News and Commentary

Billie Jean King: Serena Williams Is A Victim Of The Patriarchy

Tennis icon Billie Jean King, the feminist hero who beat an aging Bobby Riggs in the 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” matchup, believes Serena Williams throwing an unsportsmanlike temper tantrum on the tennis court was in revolt to the patriarchy’s “abuse of power.”

Over the weekend, Serena Williams acted like a spoiled toddler during the US Open when she openly screamed at the chair umpire Carlos Ramos for calling penalties she deemed unfair. After unsuccessfully demanding that the umpire issue her an “apology,” Williams became so enraged with the matchup that she smashed her tennis racket into the ground.

Any outside observer would call this a meltdown, but Billie Jean King says that Serena Williams was reacting to injustice. In a Washington Post op-ed, King writes:

[F]or [Williams], and for many other women who have experienced an abuse of power at their workplaces, there was more at stake.

Did Ramos treat Williams differently than male players have been treated? I think he did. Women are treated differently in most arenas of life. This is especially true for women of color. And what played out on the court yesterday happens far too often. It happens in sports, in the office and in public service. Ultimately, a woman was penalized for standing up for herself. A woman faced down sexism, and the match went on.

All of that woke sermonizing falls apart, of course, when one realizes that Serena Williams lost the tennis matchup to — wait for it — a woman. And not even a white woman: a Haitian-Japanese newcomer. If anything, Serena Williams’ narcissism has overshadowed a notable athlete’s fair accomplishment, which her supporters have been all-too-giddy enough to enable.

“I found myself in similar situations in my career; once, I even walked off the court in protest,” writes King, who goes on to encourage female tennis players to always stand up to the injustice of the patriarchy:

I hope every single girl and woman watching yesterday’s match realizes they should always stand up for themselves and for what they believe is right. Nothing will ever change if they don’t.

Women are taught to be perfect. We aren’t perfect, of course, and so we shouldn’t be held to that standard. We have a voice. We have emotions. When we react adversely to a heated professional situation, far too often, we’re labeled hysterical. That must stop.

King pins all of the blame on umpire Ramos for enforcing the rules, which includes not accepting hand signals from the coach.

“He made himself part of the match,” she wrote. “He involved himself in the end result. An umpire’s job is to keep control of the match, and he let it get out of control. The rules are what they are, but the umpire has discretion, and Ramos chose to give Williams very little latitude in a match where the stakes were highest.”