Louise Conaty ’17
Many of us know Serena Williams as one of the most famous female athletes of all time. Her success on the tennis court has made her the highest paid female athlete of 2016, receiving 28.9 million in awards and sponsorships. Williams has won 4 Olympic gold medals, 22 grand slam singles titles, 14 grand slam doubles titles, along with many other accolades over the course of her life. In addition, she is the only tennis player—male or female—to win 309 singles matches at the Grand Slams. But over the course of her career she has proven to the world that she is more than just one of the greatest female athletes—she is one of the greatest athletes of all time.
Recently, Williams has become more than just an amazing tennis star; she is also an advocate for women. Last March, CEO and tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open (“Indian Wells”), Raymond Moore stated, “if I were a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank god that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were born because they’ve carried the sport.” Moore’s degrading comments not only shocked the tennis community, but they sparked intense conversation among feminists. Moore’s words struck a serious cord in Williams, and she has thrown herself into the movement to empower girls.
Most recently, in the Porter Magazine’s Incredible Women of 2016 issue, Williams stated her case in an open letter:
“To all incredible women who strive for excellence,
When I was growing up, I had a dream. I’m sure you did, too. My dream wasn’t like that of an average kid, my dream was to be the best tennis player in the world. Not the best “female” tennis player in the world.
I was fortunate to have a family that supported my dream and encouraged me to follow it. I learned not to be afraid. I learned how important it is to fight for a dream and, most importantly, to dream big. My fight began when I was three and I haven’t taken a break since.
But as we know, too often women are not supported enough or are discouraged from choosing their path. I hope together we can change that. For me, it was a question of resilience. What others marked as flaws or disadvantages about myself – my race, my gender – I embraced as fuel for my success. I never let anything or anyone define me or my potential. I controlled my future.
So when the subject of equal pay comes up, it frustrates me because I know firsthand that I, like you, have done the same work and made the same sacrifices as our male counterparts. I would never want my daughter to be paid less than my son for the same work. Nor would you.
As we know, women have to break down many barriers on the road to success. One of those barriers is the way we are constantly reminded we are not men, as if it is a flaw. People call me one of the “world’s greatest female athletes”. Do they say LeBron is one of the world’s best male athletes? Is Tiger? Federer? Why not? They are certainly not female. We should never let this go unchallenged. We should always be judged by our achievements, not by our gender.
For everything I’ve achieved in my life, I am profoundly grateful to have experienced the highs and lows that come with success. It is my hope that my story, and yours, will inspire all young women out there to push for greatness and follow their dreams with steadfast resilience. We must continue to dream big, and in doing so, we empower the next generation of women to be just as bold in their pursuits.”
Williams words evoke many of the emotions successful women feel today. By encouraging women—and men—to challenge gender stereotypes and judge people off of their own achievements, she emphasizes the power of the free individual, unchained from prejudice. William’s words will not transform an entire culture, but they will inspire many girls to take down social barriers and to never stop challenging the inequality women face today.
Williams, one of the greatest athletes of all time, has embarked on her mission as an activist for feminist values.