Guest blog: For one Wimbledon champion, triumph was overshadowed by abuse

(62 Posts)
HannahMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 08-Jul-13 16:02:50

On Saturday, Marion Bartoli beat Sabine Lisicki to become Wimbledon women's singles champion. It should have been a moment of triumph, but instead Bartoli found herself the target of a barrage of abuse focusing on her appearance - including a comment from the BBC's John Inverdale, characterizing her as "not a looker".

In this post, novelist and blogger Rosie Fiore examines what the aggressive reaction to the tennis champion tells us about our culture, and what it means for our children.

Let us know what you think here on the thread - and if you blog on this topic, don't forget to leave your URL.

When I'm not writing novels and being a (fairly opinionated) blogger, my day job is as a freelance copywriter. Today I am doing product copy for a company which sells crafts kits for children. Every single one I have written about his morning which is aimed at girls has had a beauty angle. Design clothes, make your own lip gloss, make jewellery - it's as if girls' only concern is what they look like <heavy sarcastic sigh>.

But if you watched sport over the weekend, that's exactly what you would have been led to believe. I'm not going to link to John Inverdale's odious and inexcusable "not a looker so she'd better be scrappy" comment about Wimbledon Women Singles Champion Marion Bartoli. You've read it everywhere, along with his equally offensive non-apology. However you might not have seen this selection of tweets from various members of the public, posted during the match. These were gathered by @EverydaySexism. Many have since been deleted, and the accounts closed. Seems these big men aren't brave enough to stand by what they say when challenged.

The vitriol in the tweets is astonishing. One goes so far as to suggest Bartoli is too ugly to be raped. Her crime? She isn't as conventionally blonde, slender and pretty as her opponent. They're cross, because there's a woman out there, doing something astonishing in public, and they don't want to have sex with her. Think about that for a second.

On Sunday, Bartoli didn't appear on the cover of any national newspaper, despite being the Wimbledon champion.

Compare and contrast with the (justifiable) delight around Andy Murray's win. I know he is the first British MALE winner in umpty-umpt years, but still: he is on the front page of every conceivable newspaper; David Cameron was on television this morning saying that "no one is more deserving of a knighthood" (no one? Really Dave?), and yet - not one single person, to my knowledge, has commented publicly on whether or not they consider him attractive enough to have sex with.

Many press outlets scrambled to compensate today, printing pictures of Bartoli in a short black dress at the Wimbledon Ball, as if to say, "See? She IS pretty, so it's all okay. We love her, honest."

So here's my question. What if your daughter isn't pretty? How do you raise her to believe she has value in the world?

If a young woman who attains the peak of physical perfection and skill - to the point that she wins the greatest tennis title in the world against strong odds - has to face what Bartoli has faced, what chance do other girls have? Women in other fields experience it: witness Hillary Clinton, Theresa May, Mary Beard, all vilified by the press and members of the public for daring not to be beautiful. It happens to other women in sport too: Olympic weightlifter Zoe Smith got it and challenged her detractors. I blogged about her last year.

Women have to battle sexism in every area of work and endeavour already. Women's sport for example, gets 0.5% of sponsorship and 5% of TV coverage. How can we add another layer of difficulty, by insisting that women can only succeed if they also meet a Lisicki-style standard of beauty?

So make a small difference today. Talk to a small girl and praise her for something. ANYTHING other than being pretty, wearing a pretty dress, or having lovely hair. Praise her for being imaginative, athletic, brave or funny. Encourage her to develop her skill and challenge herself in a wide range of fields. Help her be good at something other than being beautiful. And if, god forbid, the endless murmuring of vitriol reaches her and she expresses doubts about her body, keep telling her that it is perfect. The perfect body for the job it's doing.

Rosie Fiore is the author of Wonder Women. She blogs at Wordmonkey and is @rosiefiore on Twitter.

