This week, I read Serena Williams' open letter to women, published in The Guardian. It resonates particularly now because of Hillary Clinton's loss in the U.S. presidential election, I think, although she doesn't address the race. In it, she does encourage women to "dream big" and wonders why she is considered one of the greatest "female" athletes of all time, while Roger Federer, say, isn't identified by gender. She also raises the fact that women are paid less for doing the same work that men do -- even her.
Her letter is an important one, and she does raise a strong point: Why can't we throw gender out of the window when discussing achievement? It's a good question, and the answer is the same when you replace the word "gender" with "race." It's because we're not there yet. We are not equal, and there is actually importance now, still, in using those distinguishing identification factors. What Serena Williams has done in her career is still so unusual, so deep into uncharted territory that it needs to be noted that her accomplishments were done by a woman. Not as a way to minimize her work, but more as a way to inspire. I think one day, Williams' accomplishments will stand alone with no gender asterisks necessary. Right now, in a world where a woman who was far more qualified to lead lost an election to a man who, it could be argued, was the least qualified to lead, we need to remember who Williams is, because the same girls who saw the way the election went down are bearing witness to the unprecedented career of Serena Williams. So, for now, I'm OK with her accomplishments being linked to her gender. For now.
This week, I also took the time to do something I had been meaning to do for some time. I watched the annual State of the Tour "fireside chat" (no fireside present) with Steve Simon and some of the other leaders of the WTA to discuss their plans for the year. A lot of it is exciting stuff -- expanding its reach throughout Asia and Europe, raising its digital game, announcing an agreement to stream tour matches starting in 2017 (although this part is apparently on hold) and a dramatic rebranding of the WTA, along with a commitment to quality in the tour's content. Simon also spoke in vague terms of easing the tournament schedule. All of this sounds great, and really should have been happening some years ago.
The room was full of journalists, and they asked a lot of questions. Some of them were kind of ridiculous, such as the idea that focusing on going digital would leave print readers behind. It was sort of like listening to someone ask, "Well, Steve, I've been a caveman all my life. I don't really want to use electricity ..." But when pressed about the schedule situation, Simon kept his language vague and hinted that there were many moving parts involved in shortening the calendar.
That was going to be the closest anyone got to pushing Simon on comments he's made previously regarding his ideas on keeping players healthy, including this idea of going to no-ad scoring in matches, to make them go faster.
Steve Simon, meet Serena Williams. Serena, Simon. Because what Simon has suggested is not equality at all. It is the very acceptance of inferiority. Well, that is, until I hear the ATP Tour CEO start talking about men shortening matches. Or, when men start getting on-court coaching. I've discussed my disgust with both of these ideas already. But with this open letter she's written, I wonder if Serena's taken it to Simon. I wonder if, when considering gender inequality, if she weighs this on-court coaching idea that's available to women only for reasons that have never been clarified. Would she really play a no-ad match on one court in the Miami Open while Rafael Nadal is playing a standard three-setter one court over?
Serena's speaking to a larger point, I know, when it comes to gender. And I know that women in the workplace literally go pound-for-pound in duties and workload and are paid less for it. Is that happening in women's tennis? No. When you bring no-ad scoring and coaching rules that are different for men and women, that is the essence of inequality. It's giving in to the idea that no, we're not the same. Is that what Steve Simon means to imply? Is Serena Williams OK with that?
Serena, meet Simon. Simon, Serena.