Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gender Polarization in Professional Tennis

Many of us enjoy watching tennis matches. We are entertained by the excitement of the game, the gracefulness and probably the elegance of the players. However, it takes sociologists to pinpoint various sociological aspects in professional tennis, and one of the most prevalent of these is gender polarization.

For instance, if you glance at the outfit of the male and female players, you will find tremendous differences. Men usually dress in loose short-sleeved t-shirts and knee-length shorts. This type of clothing identifies the masculinity of the men, which makes them look socially acceptable. On the other hand, women immensely integrate fashion into their sport. Their typical clothing would be short skirts, shorts with tank tops, or a short dress. However, women players wear these garments in attractive colors, exotic designs and glamorous jewelry on-court, which bring a lot of attention beyond their performance. Obviously, women players commit to such fashion statements because they want to remain feminine regardless of the athleticism their sport demands. Sometimes these outfits are very controversial, which was the case many times with the former world number one American tennis player, Serena Williams, who wore a leather-like catsuit in the 2002 US Open. Also, in the same event in 2004, she showed up in boots and a denim skirt.

Another aspect that shows gender polarization in professional tennis, is the game style. Men not only have more powerful consistent ground strokes, but they also like to attack a lot by moving forward to the net and finishing the point with a sensational volley. Also, the speed of men’s serve can reach to 250 kph. In contrast, if you watch the women’s game, you will see a lot of long rallies thanks to their excellent coverage of the court, but you hardly see them introducing exciting strategies as men do. They simply just hit and return the ball till one of the players makes an error or misses a shot. So men are paid more due to their capability to entertain the crowd more with their outstanding game tactics, but also in the grand slam tournaments men play best of five sets while women just play best of three. The idea of sexism fits perfectly in this scenario, as the male players receive more audience due to their high quality matches and they get paid more because they play more sets in major tournaments. As a response to this sex discrimination, many women players underwent a feminist movement to prove that they are just as good and achieve equality. Examples of these feminist acts would be when a number of top WTA players like Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki justified why they should be paid more. They said that they do a lot of endorsements, and that spike up the financial state of the businesses involved in making professional tennis possible. Besides, women tennis is becoming more aggressive and physical, so people start to sense that the women are playing and behaving more manly on the court. For instance, they run faster, hit harder and grunt louder. One of my all time favorite women’s matches, which exhibited the masculinity women players are increasingly integrating in their game was the semifinal of the 2005 Australian open championship between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Here is the video of the match:

Moreover, regarding the feminist actions taken by the female players, the WTA created a global campaign with the tagline “Strong is beautiful.” This campaign featured 38 of the professional players and the advertisement that was produced showed the women wearing very revealing tennis clothing to display their athletic bodies while hitting aggressively their shots in slow motion. The ad clearly illustrated that women players are capable to deliver assertive tennis without any compromises to their femininity.

If you also analyzed how male and female players celebrate their victory on court, you can recognize obvious differences. Men usually collapse on their backs with their legs wide open or jump around very vigorously. As an example of how wild Novak Djokovic celebrated his first Wimbledon title this year, he snatched up some blades of grass and shoved them in his mouth. But for women no matter how exciting the moment can feel like, they still take less bustling actions. Crying is quite common among women who win majors, and that explains that women are more emotional than men.

Besides, the commercialization of gender ideals, which is the process of introducing products to the market by using advertising and sales campaigns that draw on socially constructed standards of masculinity and femininity, heavily influences the type of commercials male and female players do. For instance, male players usually promote technical items like cars, rackets and watches. However, women players would advertise items related to beauty like shampoos and deodorants. And even when these women are featured in commercials about cameras and rackets, they still embrace their feminine appearance mixed with the assertive attitude.

All in all, gender polarization nearly exists in every facet of our lives. It is the people’s duty to conform to their gender ideals in order to keep the socialization process functioning well. But sometimes, gender polarization can be detrimental to women’s growth and success in certain fields. That is why women feel it’s unfair to live in a “glass ceiling” society, and that motivates them to lead feminist movements. In many cases, feminist acts were successful and society gradually started to perceive that it’s “okay” to see women working in areas that are masculine in nature and receiving privileges that they never used to be awarded before. However, it would be considered socially deviant if men started to engage in more feminine-like activities. They would probably receive a lot of sanctions and will not feel as comfortable as women feel working in more manly environments. That is just how society works.

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