Wimbledon Likes Their Female Tennis Players Hot and Grunt-Free

screenshot of the contest on the Wimbledon website

I’ve got “zero love” for Wimbledon right now.

The official Wimbledon site is giving away free tickets to people for voting on the “best-looking female player”.

Really, Wimbledon, really? You couldn’t think of a better way to honor the top female tennis athletes in the world than to subject them to a glorified “hot or not” contest?

As if that weren’t enough, they’ve made sure to send their best copy-writers to get people excited about what I’m sure must be the showdown of the tournament:

“Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic are neck and neck in this category so far, with each having 27% of the vote. Have your say below, and cast your vote to let us know who you think is the best looking female Wimbldon [sic] player” the website reads.

This inane and insulting contest comes on the heels of Wimbledon official Ian Ritchie making sexist and inappropriate comments about female players “grunting”.

According to Yahoo! Sports, the head of Wimbledon has said female tennis players who grunt when they hit their shots are “spoiling the game for fans”.

“The players have an ability to complain about it, if one player is grunting too much and the other player doesn’t like it and it is distracting, they can complain to the umpire,” Ritchie is quoted as saying in an interview with the Telegraph.

I think it’s odd that Wimbledon would choose to objectify their players in this way (I wonder and strongly doubt that the players agreed to this, or are being compensated for it), even if they are practicing equal opportunity objectification (there was a “best-looking” contest conducted for the male players yesterday).

And especially considering the fact that Wimbledon only started giving women equal prize money 4 years ago, and given that women only play 3 sets while men play 5, voting on women’s appearance means something very different than it does for men, as they are already struggling for a sense of equality and legitimacy that male players haven’t had to.

I’m particularly disturbed by this because of the message it sends to young athletes, male and female, who are busting their balls day-in and day-out to be great. BS contests like this perpetuate the idea that no matter how hard they work, it always comes back to their looks, and in particular, how closely they adhere to conventional standards of beauty.

It’s times like these that make female athletes wonder if they really want us in sports. It’s not just female tennis players- female athletes of all sorts face a real lack of financial, structural, and cultural support for their involvement, in comparison to that which men receive.

We’ve written before about the work of Professor Michael Messner, who studies gender and the sociology of sports, and has said that many of today’s women and girl athletes feel that when they leave high school, they become invisible. He’s conducted numerous studies which point to the fact women’s sports are still largely ignored. “There is a continuing marginalization, or downright ignoring, of women’s sports by the media.”

I get that it can be hard to attract and sustain fan interest in sports and maybe female athletes in particular, but I hardly think that a “best-looking female player” contest is the solution.

Wimbledon should remove this contest from their website and issue an apology. Not just to me, or to the top-notch players, male and female, whose looks are being pitted against each other for absolutely no reason, but to every single up-and-coming athlete who saw or heard about the contest and thought, even just for a second, about how, even at the top levels of her sport, looks still matter more than talent.

h/t to Claire

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/deafbrowntrash/ deafbrowntrash


  • http://feministing.com/members/napoleoninrags/ Napoleoninrags

    Just so you know: yesterday’s poll was for the best looking male player at Wimbledon. You can look at the results by clicking on “Day 2″.

    So they seem to be objectifying ALL athletes, not singling out women. That might not make a difference to some folks, but I think it is only fair that the full context be presented.

    • http://feministing.com/members/lori/ Lori

      Check the post, I explicitly mention this.

      • http://feministing.com/members/napoleoninrags/ Napoleoninrags

        Sorry: that’s what reading too fast gets me.

  • http://feministing.com/members/shelly/ Shelly

    The “which tennis player is better looking?” contest is something I’d expect from any other website *besides* the official Wimbledon one. Seriously? Seriously?! I am disappoint! Now if they had a “most talented player right now” poll, that would make more sense.

    As for the grunting? Newsflash: Guys do it, too, and no one seems to be complaining about that. Hello, double standards!

  • http://feministing.com/members/rcs500/ Rebecca

    This is blatantly sexist, and it’s also racist! There’s not a single woman of color on their list of female tennis players to vote for. Neither of the Williams sisters is included, and Li Na of China is also left out. They’re adding insult to injury by implying that a woman of color couldn’t possibly be in the competition for the best looking.

