29 Jul 2015 19:45 IST

Sexism, you just got served

No matter what women achieve, society's gaze remains warped in time and intent

I once had an argument with a man much older than myself, during the course of which he insisted, rather forcefully, that “Venus Williams doesn’t belong on the court.”

According to him, she was, “ugly and shouldn’t wear a skirt, especially with those legs”. He went on to express how unfair it is to let her compete with women, since she has “more testosterone” and should compete with the men instead.

His rather sexist closing remarks were: “The court needs a lithe beauty like Sharapova, Venus is an eyesore.” This article is by no means an inquiry into the malaise; it only deals with the rudimentary facts, as a reminder of existence of the problem of sexism against women.

Not the last

Five years on, thanks to the omnipresent social networking we all indulge in, I’m spectator to a similar barrage of comments today against Marion Bartoli, recipient of the Venus Rosewater Dish at this year(2012's) Wimbledon.

In the case of Bartoli, it wasn’t the opposite sex alone which belittled her loquaciously; their comments ranging from sexist to abusive, women too played an active role in criticising her.

As I was spoilt for choice, here is an extract from a comment chosen specifically because it was made by a woman: “…hate Bartoli, she looks like a man”. The comment ended with the woman accusing Bartoli of having the male sex organ, and asking her to wear a longer skirt to hide it.

Marion Bartoli is certainly not the first and is unlikely to be the last or only woman to be targeted this way, for being good at what she does.

There are seldom any women’s sporting events which draw the same sort of crowds that events featuring men do. When it comes to sporting events it’s a vicious cycle: there’s no viewership for women’s sporting events (in general), no advertising and sponsorship for it as a result, and hence no encouragement to participate.

While society’s general lack of interest and enthusiasm towards female sporting events (irrespective of whether they are high or low profile) and subjectivity in taste can be responsible for this, the overarching presence of misogyny in society prevents one from seeking solace in this defence.

Look inward

Where viewership exists, like in the case of tennis, beach volleyball, or frisbee, the sport ends up being sexualised, and athletes fall prey to the male gaze, and are objectified. In garnering a fan following, they end up being noted less for their sporting prowess and are judged instead by their physical appearance, like in the case of Marion, where her winnings proved a secondary topic of discussion.

On the other hand, sportspersons such as Anna Kournikova have projected themselves as and/or vocalised their stance as advocators of 'sexy looks and sporters of sexy clothes on court' to draw eyeballs to the sport. The likes of her pose a huge setback to female sporting events, and to anything women do in general.

Anna is not only guilty of perpetuating misogyny and the continued sexualisation of sports (and all other activities), but also for wrongly setting an example for others – men and women – that good looks are paramount to achieving any kind of success, and that talent and hard work is immaterial to it.

There is a serious problem with such a society, which applauds the likes of Anna for what she represents, and I beg it to look inward.

For, when one Marion wins, there 3.5 billion more in line hoping to achieve the same kind of success in their respective fields. With every negative comment or action, one more drops out of this line of dream chasers. I wish people, both men and women, would remember this the next time they accept sexism.

Covert or overt it’s still sexism, and it's time we stopped and let Marion be.

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