Poledra Tue 09-Jul-13 13:19:35

Excellent piece - have complained to the BBC both about the original remarks and the pathetic excuse for an apology that he trotted out.

grimbletart Tue 09-Jul-13 15:23:05

Just read the Twitter stuff. Massive mistake. And here I was thinking we are an evolved species - clearly there are still some wallowing in the primordial swamp even if they have learned to master a keyboard.

lana27 Tue 09-Jul-13 16:55:01

Where do I even start?, welcome to the world of colored women, mostly black women, Even the compliment we receive are like a sharp double sided sword, and I quote!'' you too pretty for a black girl'' , ''are you sure your not mixed?'' imagine a 5 year old little girl painting her face white or even yellow, anything is better than being black... or picking up anything that resembles blond hair and putting it on her head...

Is this just the work of the media? Or do we have a very big part that we play in propagating these stereotypes? next time your adding extensions or putting on make up while your little girl is watching? what are you saying to her? or to frame it non controversially. what is she thinking while looking at you? I am not against make up and I also happen to be the girl-iest girl around. But most of our insecurities are founded in childhood, because it is a stage where everything just is! a child has no power to change anything and so they accept all these crazy ideas around them,...but what's worse is that most people hate things about themselves that were first ever pointed out by their own mothers. are we so undetached from our families and selves that we let strangers influence the capacity of our intelligence by effectively deciding for us what is beautiful?

Serena and Savanna Williams sailed this boat too. if I ever have a girl I will try my best to let her know that she is perfect just the way she is, coz that is how God wanted her to be, but the most important lesson is we are defined by our deeds not our appearance, unless you are Helen of Troy. After all is said and done, beauty shall always remain in the eyes of the beholder.

MissM Tue 09-Jul-13 17:09:28

Feel quite emotional reading this post. Spot on. But I also thought Bartoli handled the whole Inverdale thing with such dignity and poise. 'Have I ever dreamed of being a model? No. Have I ever dreamed of winning Wimbledon? Every day of my life' (or words to that effect). Bloody good for her, and I know which dream I'd rather come true, and which dream I'd rather my daughter had.

scallopsrgreat Tue 09-Jul-13 18:50:05

Excellent piece. Thank you Rosie.

BasilBabyEater Tue 09-Jul-13 20:14:10

Great blog post, thank you.

namechangeguy Tue 09-Jul-13 21:40:50

Inverdale has acted like a complete tosser over this issue. He is a rude and insensitive fool.

The title of the OP, though - does anyone really think that Marion Bartoli really gives two hoots what a nomark like Inverdale thinks about how she looks after two hours of tennis in blazing sunshine? She is a world-class athlete who has reached the pinnacle of her sport after years of dedication. I get that the OP might be offended on her behalf. I would imagine that Ms Bartoli is basking in the glory of being Wimbledon singles champion though.

BasilBabyEater Tue 09-Jul-13 22:10:03

But all the teenage girls and women out there who haven't got a Wimbledon trophy, will be reminded that nothing they achieve matters if men don't want to fuck them, Namechangeguy.

BasilBabyEater Tue 09-Jul-13 22:10:58

And he's more than a rude and insensitive fool.

He's a sexist one.

If he were a racist one, he'd be sacked for it.

But sexism is still acceptable in public life.

namechangeguy Tue 09-Jul-13 22:22:37

Inverdale might think that, Basil. But I don't. My wife never won Wimbledon (she is useless at tennis). I bet most of the married women in here haven't got a Wimbledon singles title between them, so there are several men out there who think that his point is stupid. That's a start, at least.

Sky sacked Gray and Keys over a similar incident, and that was in the laddish, male-dominated world of Premiership football. This kind of bollocks is no longer acceptable - surely that is why there has been such an outcry. I am not sure we have heard the last of this.

MrsOnslow Wed 10-Jul-13 09:44:52

Could not agree with article more. Well said Rosie.

BasilBabyEater Wed 10-Jul-13 16:17:07

I hope you're right NCG.

Inverdale needs to be sacked to show that the BBC takes sexism as seriously as it does racism.

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