    • http://feministing.com/members/napoleoninrags/ Napoleoninrags

      Agree that there is a racist component to this that mirrors beauty standards.

      I’m not sure how it’s sexist though, given that the men were subject to the same poll the day before.

      • http://feministing.com/members/rcs500/ Rebecca

        I took into account that the men were subjected to the same thing in my comment. Sexism is a double-edged sword that hurts both men and women. The poll about the men was sexist too.

        • http://feministing.com/members/napoleoninrags/ Napoleoninrags

          I am confused. I am not a troll, nor an unintelligent person. But I do not understand how something can be “sexist” when the same thing was applied, equally, to box sexes. I see that these polls are objectifying, but if men and women are both being objectified how can that be sexism?

          I fully agree that “sexism is a double-edged sword that hurts both men and women.” But this does not seem to be a case of sexism hurting men or women. If one believes that harm is being done by these polls, surely it is not sexism but objectification (or as you suggest racism) that seems to be at issue.

          What am I missing?

          I have a strong grounding in theory, if it

          • http://feministing.com/members/evelyn/ Evelyn

            I think the following quote from Lori’s original post illuminates the problem at hand:

            “voting on women’s appearance means something very different than it does for men, as they are already struggling for a sense of equality and legitimacy that male players haven’t had to.”

            Perhaps Wimbledon’s decision to objectify its male AND female players does not adhere to the textbook definition of “sexist,” but it does capture the sentiment of sexist behavior. To this day, women still carry the burden of systematic objectification, so “equal opportunity objectification” is never really equal in its consequences. To sum up my point, I think the word “sexist” applies not only to blatant discriminatory acts (on the basis of sex) but acts that have discriminatory consequences (with respect to sex).

    • http://feministing.com/members/lori/ Lori

      Really good point. Ugh.

  • http://feministing.com/members/orangerhymed/ Mike

    Really glad you’re writing about this. Terrible. There are so many interesting women’s tennis players; you could easily do better than this. It’s about as enraging as a cycling race determining women’s prize money based on how well they do in relation to men. Institutions, you have to provide proper support for attitudes to change.

  • http://feministing.com/members/princessimperfection/ Princess

    I come from an advertising background, so i understand the concept ‘sex sells’ … but when, dear lord, are they ever going to realize that there are about a zillion other marketing strategies that are highly effective as well?

  • http://feministing.com/members/royalpoot/ Kristina

    I just wrote the AELTC an angry, disgusted feedback ‘letter/email.’ Here’s the link in case anyone else wishes to do the same! http://aeltc2011.wimbledon.com/footer/feedback/index.html

    • http://feministing.com/members/crystalsnowfire/ Ariel

      Thank you very much for the link. I just sent them a strongly worded comment calling them out. It felt good to be able to say those things to thier face (sort of) and let them know my opinion on this disgusting contest. Thank you again. And thank you Lori for the post.

  • http://feministing.com/members/fearmyuterus/ Lynn

    I volunteered at a stop on the LPGA tour this year as a standards bearer. At orientation, ALL that was mentioned about these women (who, by the way, the dude talking to us called “girls” and not “women”) was that they were “nice” and “cute” and “good looking”. NOTHING was said about their golf game. Not one word. I’m dead serious. Even the man I was there with noticed.
    So, the question is, how do we change this behavior?

    • http://feministing.com/members/orangerhymed/ Mike

      I think about this a lot. All the potential change agents I brainstorm have one incredibly obvious thing in common, which is treating women’s athletics like athletics, not women’s athletics. If that makes sense. But like, news organizations can’t half-ass coverage of women’s sports, and sports organizations have to set up equal and fair structures. I follow cycling, and getting news about women’s races is very difficult. The race calendar is ever-changing and mysterious, the sport does a crappy job promoting it. Hell, even the teams. A prominent pro squad doesn’t have as steady coverage of its women’s riders as the men.

      But it seems like such a circular mess, where one letdown leads to another, allowing space for sexist attitudes to creep in. I just really wish people would get over the bullshit notion that women’s sports are a joke, and wonder what anybody else thinks.

