Excuse my language in the title of this post but is there really any other way to describe Serena Williams?
uh, no there isn't
Recently, after winning the Wimbledon semi-finals in July, Serena Williams was interviewed at a press conference. During which gender came into the dialog, as it often does. One question asked, if she felt it was fair for women to get paid the same as men, if the matches were shorter....So you earn less for being better?
uh, what? no.
I wish I could say it ended there, it didn't. Here is the question that many have been talking about ever since. One, because it was dumb, two because, well Serena schooled the reporter in the most polite and yes bad ass way ever.
"There will be talk of you going down as one of the greatest female athletes of all time. What do you think when you hear something like that?"
Serena, never one to back away from the conversation of gender in sport responded quickly as if there wasn't even a question how she should respond which makes sense when you are the best of the best.
"I prefer the word 'one of the greatest athletes' of all time."
uh, yeah because you are a bad ass, Serena
Then, this week another reporter was talking to 2 time Olympic Gold Medalist, Andy Murray when a reporter, John Inverdale asked the following:
"You're the first person ever to win two Olympic tennis gold medals. That's an extraordinary feat, isn't it?"
"Umm," Murray said. "Well."
He was indeed the first modern tennis player to successfully defend the singles title at the Olympics, he noted.
But "I think Venus and Serena have won about four [gold medals] each,"
uh, now I kinda heart Andy Murray
I am not quite sure why it seems so hard for people in the media to give female athletes credit for their successes. It isn't just Serena who experiences this either.
Check out this headline that was tweeted out as an example of how we treat athletes different based on their gender.
I realize that not everybody sees this as an issue. When I brought the subject up around some friends and co-workers (outside of the sports industry) the response was less enthusiastic. Few people said anything negative but many questioned why it matters.
It matters because it isn't just the media attention or respect that is unbalanced. It is also the pay. While you may not directly care about how much one super star athlete gets paid vs. the next, it trickles down.
It is widely known that female athletes do not get paid at the same level of their male counterparts.
In almost every single sport women earn considerably less than their male counterparts. Women are supplementing this lack of equal pay with endorsement deals which is misleading when you just compare total salaries against their male counterparts, if you take endorsements the gap in pay is much larger.
so, why do people get paid what they do? Arguments for the gap include; overall fan base, game attendance, tv endorsement deals and in general the amount of money generated by the sport. That doesn't tell the whole story though, as many female sports haven't been given the same options and support in the way of promotion etc.
So why focus on sports, when we know that on average women as a whole make somewhere on average of 72 cents to every dollar a man makes in this country?
Exposure & Transparency
Plain and simple. The women fighting for equality at these higher dollar levels brings about exposure to the overall issue of a gender bias and the gender pay gap. This is an important part of the process for change.
In less exposed industries, like a call center for example, the worker is less likely to know for sure what her counterpart make vs. herself and even if they do find out many companies attempt to say that it is illegal or against the rules to discuss salary among your peers and people fear retribution for rocking the boat. Serena isn't worried about rocking the boat. Tennis doesn't want to lose her. Say what you will but what she has done to elevate the sport of tennis in viewership, endorsement and pure love of the game, has probably generated more revenue to the actual sport than any other athlete in recent memory.
It is easier to ignore the call center operator, but you aren't ignoring Serena Williams.
How can Serena Help Us?
In a world where there is still a long way to go regarding gender and the gender pay gap there are signs of progress.,.well kind of. For starters most women in today's world make more than women have ever made in the past. We make more than our mothers and our grandmothers. Slightly misleading since many of our mothers and grandmothers didn't actually work but it still is important to note. Women account for 80% of all buying decisions in this country. Important to note for a number of reasons:
we are more educated than ever - not just in general but with regards to our finances
We have the majority stake and say in family buying decision - as the caretakers for children, and family members, we are calling the shots in every day life.
It's time we get the respect we deserve for that and if Serena, women like her and even awesome men like Andy Murray continue to point out the discrepancies and demand better it helps us all.
Further proof of Serena's bad-assness....this little girl here...
For more information on the gender pay gap in sports, check out the infographic below: