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.

  • Sesapzai

    Great blog and a very important topic that indeed needs desperate attention! Thank you so much for writing this.

    It’s unfortunate that while women have many freedoms and privileges in the west (as compared to the east, for the most part, at least), women are still discriminated against, objectified, and treated or looked upon as sexual objects. Even when you see a female VP or SVP at a high end company, if one asks *how* exactly she made it to the top, the response is almost always, “Oh, didn’t you know? She obviously SLEPT her way up.” It’s a sad — very sad — reality, but that’s the common perception, which is just as oppressive to the way women are treated in places where they hardly have any freedoms at all.

    The same goes in the sports world. I remember when Anna Kournikova became popular, almost everyone I knew focused on how “beautiful” she was and how “pretty and long” her hair was. No one bothered to talk about her tennis playing skills or how excellent of a player she was. The same goes for Sania Mirza; rather than focusing on how brilliant of a player she is, most (mostly men, sad to say) just focused on the way she dresses and how “un-islamic” it is, going as far as slut-shaming and insulting her. It’s a sad, very sad, world we are living in. But I am so glad we have bloggers and writers, such as yourself, shedding light on such issues, because the more we talk about it, the more we can (hopefully) find solutions and change things. :)Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    What sexism? I am kinda sick of this “sexism” debate.
    A guy goes to the airport and asks a lady if she needs help, she screams sexism and runs off to write a blog on ET about it.
    A guy asks a lady if she would like to go before him at the checkout counter and she screams sexism.
    What have these girls turned into? HAve they never been treated with respect in their entire lives? That every time they are treated with some tenderness they scream sexism?
    What does the writer of this blog and her like minded people suggest? That the reporters from now on ask girls to flex their muscles and scream at the camera?
    She is a girl, she is different from guys, so she is treated differently. There is nothing wrong with this. No one demeaned her, they did not harass her. To be honest there would have been thousands of her female fans who would have really liked her outfit, and the twirl.
    I am a man, if I am ever asked to flex my biceps to show off how well toned my muscles are I will never say no. Cuz this is what usually men do. Although asking me for a twirling may earn the guy a black eye, depending on the crowd watching . Same goes for girls, if you are being treated as ladies it is because you ARE ladies.Recommend

  • No one

    If it is such a huge issue then why these female tennis players wear these pretty dresses and all that jewelry? Why dont they play in t.shirt and shorts as their men counterparts? Bouchard’s dress was really beautiful, she meant to show off her dress, if not, then why a pink neon beautiful outfit?Recommend

  • L.

    The quote “chivalry is dead” must’ve been coined by a woman. A man will treat you like a lady when you carry yourself like one. When men do treat you nicely, they are being “sexist”, when they dont, “disrespectful”? Gees!

    Im a woman and all but I accept that we have do have our issues.Recommend

  • Critical

    After 5 minutes,if you ask whats the problem

    She would reply ” Dont act as if you dont know anything…You KNOW WHATS THE PROBLEM?”Recommend

  • نائلہ

    It’s cos we leave HINTS and other women get them easily. But you men have to be explained everything!Recommend

  • Syeda KAzmi

    but dun u think that its a complement for a girl that she is actually a beauty with talent? whts so bad in it if u get highlighted for ur talent plus ur looks as well..Recommend

  • Sesapzai

    No. I don’t think it is a compliment at all. Why? Because a woman who is beautiful (and knows it) doesn’t need anyone’s superficial certificate of approval. Besides, most of these female players are rarely complimented about their playing skills, especially if they also happen to be attractive. More (and only focus) is usually placed on how “hot” she is, or how “short” her skirt is. Rarely do I hear (men) say, “Wow, she’s such a great player!” Many, albeit not all, will quickly compliment on her looks, or the way she’s dressed, or whatever. The focus is placed more on her looks than her skills; there is no balance at all. And that is something I just cannot tolerate.Recommend

  • Critical

    Being together for millions of years still women dont understand that men DONT understand Hints….

    We are like the Logic gates…We only have 2 answers ..Yes or No…1 or 0…. ON or OFFRecommend

  • نائلہ

    Why haven’t men evolved to understand them though? It’s harder to unlearn something than to learn it, surely. Recommend

  • Jafarey

    What you’re talking about is completely different and you a generalising too much. I’m a woman and if a guy offers to help with heavy luggage at the airport I appreciate and thank him for the gesture. If a man lets me go before him at the checkout counter and I’m not in a rush I say ‘no thank you’ becuase I’m okay waiting for my turn.
    If however a man tells me to ‘twirl and show off my outfit’ I won’t take it because I refuse to be judged for my appearance over my intellect and hard work. I refuse to let a man objectify me like that because it IS sexist.Recommend

  • Maximus Decimus Meridius

    If everyone is wearing simple white sports shorts and shirt and you show up wearing a pink and neon outfit. Then a TV presenter has all the right to request you to give it a twirl so that all your fans can appreciate your dress. As I already said, ten of thousands of young girls try to emulate these sportswomen, and almost all of them would have loved the twirl.Recommend