There’s no doubt that more and more women are embracing the whole “strong is the new skinny” concept. Just scroll through your Instagram feed and you’ll find women not only celebrating their muscular physiques, but how their strength has enabled them to participate in athletic endeavors like CrossFit, obstacle races, and even swinging around a sledgehammer. But, it seems, being too strong has some raising their eyebrows. Just ask Venus and Serena Williams.
This past weekend, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation Shamil Tarpischev called the tennis pros the "Williams Brothers" on a late night Russian television show, remarking “it’s scary when you really look at them.”
Naturally, the Williams sisters found these comments to be more than a little inconsiderate. “I thought they were very insensitive and extremely sexist as well as racist at the same time,” Serena Williams said in a press conference at the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) championships in Singapore. “I thought they were in a way bullying.”
The WTA agreed, suspending Tarpischev for one year and fining him $25,000 for making comments that many have found demeaning.
Russian-born Maria Sharapova, who has represented her country’s tennis circuit for more than a decade, also addressed Tarpischev’s remarks: “I think they were very disrespectful and uncalled-for, and I’m glad that many people have stood up, including the WTA,” she said at a WTA press conference. “It was very inappropriate, especially in his position and all the responsibilities that he has not just in this sport, but being part of the Olympic committee. It was just really irresponsible on his side.”
This isn't the first time Venus and Serena have been criticized for their appearance: In the past, everything from their braided hairstyles, powerful swings, and weight have been hot topics of discussion. But calling these powerful tennis legends "scary" is a new low.
The tennis court obviously isn’t the only place where women's femininity is being scrutinized. Earlier this summer, The New Republic unearthed a poignant anecdote from Tina Fey's Bossypants in an essay that went viral. When Amy Poehler was new to Saturday Night Live, she was being loud and vulgar in the writer's room and the show’s then-star Jimmy Fallon jokingly told her that she wasn’t acting ladylike. “It’s not cute! I don’t like it!” he said. Poehler responded, “I don’t f**king care if you like it.”
Jokes aside, the real question is: Who gave people permission to make these negative comments about women? We need a culture where women are valued for the essence of what they bring to table, not the size of their physical assets—be they too small or too big or not "cute" enough to gain a stamp of approval from some imaginary review board.
Despite the continued volley of this conversation, it’s evident that Serena Williams isn’t allowing these comments to hurt her game. She won her opening match at the WTA Finals on Monday, beating the seventh-seeded Ana Ivanovic.
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