It’s amazing how in a world being battered from all sides by the winds of injustice, the momentary emotional reaction of a famous woman can cause so much controversy. Serena Williams’ behaviour at the US open has been analysed, championed and criticised. A column earlier this week questioned whether William’s behaviour was justified in the name of feminism, or whether she was just an angry woman behaving badly. It’s easy to look at the footage of Williams calling the referee a thief and breaking her racket and paint her as nothing more than a sore loser.
Even if we assume that Williams was just angry, I don’t think that she has any tangible responsibility to be a role model all the time. Women in the public eye are held to incredible strict and crucifying standards, and these standards are not applied to men. Here we have the first inkling of misogyny. Men like James Franco write books about fucking their theatre students and are heralded as artistic geniuses. Louis C K masturbates in front of horrified women and makes a return a mere three months later. The leader of the free world has a rap list both disgusting and impressive in its comprehensive propagation of racism and sexism.
Now, I’m clearly not saying that these men should be able to get away with these behaviours. I’m not saying that all ‘bad behaviour’ should be excused in the name of equality. Drawing an equivalency between men catcalling women in the street, and getting away with it and Serena Williams getting angry is misguided. These behaviours are not equivalent in any way. Catcalling is an act that is designed to oppress and intimidate women; it’s a patriarchal power play, it isn’t just ‘rudeness.’ These kind of comparisons of unrelated issues aren’t helpful or relevant. It’s like punching someone and then saying ‘yes I may have punched you in the face, but didn’t you once fail to return a library book?’
Women are punished for tiny transgressions because we’re expected to be meek and polite and pillars of moral rectitude. Let’s not forget that Liberty and Justice are women. Let’s not forget that women like Kim Kardashian West are blamed for the mental issues of their husbands. Women are expected to be polite and accommodating in all situations, but especially in the public eye. Women have no space to get angry. It’s seen as unfeminine. I’m often accused (by men) of writing ‘aggressive’ articles when really I’m just writing about injustice in a passionate way. Men are forthright, but I’m a bitch.
Do I have any kind of responsibility to be polite to people who degrade and undermine me? If someone came up to me and said ‘you can’t write for shit’, I’m not going to politely listen to their opinion, I’m going to tell them to fuck off. Don’t expect respect from women when we have to tear it out of you, when we have to scream in victory when we wrestle every point back.
Most importantly, Serena Williams had every right to be angry. She was responding to an injustice that was based on her race and her gender. Williams has a long history of being treated as lesser by umpires, the press, her male ‘peers.’ Williams wasn’t just throwing her toys out of the pram, she was sticking up for herself in what she probably knew would be a losing battle. No wonder she was so mad. I’ve cried hot, angry tears trying to explain feminism to men because it’s so frustrating to constantly try and prove to the world that you are a person, you deserve justice.
Calling William’s reaction ‘bad behaviour’ does nothing but play into the idea that women have to be polite, even when we’re being stamped on. Arguing that Williams was rude fails to take into account the reasons behind her reaction, namely a lifetime of misogyny and oppression. And yes, maybe if you decontextualize her actions, you can argue that she is guilty of rudeness. But women currently don’t have the same amount of space in which to be angry and aggressive as men do. And that’s why it’s a gender issue, not a politeness issue.
Men get angry because they can, often with very little consequence. Serena Williams got angry because she had to. Implying that politeness is more important than gender equality illustrates that your issue isn’t with people getting angry, it’s with women getting angry. Diego Costa regularly stomps on people and bites them and I don’t see swathes of articles about him, lamenting the decline of common decency.
Women are not allowed to get mad because it contradicts traditional ideas of femininity. And in cases like this, Williams’ anger was necessary and powerful. Don’t ask me to use my inside voice when I’ve spent my life screaming to be heard in the first place. The fight for gender equality isn’t always going to be pretty and polite and Williams deserves nothing but respect for championing women.