Serena Williams Took a Stand Against Double Standards for Women

When will you as a woman choose your moment to stand your ground? Like Serena, I choose now!

As both the new U.S. Open champ Naomi Osaka and her idol Serena Williams stood with tears streaming down their faces at the end of the 2018 women’s U.S. Open final, boos filled the air. Many felt the chair umpire was simply injecting himself into the results, and in turn marred the match. The cause, the inconsistent application of a trio of archaic tennis rules.

The rulings by umpire Carlos Ramos, first taking a game from Serena then awarding a point to Osaka were unfortunate and warrant a further discussion on several rules in tennis. Whether the penalties were justified or not, a debate was sparked over the double standard women face in the sport and life. In the end, both ladies lost… Although Naomi has beaten Serena once, we will never really know if she would have really taken the top prize without intervention. Serena was making a game comeback in a situation that she historically thrives in. Because of the controversy, we will never know if she could’ve pulled off another historic win. But in Boris Kodjoe’s words “...both will recover, both will win again!”

As pointed out by tennis great Billie Jean King in a Washington Post op-ed, Serena is treated especially indiffrent from most. Serena’s athletic prowess makes it easy to make the argument for Serena Williams being the G.O.A.T (the greatest athlete of all time). With 23 Grand Slam titles to date, one away from tying the record for the greatest number of grand slam wins in the history of women’s tennis -- and it doesn’t seem she will be stopping any time soon. Serena came back to the sport after giving birth, for which she had to undergo emergency surgeries due to life-threatening complications. She later worked hard to returned to the top in just 10 months to compete in two grand slam finals. Earning herself a whole new audience -- working mothers and mom bosses.

Looking at Serena’s successful journey, it’s hard to ignore her dominance on the court. However, people rarely gave her [and sister Venus] the recognition deserved, because they deviated from what was the standard and expected in tennis. Instead of Serena’s skill, many have criticized her body, skin color, and passion. When you have fought for everything all your life, and worked hard for everything you’ve earned, and suddenly your integrity and legacy are being questioned, it is easy to understand how emotions can be triggered. For Serena, and for many other women who have experience all sorts of abuse, she was fighting for her honor.

As women, we are expected to regulate our emotions and our appearance, to what is deemed more appropriate. It is important to note, women are treated indifferently not just in the workplace but also in life. This is especially true for women of color and Serena Williams, as highlighted by Billie Jean King. And what played out on the court yesterday happens far too often. A strong woman was penalized for standing up for herself.

  Photographed by Alessandra Sanguinetti for Time; Magnum Photos. In-app screenshot

Photographed by Alessandra Sanguinetti for Time; Magnum Photos. In-app screenshot

Everything that is deemed admirable of men, somehow made Serena inherently less of a woman. From her muscles to her passion and her clothing. She was unranked because she took maternity leave, even though she won a grand slam while pregnant. She was told she can’t wear a catsuit which was a medical necessity after a difficult pregnancy. Yet, after all that Serena had experienced -- and we have all borne witness to -- somehow she manages to remain gracious.

It is who Serena Williams has become on and off the court that has won the hearts of both fan and non-fans. After the match, she demonstrated class and the heart of a true champion -- holding it together so Naomi Osaka can stand in her well-deserved light. Occasionally comforting the young champ.

Osaka, congratulations! Be proud of your achievement. You are strong and will be a tremendous blessing to tennis for years to come.

However, Serena Williams was right to stand her ground, where she was penalized for something regularly overlooked for men. Players like John McEnroe, Ilie Nastace, Roger Federer, Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi are celebrated for displaying far worse. Men’s behaviors are seen as iconic and funny but Serena Williams anger and passion after being called a cheater is “disgraceful.” Male players don't get penalized for showing their passion, even though they smash rackets and yell at umpires using language we never hear from women.

Why do women have to choose when to stand their ground? Why do we have to wait for us to be granted permission? For Serena, her moment was now, on one of the greatest stages. Serena, I applaud you for using your platform as a change-mechanism!

When will you as a woman choose your moment to stand your ground?