — with whom they are blessed with an adorable daughter.
Beyond her unprecedented success in tennis, Serena has also come out strongly as a women’s rights activist.
So it is easy to understand my deep admiration and respect for her. Even though I couldn’t tell a tennis ball from a squash ball if it hit me on my sizeable forehead, I track every win, every loss and every setback that sister Serena has to deal with.
Last Sunday, during the US Open, Serena encountered an incident that has left the world divided on women’s rights, equal treatment and our general disregard for strong women — a fact that I shall not tire to belabour.
The chair umpire, Mr Carlos Ramos, accused Serena of receiving coaching from her coach which is considered illegal in tennis tournaments. (Makes you wonder; why do you need a coach if you can’t get coached on the court?).
It is true that Serena’s coach was trying to signal her but Serena was in fact looking at the other side of the court and did not notice. Incensed, Serena, in a classic, bold woman act that usually involves pointing a finger and looking at your subject straight in the eye, boldly told the male umpire “I didn’t cheat. I didn’t get coaching… I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose!”
In a fit of rage, Serena threw her racket to the ground, damaging it in the process. The umpire counted that as the second offence and denied her a point.
Seeing this, Serena furiously called the umpire “a thief”, causing him to list that as the third offence, “verbal abuse”. Serena eventually lost the game to Naomi Osaka.
It has been suggested the umpire penalised Serena not for her misdemeanour in the court, but because he could not take such kind of dress-down from a woman. It could be true, if you consider that male tennis players have done worse, including insulting the umpire, taking off their shirts and throwing tantrums.
But because a woman had the nerve, key word here being the nerve, to stand up to him, Ramos had to make her pay, and dearly did she pay, for it cost her what would have been her 24th grand slam title.
Watching Serena throw her racket on the ground in frustration reminded me of the many times I have had to stop myself from flinging a chair or my high heel across the room towards a “subject” that clearly deserves it. (I don’t have an anger issue — I just sometimes believe in vigilante justice).
My friends will tell you how we utterly hate it when a man interrupts a women making a point, only to make the same point the woman was trying to make, what is now called “mansplaining”.
As a young woman who is trying to wade through the world, I have noted that forthrightness, boldness and confidence in women is not welcome. The double standards are clear. When a woman is visibly angry and dares to show it, she having a “meltdown”. If a woman demonstrates clear passion while making a point, she is “emotional” and if she speaks her mind, she is “ranting”.
When a woman stands her ground and stubbornly insists on something, she is accused of “high-handedness” and if she is outspoken about her achievements, she is “arrogant”.
“Ambitious” is a dirty word when describing a woman. If a woman tries to package herself as a driven and focused, the first question you ask her is “Who will marry you?”.
These standards are not applied to the young men my age who instead of being emotional, they are branded “passionate”, instead of ranting are “speaking their minds” and if he speaks arrogantly speaks of his achievements he is said to be “confident” and an “ambitious” is not used as a complement.
I hate to sound whiny, but Serena’s incident, whether you think she is a sore loser or not, should bring us to think about how we treat women who are not conventionally “ladylike”.