Sexism in tennis?

When a big tennis tournament gets rolling, such as the U.S. Open, men and women play this event at the same time, with the same amount of broadcasting. However,  in other “big” sports, men and women have completely different schedules. I then realized that EVERY pro tennis tournament throughout the year, with an exception of a couple, is played by both men and women. The Australian Open, which is part of the four big Grand slam tournaments, just passed and the Men’s champion and Women’s champion both received the same amount of prize money. This also surprised me, because in a sport like basketball, the male players make A LOT more than the female players. So I came up with the research question of:

Is tennis perceived as an easy sport due to the fact that men and women tennis players are now treated equally? Does the media play a role in this?

In my first source that I got from ‘Journal of Sports and Social Issues’ is titled “Break Points: Narrative interruption in the life of Billie Jean King,” by Susan Birrell and Mary McDonald. This article talks about the life of Billie Jean King, an open lesbian tennis player that accomplished so much for not only women’s tennis, but tennis as we see it today. At one point, she was not openly lesbian, and was married to a man. She was later caught cheating with another women, and the press ate this up.  She helped women’s tennis by showing society that women should be treated as equally as men. King achieved this by competing against a professional male tennis player, Bobby Riggs, broadcasted live across the world. King ended up defeating Riggs, and from that point on, women’s tennis completely changed. “The most famous episode in this dominant construction of King is her triumph over Bobby Riggs in the tennis Battle of the Sexes where the feminist soundly defeated the self-proclaimed male chauvinist in straight sets” (Birrell, McDonald: 344). Billie Jean King is one of the main reasons why women’s and men’s tennis are treated equally.

In next article, written by Nancy Spencer, titled “Once Upon A Subculture: Professional Women’s Tennis and the Meaning of Style, 1970-1974″is about how female tennis players have become the most highly visible female athletes. Spencer explains her reasoning behind this: “…Professional Women’s tennis emerged as a distinctive subculture that can be articulated through four key events: (a) the appearance of a separate Virginia Slims-sponsored tournament in 1970 and later tour, (b) the provision of a separate United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA)-sponsored women’s tour in 1973, (c) the billie Jean King Versus Bobby Riggs match in 1973, and (d) the merger between the Virginia Slims and USLTA tours, culminating in a unified tour for 1974” (Spencer, 365). She expands on each of these topics, explaining how they all lead to female tennis players, such as Steffi Graff, gaining millions of dollars in prize money, making them the highest paid female athletes.

In my last article, again written by Nancy Spencer, titled”Act VI: Venus and Serena Williams at Indian Wells: “Sincere Fictions” and White Racism,” talks about the Williams sisters, two very famous female tennis players, and their experience at the Indian Wells tennis tournament. Serena and Venus Williams were expected to play each other in the semifinals of  the Indian Wells tennis tournament on March 15, 2001. However, Venus ended up withdrawing from the match, and there were reports that their father, Richard Williams, forced Venus to default. This spread all over the media and turned into a big mess for the Williams sisters, causing racial discrimination. Another topic that Spencer briefly discusses is the built of Serena and Venus Williams. “In the article titled ‘Bod Squad’ that accompanied the cover photo of Venus and Serena, Brooks (2002) acknowledged that the Williams sisters worked hard to obtain their ‘Hard Bodies.’ ” (Spencer, 121). Venus and Serena both have muscular bodies, which is a common stereotype of female tennis players, while male tennis players have the stereotype of being skinny and non-muscular. Later on in the article, Spencer discusses how the Williams sisters each earned millions of dollars on sponsorship deals with Reebok and Puma, which was almost unheard for female athletes at that time. “Venus inked a $40 Million deal with Reebok on the clothing front, Serena sealed a $12 million deal with Puma” (Spencer, 128). Since Venus and Serena were all over the media for their racial situation at the Indian Wells tournament, they gained a lot of attention by society, which actually helped the popularity of Women’s tennis.


These three articles all expand on how Women’s tennis players have become one of the highest paid and most acknowledged female athletes, with the help of the media.


1) Susan Birrell and Mary G. McDonald. “Break Points: Narrative Interruption in the Life of Billie Jean King.” Journal of Sport & Social Issues, November 2012; vol. 36, 4: pp. 343-360., first published on May 15, 2012

2)Nancy E. Spencer. “Sister Act VI: Venus and Serena Williams at Indian Wells: ‘Sincere Fictions’ and White Racism.”Journal of Sport & Social Issues, May 2004; vol. 28, 2: pp. 115-135.

3) Nancy E. Spencer. “ONCE UPON A SUBCULTURE: Professional Women’s Tennis and the Meaning of Style, 1970-1974” Journal of Sport & Social Issues, November 1997; vol. 21, 4: pp. 363-378

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1 Response to Sexism in tennis?

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    Interesting articles to answer an interesting question. They all deal more with the rise and issues of women’s tennis more so than its interaction with men’s tennis. How will you expand these sources to address your question with solid evidence and analysis? I’d enjoy hearing a bit more about how you see these three sources contributing to an overall understanding of women’s tennis as well.

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