  • http://feministing.com/members/eprupar/ Emily

    “We’ve written before about the work of Professor Michael Messner, who studies gender and the sociology of sports, and has said that many of today’s women and girl athletes feel that when they leave high school, they become invisible. He’s conducted numerous studies which point to the fact women’s sports are still largely ignored. ”

    – I can definitely attest to this. I grew up playing soccer and was invited by a school to come play but I inevitably turned it down knowing that playing a sport in college would make it very difficult to major in what i wanted (architecture) and in the end, where would I go after playing in college? I could maybe go on to play for the USA team, and when I was growing up I had huge plans to play for the WUSA (womens major league soccer) but of course that got shot down when they canceled due to lack of advertising. It is very difficult to graduate from high school and have it seem like all that hard work you put into becoming the very best athlete you can be is worthless because there is no where for you to go. I have to be happy with the decision I made to not play in college, but if I could have played soccer for the rest of my life I would have. It was what I always believed I was born to do.

  • http://www.feministcupcake.com laiven

    This whole think makes me want to puke, puke puke!

  • davenj

    “We’ve written before about the work of Professor Michael Messner, who studies gender and the sociology of sports, and has said that many of today’s women and girl athletes feel that when they leave high school, they become invisible. He’s conducted numerous studies which point to the fact women’s sports are still largely ignored.”

    Isn’t part of the problem the way groups like Feministing generally ignore women’s sports unless there’s a controversy like this?

    I mean, I can’t imagine that this site would have had an article about Wimbledon and the women competing there just for the sake of recognizing those women and their accomplishments. Li Na’s victory at the French Open was only mentioned in the comments on a “What We Missed” entry earlier this month. The WNBA’s 15th anniversary gets recognized, but none of the games or players get mentioned.

    Most egregious, though, is the utter lack of coverage of the upcoming Women’s World Cup on this site. This event is huge. It’s getting front page coverage on ESPN.com. It only happens every four years. The US is one of the favorites to win it all.

    And yet, no articles. No mentions. Nada. Zilch.

    The audience, advertising, and revenue streams for sports don’t appear out of nowhere. They come from audiences. Not just people who know that the sport exist, but people who actually watch the sports and get excited about them. Not after the fact, either, but in the run up to the event, and at the events themselves. It’s so sad that women’s sports are reduced to trying to market themselves based on sexuality, but we do have an answer to this: WATCH THE SPORTS AND DEMAND DIFFERENT MARKETING. And make no mistake, both parts of that are equally important. If you don’t watch the sports it’s like a vegan complaining about the chicken nuggets at Wendy’s: they won’t care, because you’re not a customer.

    WATCH THE SPORTS. The Women’s World Cup is gonna be exciting, and it’d be tragic if this site only covered it after the fact, or while it was going on. Hype it up. Get into it. Ask women (and men) to get interested in women’s sports, and do it genuinely. That’s the way to reduce invisibility.

    • http://feministing.com/members/katsuryi/ Maya

      I agree completely! There are so many sports out there that need support and publicity. By acknowledging and supporting the many talented female athletes out there, people can help improve the athletic environment. Everyone pays so much to men’s soccer and The World Cup, but the Women’s World Cup is largely ignored, even by hardcore soccer fans.

      • davenj

        For sure. The way to reduce invisibility is to offer support to those being rendered invisible. It seems simple, but I’ve found it’s something like the feminist equivalent of getting a kid to eat their vegetables: everyone recognizes that it’s important in theory, and then they just don’t do it because they don’t like it.

        This obviously needs to take into account the way sports are taught and socialized in society, much to the detriment of women.

        Consider: sports are a source of immense pleasure for a significant segment of our population, and it’s still heavily gendered in favor of men. This enjoyment comes from the fact that men are encouraged to participate in, AND FOLLOW, sports, and are taught how to enjoy them at a young age.

        If this was anything else, say, music, and men were being taught to read music, play instruments, and listen to music critically at a young age much more than women, it would rightly be championed as an issue for remediation by feminists. For various reasons, though, sport seems to be exempt from this standard.

        I was fortunate enough to be taught to enjoy sports from a young age. I participated in them and followed them, and aside from the physical benefits there are immense personal and social benefits in being able to appreciate something that, to the Classical Greeks, at least, is a major form of art. Women deserve to get in on that, and that means education, motivation, and appreciation are necessary.

        It’s simply not enough to talk about sports controversies for women. That will never sustain fandom or enjoyment, because while posts like this INVOLVE sports, they aren’t exactly ABOUT sports, at least not in a specific, critical way.

