Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Let Sleeping Catsuits Lie

Look, if the choice is between living in a society where we completely deny racism and misogyny are alive and well and occasionally inserting accusations of them into situations where they do not exist, I'll gladly choose the latter. But as an ardent tennis fan for more than 40 years, I must say I'm growing a bit tired of well-intentioned people who don't know much about the sport misapplying their "woke" playbook to it ONLY when Serena Williams is involved. If you want to complain that tennis is too stuffy, fine. But you must understand that no one is persecuting this billionaire woman of color. Decades before Serena returned to Paris, cisgender white female Anne White (a blonde!) received similar treatment when she wore a "cat suit" at Wimbledon in 1985. If you want to say it was gratuitous of the French Tennis Federation to make this announcement two months after the event, one could argue that it was far more respectful than what Wimbledon did to White, who was forced to change during a mid-match rain delay whereas Serena was allowed to wear hers throughout the tournament. Similarly cisgender white male Jurij Rodionov of Austria was reprimanded on-court and forced to change his unmentionables when he wore (virtually unnoticeable) blue undies at Wimbledon and so forth. But this is the game of tennis, a sport Andy Roddick said sometimes needs to "get out of its own way." It's been uptight with all of its players forever. How long before the uninitiated wake up one morning and tell me Andre Agassi was harassed in the 1990s about his hair and clothing because he is an Arab?

Wanna talk about humiliating?

Kudos to Serena for now trying to de-escalate the situation -- although adding the "blood clot" detail only after the fact sure smells like a sympathy ploy with a hint of a persecution complex. (Which is understandable: even superstars have feelings and want the public to be on their side.) Serena readily admits the Grand Slams "have a right to do what they want to do" and that the French Tennis Federation was NOT told about the said health benefits of her sartorial selection, going so far as to say that the FTF would have been FINE with her choice HAD THEY KNOWN. (How is this unreasonable in any way?) Ditto for her pregnancy: I don't remember one of my forward-thinking friends raising hell when cisgender white females Kim Clijsters and Victoria Azarenka -- both former No. 1 players with blond hair(!) -- et al. were also unseeded when they returned from having babies. But then when the same rules are applied to Serena, it’s suddenly a personal slight. Again, if you think the policies are unfair, then lobby for change. But stop trying to make everything about race that isn’t. We have more than enough real problems in that department. All of this reeks of virtue signaling -- and if you really want to put your "wokeness" to good use where tennis is concerned, why don't you speak up about income inequality in the game? Do Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams really need to make $3.6 million for winning a major instead of $1 million when up-and-coming players are paid so little they have to sleep in their cars just to pursue their dreams? Oh, wait. Why stick your neck out on that when you know it won't get you a thousand likes on Facebook. There are a lot of reasons to be on #TeamSerena: Her unparalleled talent, athleticism, resilience, competitiveness, etc. But none of them have anything to do with these conspiracy theories spawned from worthwhile underlying principles that have been aggressively misapplied. It's great that we're on the lookout for racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, ageism and so on. But progressives are smarter than this imaginary scandal and we can -- and must -- do better.


Here is yet another example of the tennis establishment screwing up. But again, if this had happened to Serena it would’ve been blown into an international episode about tennis officials "being disgusted by her curvy black body," when it fact it's just the sport not getting it right once more.


  1. As someone who works in the medical profession I can assure you that the compression leggings she was wearing are a real medical device used to prevent deep vein thromboses (DVT or blood clots) in people with a history of such. It is even more important for people who need to travel by plane over long distances, they are at an almost 2X risk of a clot.

    I certainly do not know why she did not inform the Federation about this ahead of time. Maybe because she didn't want her medical condition to distract from her tennis - I can see the Headlines "Serena Not 100% Due to Medical Condition" or similar. Press can be vicious, especially when they don't understand the pathology behind it, which most journalists would not.

  2. @Kevin: Thanks for this. You're right about the press, but everyone already knew about what she went through during child birth so it just doesn't pass the smell test.

  3. Sure they knew about the clots, but they had no idea about the compression leggings real purpose BEFORE she made it known. They didn't do their homework. When I saw what she was wearing I immediately knew why, as did probably every other medical professional. If you can find any comment/speculation on it from journalists before she made it public then I'll admit I am wrong. Better yet, ask a cardiologist or hematologist about it. Show them the picture and give them the history of her DVT and ask them if they think they know why he is wearing them. You'll get your answer.

  4. This is all beside the point. She is NOT being persecuted for being a black woman.

  5. I agree with your larger point that a ban on catsuits as a policy matter is not necessarily racial discrimination. However, I think the perspective you're missing is that black women are always judged for how their bodies look, much more so than white women, which justifiably or not could be perceived as the undertone in this case. Serena has been called fat all her life, basically for having a pretty typical black woman's body. In recent years, she openly talked about how she came to terms with her body image and how she is now confident enough to show off her body. Therefore, the attack on her catsuit, which highlighted her curves, was perceived by some as yet another veiled attack on a black woman's body.

    Now you can certainly argue that this perception is not justified, or that it is harmful to look for the racial angle in every controversy in society. I am simply pointing out that there is a reason why so many people see it this way and I don't think that reason is completely unfounded.

  6. @Yue Shi: Your point is well taken. But the fact that there is an apples-to-apples comparison -- and that even the most low-rent racquet club in the world has a PROPER TENNIS ATTIRE REQUIRED sign hanging in it -- yet you (and others) are latching onto the idea that the French Tennis Federation was calling Serena fat might say more about all of you than it does about the tennis establishment!

  7. Well I guess that's true. I admit when I first read the headlines, "they didn't like her body image" was the first thought that crossed my mind, so I guess it does say something about how I see these things differently from you. This happens all the time though. Minorities are much more likely than whites to see racial discrimination, women are much more likely than men to see sex discrimination, millennials are much more likely than the older generations to say society as a whole is unjust. Our identity shapes how we see the world and no one side is absolutely right or wrong. It would be a mistake for one side to completely dismiss the other side as being unreasonable.

    I am not a social justice warrior. I voted for Hillary Clinton rather than Bernie Sanders. In fact, I worked as her field director in Las Vegas, doing mostly Asian American voter outreach. And I remain active in Democratic politics. The future of the Democratic Party is a party of minorities, women, immigrants, LGBTQ, non-Christians, etc. As a result, you're going to see more aggressive identity politics at play. Especially in the age of Trump, people like us are accustomed to hearing the racial dog whistle in much of what he says on a daily basis - it heightens people's alert. Do people overreact and see things that are not there? Absolutely. But I still believe it's an overall net gain in over-emphasizing these issues than not emphasizing them enough.

    On this particular matter, let's just agree to disagree. As always, it's nice to read your views on these matters even though I might disagree with them occasionally.

  8. Thanks for putting this in perspective. Great read. But I still love Serena in a tutu!

  9. Your tone is woke-phobic, and I feel attacked.


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