One thing that women have gained from the feminist movement is the right
to be jerks. Sort of gender free jerkdom. Tanya Harding took
advantage of it, as did Linda Tripp and a number of others. Before
that, if a woman behaved badly, we all got blamed for it: "of course,
it's because she is a woman." Now it is an individual thing, the same
as it is for a guy. I am especially aware of this right now because my
two least favorite female athletes were on the cover of Time magazine
last week and I found myself wanting to rip the cover off. Unless you
have been living in a cave this past year, you know that Venus and
Serena Williams are two superb tennis players with an attitude -- oh
what an attitude.
Women's sports have had a long struggle for recognition. Tennis great,
Martina Navratilova, a Czech, wrote that, "people in the States used
to think that if girls were good at sports their sexuality would be
affected. The image of women is changing now. You don't have to be
pretty for people to come and see you play. At the same time, if you're
a good athlete, it doesn't mean you're not a woman."
Finally American women can sweat with approval. Women in sports today
came up together and share a bond of sorts, top athletes like Lisa
Leslie and Sheryl Swopes in basketball, Mia Hamm and Brandy Chastain in
hockey, Marion Jones and her five Olympic gold medals and all the
others. Nobody would ever suggest that they all like each other or that
they don't thrive on competition and intense, often bitter rivalry.
But because the whole thing is so new, there has been a general feeling
of mutual support and respect among the women athletes in various
But not the Williams sisters. In their rudeness and arrogance, they
obviously feel that they owe nothing to anyone, not to those who went
before nor to their fellow sports-women today. I rather hesitate to
admit my first reaction to Venus because It probably dates me. It is
her clothes. I first saw her, on TV of course, at Wimbledon a couple of
years ago. Now Wimbledon is a place with over a hundred years of tennis
tradition, and the royal family still shows up. The first women to
play there undoubtedly wore bloomers and middy blouses and hit the ball
very gently. Modern players have graduated to shorts and T shirts and
hit the ball as hard as the men. But there was Venus in a bare minimum
of spandex to give visible evidence that she is both an athlete and a
woman - something which we would know if she were wearing a gunny
sack. Other tennis players accuse them of playing the race card. They
also play the sex card. Some men have been arrogant jerks on the
tennis court for years. The Williams sisters are out to top them.
The Time article says that when Venus won the U. S. Open last year and
President Clinton made his congratulatory call, "she asked for a tax
cut, complained that his motorcade had held up New York City traffic for
her and scolded him for leaving before her match. Imagine what the
sisters will do to Bush."
Fortunately, thanks to gender free jerkdom, their antics do not hurt
other women athletes. Women's athletic programs are growing fast.
The WNBA just ended a highly successful season with the Los Angeles
Sparks winning their first championship, and the Women's United Soccer
Association is having a great first season.
The word "sportsmanship" had become almost archaic, but the women
athletes are bringing it back. The American Heritage Dictionary defines
it as "Conduct and attitude considered as befitting participants in
sports, especially fair play, courtesy, striving spirit, and grace in
losing." I watched the entire U. S. women's soccer team which had just
lost the gold in Sydney arrive at the final U. S. women's basketball
game to be their number one cheering section.
The Williams sisters have proved my point. Thanks to gender free
jerkdom I can dislike a pair of fine women athletes without feeling
guilty, because they are a couple of spoiled kids who behave like