Progress of female players – Asking for a “twirl” instead of talent

Published: January 25, 2015
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Canada's Eugenie Bouchard reacts as she plays against Netherland's Kiki Bertens during their women's singles match on day three of the 2015 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 21, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Eugenie Bouchard, famously known as Genie Bouchard, won her second match after defeating Kiki Bertens in straight sets in the Australian Open. She is considered to be a rising star in the world of tennis world, being the first Canadian to reach the finals of Grand Slam and is currently ranked world number seven.

But something strange happened when in an after match interview. Right when we were expecting professional questions about the game and her plans for the upcoming matches, the Wimbledon runner-up was asked to “twirl” by the interviewer to show off her outfit.

The seventh seed was taken by surprise, and hesitantly twirled for the broadcast host. She commented on the incident, saying,

“It was very unexpected. I mean, yeah, I don’t know. An old guy asking you to twirl, it was funny.”

The whole act was bizarre and totally misplaced. It was as if for a moment we had switched a tennis environment with a fashion show – where even models are not so bluntly asked to showcase their outfits.

This was not the first time a female tennis player was asked to twirl. On the same day, world number one, Serena Williams was also asked to “give a twirl”, which she did not appreciate. These incidents created a sexism row in the tennis world where the common question asked was ‘how come male players are never asked to show off their outfits’.

Although the incident has received immense criticism and has been mocked and undermined by both the tennis world and social media trolls as another feminist antic, it has raised serious questions about the persistent and thriving sexism prevalent in the world of sports.

In my opinion, both Bouchard and Williams should have denied the request rather than complying. The incident has also posed questions towards media ethics and how conveniently they are propagating the social stigmas and making them acceptable. The host did not have an iota of hesitation on his face and was, in fact, “forcefully” confident.

What if we reverse the situation and place Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Dojokovic in this situation?

Would the host still ask the same question?

The first seed, Williams also expressed similar views, saying,

“A commentator asked me to twirl. I wouldn’t ask Rafa or Roger to twirl. Whether it’s sexist or not, I don’t know. I can’t answer that.”

Though she avoided the sexist strain in her response, she clearly hinted at the inequality in treatment for male and female players. No matter how much of an outstanding professional you are, if you are a woman, the focus will always be on your physical appearance and attire. Where male players bask in the glory of their talent, the female players are often objectified by shifting focus from their performance and talent onto their looks. The same discrepancy could be observed at the Oscar red carpet event where actors are asked serious questions about their roles and creative work while actresses are just reduced to questions regarding which designer they are wearing.

Most of us would dismiss it causally by terming it just a light incident and not something worth discussing. But it is. We need to realise that this is how, silently and imperceptibly, gender inequality and sexism is hampering the progress of women, and nobody even raises a voice against it, even when it takes place publicly or on our TV screens for the whole world to see. We still have not been able to achieve equal prize money or income for women – which will take time – but can we at least start working towards giving them equal respect, a right we were all born with.

Fatima Majeed

Fatima Majeed

An avid reader, freelance writer and home-maker.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.