Game, set and sexism at the Australian Open

January 27, 2014
Eugenie Bouchard in action.

For a second, just imagine that one of the highest ranked male tennis players in the world is taking part in the obligatory post-game interview having just won a marathon five setter.

Now imagine the interviewer is themselves a veteran of the sport for decades, one who undoubtedly knows the game inside and out. Now imagine the first question they ask the winner is: “So who would you most like to date?”

The last part of that sequence is impossible to imagine, yet it is exactly what occurred to 19-year-old Canadian protege Eugenie Bouchard on January 21 after she beat Ana Ivanovic, ranked 14th in the world, to proceed to the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

It captured the outrageously sexist double standards that female athletes have to put up with. Having upset Ivanovic in a three-set epic, it was not the Canadian player's cross court backhand that the media focused on.

You would think that some of the first questions to ask Ivanovic may be a long the lines of: “So how does it feel to progress further in the tournament than higher ranked seeds such as Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova?”

Or perhaps: “How does it feel to be the first ever Canadian woman to reach the semi finals of the Australian Open, or the first to reach the semi finals of any major tournament in 30 years?”

Hell, you could even ask her how she feels about progressing through the world rankings so quickly since making it to the third round of Wimbledon last year.

These were not the questions she was asked. Commentator and former British top-ranking player Samantha Smith was more keen to know who Bouchard would most like to date. Bouchard's career, presumably, being secondary from her main task of finding herself a man.

Smith said: “You’re getting a lot of fans here. A lot of them are male, and they want to know: If you could date anyone in the world of sport, of movies — I’m sorry, they asked me to say this — who would you date?”

This problem is not specific to tennis. It occurs in all professions, in the sporting world and elsewhere.

This is due to the fact that we live in a patriarchal world where men are judged on their achievements, but women are expected to be wallflowers, often even devoid of opinions.

Sexism permeates every aspect of culture and society with rigid gender constructs and expectations, such as the macho man breadwinner and soft, nurturing homemaker mother. Many people believe this is just the natural order of things.

However, there is nothing natural about having to adhere to rigid societal constructs and deal with various layers of oppression based on sex, ethnicity, disability, gender identity, sexuality, if you don’t happen to fit a particular mold -- a mold which is usually white, male, middle class and heterosexual.

All forms of oppression and discrimination need to be fought on the tennis court, in sports arenas, and in society in general.

I don’t want to get to radical here, but if anyone actually does want to know Bouchard’s thoughts on the sport that she plays, she had this to say: “This is something I’ve been doing since I was five years old and working my whole life for and sacrificing a lot of things for. So it’s not exactly a surprise.

“I always expect myself to do well. I’m just happy to have gone through this step.

“I’m not done. I have a match on Thursday. I’m just looking forward to that.”

[Abridged from Aron Micallef's blog, Attacking From the Left.]

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