Serena Williams’ anger during the US Open final was justified, and more women should tap in to their inner fury.
On Saturday 8 September, Serena Williams competed for her seventh title in a finals match against Naomi Osaka, and the rest will be history. Our children will say: “Remember when women weren’t allowed to be angry?”
Umpire Carlos Ramous issued a violation against Williams, following her coach giving her hand signals throughout the game. Williams went on to smash her racket on the ground and was issued another violation and a point penalty. Finally, a verbal discussion with Ramos ended with Williams calling the umpire a “thief” and being given a game penalty. Since the exchange, Williams has been fined $17,000 for three code violations and has even been turned into a racist caricature that populates the internet, alongside never-ending examples of slander.
The issue here is not with these penalties occurring, rather with the unfairness of them rarely being issued to other, male offenders. Retyping these events, it is impossible to stop the anger that rises up. And yet, that is exactly what women have been told to do for centuries. For men, anger is an idolized trait—it displays bravery, leadership and has aided in the act of subduing a woman, throughout history. For the silent, polite woman that exists within the societal eye, anger like Williams’ indicates that she is “hysterical” or having a “meltdown”.
For men, anger is an idolized trait—it displays bravery, leadership and has aided in the act of subduing a woman, throughout history. For the silent, polite woman that exists within the societal eye, anger like Williams’ indicates that she is “hysterical” or having a “meltdown”
These words, so naturally coming to the tongue of the men that spoke them, attack Williams’ temperament and generate an image of weakness. Williams on the other hand—a powerful Black athlete—exudes strength from every muscle in her body. Williams’ behaviour has also been criticised as robbing Osaka of the highlight of her career, presenting Williams as a monstrous figure that goes back on the weak, hysterical interpretation.
Instead, by expressing her feelings, Williams has performed the “angry black woman” stereotype and has provided a catalyst for even more discrimination against black women. In other words, she cannot win here. With it being revealed that she has been drug tested more than the top American men and women’s players this year, and following the ban issued on her custom Nike cat suit, it is clear that Williams is being singled out.
Following the match, retired US tennis star Andy Roddick tweeted, “I’ve regrettably said worse and I’ve never gotten a game penalty”. In other news, French tennis player Alize Cornet also recently received a code violation for briefly changing her shirt on the court—something countless male players have done with no repercussions. The double standards here are shocking.
Male athletes who have made similar accusations to the umpire, and only received a verbal warning: allowed to be angry. The swarms of people who are indignant that Williams should call a male sports official sexist: allowed to be angry. The female athletes who experience this sexism: not allowed to be angry.
Osaka’s victory has made her the first Japanese woman to win the women’s singles title in the US Open and it is no secret that she considers Williams her idol. Osaka also has African heritage—she told U.S.A Today that when people see her they “are confused. From my name, they don’t expect to see a black girl.”
It is clear that Williams’ legacy is inspiring black girls to be like her, and also to beat her. In light of this, this step back into a more misogynistic era becomes a progression for ethnic women everywhere. It is Williams’s determination and perseverance that can inspire not only budding tennis players, but also every woman in our society. It is her rage that can be used productively to unite women. Anger can be used to instigate change and to abolish the societal limitation of thinking through stereotypes.
“You owe me an apology”, is something we’re allowed to say.
“I’m not a cheat” is okay to tell someone if they’re attacking your character.
“I’m going to continue to fight for women,” should be said in anger, by all of us.