        Fathers, pass on your knowledge of sports to your sons AND daughters. I know I plan to.

    • http://feministing.com/members/steveo/ Steven Olson

      I agree completely. More exposure to women’s sports will do nothing but help. Women’s tennis is a fantastic sport, and until the emergence of the Nadal/Federer rivalry I thought it was much more entertaining than men’s tennis. Women’s track and field is another amazing sport to watch (well, track and field in general is just amazing!). Women’s hockey is a great sport and I am happy that in Canada women’s hockey gets quite a bit of talk. At least the national team. Anytime the Canadian women’s team plays in a tournament they get tv time for it.

    • http://feministing.com/members/wlukens/ Lallie

      I completely agree with this. I have been working hard on the Women’s World Cup Initiative, and I think that the lack of coverage is appalling. Yes, ESPN has a tiny article about the WWC if you scroll down past the huge “Top Stories” section of the home page, but if you ask me, the Women’s Word Cup should BE a top story! If this was the Men’s World Cup then the only thing you would be able to see on any major sports network would be pictures and articles about it. Even FIFA’s site didn’t even feature the Women’s team on their homepage until an article was posted today.

      I think that these amazing athletes (some of whom I had the opportunity to speak to), who worked unbelievably hard to reach where they are today (many overcame Title IX difficulties) deserve recognition, support, and definitely publicity.

      I personally am a field hockey player, and I know that it is a sport that has a small following compared to soccer or basketball, but there is literally *no* coverage of field hockey games in the US, where the sport is predominantly played by females. ESPN, for example, has the big sports as separate headers, then has an option for “more sports”. Even that doesn’t include field hockey. If you go to BBC Sports, on the other hand, under “more sports” there is a pgae for field hockey (it’s simply listed as hockey there) that covers all news on the sport. I don’t think that its a coincidence that in the US, virtually only women play field hockey, and in Europe it is a sport played by both men and women.

      • davenj

        I dunno, ESPN’s coverage is pretty decent, or at least superb compared to everyone else. Front-page articles. Line items in the “major news” ticker. Player profiles. And this is all in the run-up to the event. If the game coverage is good it’ll be even better.

        Is it as good as the CONCACAF Gold Cup coverage? No, but it’s relatively close.

        Fundamentally, though, I think there’s a huge dichotomy here: on the one hand there’s the claim of respect for the accomplishments of these women at Wimbledon, and on the other hand they’re not watching Wimbledon. It’s just a strange scenario that needs to be rectified if things are to change.

  • http://feministing.com/members/janessab/ Janessa

    I don’t know a single fan of tennis who didn’t absolutely applaud Ian Ritchie’s comments. I am a HUGE tennis fan, but there are certain players I will not watch because of the noise they make on court.

    The women to whom he is referring do not grunt. They scream/screech/yell. This isn’t about improving performance. It’s about disguising the sound of the ball coming off the strings and distracting an opponent. It’s cheating. Which is why many actual players dislike it.

    The real message he sent is to the players- if your opponent is screaming, you can complain to the umpire and your complaint will not be dismissed as it may have been in the past. The issue has always been that there is not an objective standard for stopping “grunting.” What level of noise is acceptable? Well, now there is a standard, at Wimbledon at least, put forth by an authority figure- if an opponent complains, the umpire has the power to step in. A power she/he has always had, but is now more likely to feel free to exercise.

    As for the double standard? I think pitch does play into it, but the real problems are volume and duration. Yes, some of the male players grunt- Rafael Nadal, for instance. But that’s just it- he grunts. He does not yell mid-point in an effort to cheat. I see less double-standard than I see that there is a behavior in which some female players habitually engage and no male players do.

    As for the polls? Yeah, those are just sexist shit.

    • davenj

      Yep. A lot of people don’t seem to realize that intentional, sustained grunting can be an attempt at cheating. It’s just so much more prevalent in the women’s game, and some lewd commenters try to sexualize it, when in reality it’s a performance enhancing technique.

  • http://feministing.com/members/toongrrl/ Jessica “Jess” Victoria Carillo

    Two questions for Wimbledon:
    1. Define “Best-Looking”
    2. How is this relevent?

    • honeybee

      Well, it did get us all talking about Wimbledon, so from their point of view I think they would view it as a successful marketing campaign.