I came here to talk about outreach, outreach and academia and time and resources. But alas, it seems that the British press have other ideas. While I may be a feminist youth researcher, I am also a human being that has spent most of her life engaged in impassioned tennis watching.
So, when the
jam and xerox girl feminism and tennis came together, as it were, with response to Andy Murray’s appointment of Amélie Mauresmo as his new coach, I couldn’t help but want to stick my oar in. These are the sort of debates that engage me and so here I am, talking about sport and gender again. I guess its kind of funny that I either don’t have the confidence or perhaps the energy to blog about issues pertaining to the specificities of my current research. Another blog for another day I guess.
What the response to Andy Murray’s appointment of former world number one and double grand slam champion, Amélie Mauresmo, highlights is the persistent and insipid sexism that has tainted tennis for as long as I can remember. I write this entirely as a fan, as much as I wish it were otherwise the case I cannot accurately hit a tennis ball at all. I am therefore little more than a passive observer, a passive observer who wants to talk about how fucking ridiculous it is that a leading tennis player has to justify why he has picked a former leading tennis player to coach him simply because she is a woman.
Response to Murray’s choice of coach following Lendl was always going to be met with the kind of media frenzy that people who are being paid to report on something, anything, often do. But come on now, questioning his choice based on the gender of the person he chose, well that’s just silly. I know that vintage is all fashionable and we’ve spent a lot of the last week remembering D Day and stuff, but let’s try a little harder to remember we’re in 2014 and not 1944.
The thing is that Mauresmo was and is a talented tennis player who was world number one and the winner of two of the four grand slam championships (one of which Murray himself as yet to get his hands on). One of the last people Mauresmo has coached was Marion Bartoli, and gosh, was that a bad decision for Bartoli to make…
Commentators have been quick to cast their views on the subject. Jim Courier (whose CV looks a lot like Mauresmo’s having won two of the four and enjoyed a place at no. 1) described the appointment as ‘bold’, ‘bold’ presumably because it is a risk for Murray to take. Meanwhile you only have to glance at the ATP Facebook page or the comments on the countless news articles that have covered the story to see how rife sexism is in the world of tennis fandom. In fact we have to look at the woman that understands sexism in tennis better than any other for some sense on the matter:
“It is not the gender of the coach that is important, it is the strength of the relationship between the coach and the player that will make the partnership work. Women have coached men for years, going back to Bobby Riggs and Eleanor Tennant. What is important is that this is what Andy feels is best for his current situation.”
I guess I could go on for an age about this, I could justify for the zillienth time the need for equal prize winnings (women don’t spend half as much time preparing you know), and the idiocy of commentators discussing the sport clothing worn by female players, and the stupid questions they get asked in interviews, but neither you nor me have time for that. And so, I just want to reflect on how this whole coaching thing compares in the women’s game. Women players consistently have male coaches, this is almost never reported upon. One of the only examples I can think of relates to Serena Williams. Rather than the choice of coach himself, Williams’ personal life suddenly found itself centre stage as the closeness of her relationship with male coach, Mouratoglou, entered the press and the commentary booth.
Here it was not the skills or aptitude for the job of Mouratoglou that was placed under the microscope, but rather the character of Williams. A player who has all too often found herself under the scrutinizing gaze of the media, encountering intersectional challenges across her career.
It seems quite typical that the woman be should scrutinized, whether she is the athlete, or the coach in question.
When Murray took on Lendl as coach, the response was an overwhelming ‘genius’, with Mauresmo the response appears to be ‘really?‘ but if this gets us talking about sexism in tennis again, then that can surely only be a good thing. Right?