The most cursory exploration of tennis forums on the Web will quickly yield a collection of comments about WTA players that range from sexist and offensive to misogynistic and obscene. 25-year-old women are called "girls," which is bad enough, but the players are also routinely called "bitches" and "sluts." Very recently, it was suggested on one forum that a player retired in her match because she was thinking about sex, and on another forum, it was written that she retired in order to get off the court and have a sexual encounter.
Female players are routinely "suspected" of having problems with their menstrual periods--of course some of them have problems with their menstrual periods, and they play through the pain and complications. Players' disagreements--real, imagined, or exaggerated--are referred to as "cat fights." The women's game is often irrelevantly-- and malevolently--compared with the men's game. And there are frequent conversations about how "ugly" or "masculine" some players are, right down to detailed analyses of their body parts and their imagined personal lives. All of his talk is unbearably hate-filled and vicious.
The hatred of women (funny how that isn't referred to as bigotry in the media and in conversation) is nothing new. Women and girls struggle to gain both equality and respect in every culture in the world. Among women, internalized sexism is rampant. If you are a woman and choose to open your eyes and ears, you are affected by sexism and misogyny every day. What I don't understand is, why do those who have nothing but contempt for women choose to watch women play sports and perform?
The Sony Ericsson WTA Tour has a lot of real fans--men and women (and some children, too) who enjoy the game and like to watch their favorite players in action. Most real fans are also knowledgeable enough to criticize the flaws within the tour, as well they should. In fact, the tour could benefit itself by reading the comments that such fans contribute to tennis forums.
People who watch women's tennis and then insult the players because of their gender should have something better to do, it would seem, than to preoccupy themselves with a group whose members they hold in contempt. And the name-calling is not excusable because of "the culture" or "the times." Indeed, it is the culture and the times that create such a climate of hate. Calling women "bitches" and "sluts" is unacceptable in any context. And the argument of "free speech" is a legal one (and one I support), but it has little to do with societal rules, in which people of all classes, genders, races, ages, etc. are granted equal respect.
Some of the woman-haters go for a double--or even triple,
portion of bigotry--by also attacking players who are African American,
or who are "suspected" of being gay. These people--and there are
multitudes of them--do not know how to criticize the behaviors of a
player without also attacking the player's gender, race and real or
suspected sexual orientation. And some of them skip the behavior
criticism altogether, and just make bigoted comments or "jokes" about
Almost all Web forums have rules about hate speech and bigotry, but I have never seen those rules enforced when it comes to bigotry toward women. It is up to the rest of us to demand that they be enforced. That won't be easy, since sexism and misogyny are considered acceptable forms of bigotry. But as long as those who despise women insist on watching women's tennis, their expressions of hate and contempt--which affect all women and girls--need to be kept among themselves.