“She looks like a man, she’s just being ridiculous”
Not an uncommon phrase to hear surrounding Serena’s catsuit.
Not a phrase you want to hear from your mothers mouth.
The idea that a woman who does not conform to society’s construct of femininity is deserving of criticism is a harmful one. When you look at a woman with Serena Williams’ success, power and strength, what do you see? Do you see decades of training, sweat, and tears, beautifully documented by Nike’s most iconic (and recent) advertisements? Or do you see cellulite, big muscles, and a post-partum waistline? Most recognize the latter upon first glance. Even I can admit I easily identify the imperfections that are otherwise airbrushed by Vogue, because the reality is, that’s what I do when I look at myself, too. It’s a form of conditioning, and not the “blood, sweat and tears” kind.
So, what happens when our society, our politics, our organizations, and our places of work are enabled by constricting or dictating what is “appropriate” work wear for women? Whether it’s a pantsuit, a pleated skirt or spandex coined with an athletic logo, what is a woman supposed to think when she wears a suit to battle her struggle with post-partum blood clots, and is told that it is “disrespectful”? How is a woman to draw any conclusion besides the thought that her body is an affront to the comfort of others? And how do these stipulations impact the generations of women to come? How are we to keep little girls from being baited into eating disorders, dropping out of their favorite sport, and developing such harmful views of their own bodies and self worth? While the athletic atmosphere is heavily dominated by masculinity, it appears that the line and standard for female empowerment is a thin one—earning little respect or validation from the majority of our male counterparts.
"it appears that the line and standard for
female empowerment is a thin one"
In a perfect world, that woman—the one who was belittled and trivialized—shows up to compete in a one shoulder black dress complete with a tulle tutu. In a perfect world, one of the most powerful and influential athletic empires, not only has her back, but shows the world their commitment to cheering her on. In a perfect world, that woman still goes on to win her match with both grit and grace. She maintains her title as the all-time record holder of 13 Grand Slam wins, AND she shares the title of most winning athlete to compete at the US Open with 6 wins, tied with Chris Evert.
This is the sentiment that resonates with women, both young and old.
Policing what women should and should not wear in order to “show respect” is nothing new. But it is bullshit. Whether it’s a driven girl going to school to ace a midterm exam, a female CEO arriving to work to lead her company to its goals, or a badass tennis legacy competing at the U.S. Open, it is asinine to insinuate that any woman, of any age, would intentionally choose to sport a “disruptive” or “distracting” outfit that compromises her dedication to her goals.
In face of the controversy and the inevitable backlash, it’s important to ask yourself what the voice in your head recognizes first. Is it grit or grace?
Because Serena has both, and she’s showing us that we can, too.