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.

LalyRawr Mon 08-Jul-13 16:07:59

God I agree with this so much.

There are not enough words in the English language to express how much I agree with this.

Brilliant piece.

grimbletart Mon 08-Jul-13 17:16:51

Just "Yes"

PetiteRaleuse Mon 08-Jul-13 17:22:23

Well said. Bartoli has been the subject of jibes and comments about her looks/ weight in the media here in France for years, as was Mauresmo before her. It is very sad that this is still acceptable.

To be expected, though still deplored from a certain type of twitter troll; not acceptable in any way from someone like Inverdale, light-heartedly or not.

As she is used to such comments I am sure Bartoli will rise above this and savour her amazing victory. It is a worrying state of affairs for young girls trying to get ahead in sport or any other domaine, however.

Well said. I raise my DD to believed she can be anything she wants to be, looks don't even come into it. It saddens me that this is what she will grow up with.

darkishhorse Mon 08-Jul-13 17:54:08

Couldn't agree more!

NonnoMum Mon 08-Jul-13 17:54:35

Good post.
Thank you.

Fozziebearmum2be Mon 08-Jul-13 18:09:35

Completely agree! I read the article with rage around her now looking 'beautiful' and shutting up John Inverdale....

I can't ever think of an example of a sportsman being treated like this..

Fozziebearmum2be Mon 08-Jul-13 18:11:08

Caster Semenya.... The runner who had to prove she was female for goodness sake, so many examples!

pebblepots Mon 08-Jul-13 18:17:27

Wow, my heart feels heavy for my daughter who is going to grow up in this society

Badvoc Mon 08-Jul-13 18:26:04

Agree totally.

lottieandmia Mon 08-Jul-13 18:30:43

Yep, horribly sexist - her looks should not even be commented on they are irrelevant. It certainly does show that women are not valued if they aren't good looking in our society.

gazzalw Mon 08-Jul-13 18:39:33

There's nothing wrong with the way she looks....

ArfurFoulkesayke Mon 08-Jul-13 18:40:16

Women also are not valued if they are attractive - Inverdale's comment implied that Sharapova had somehow had an easier ride to being a Grand Slam winner because she's easy on the eye. It should be completely irrelevant, as it is for the men, and I'm appalled she had to stoop to acknowledge it, frankly.

omri Mon 08-Jul-13 18:51:21

Love to read things that I agree 100% with especially when I find it hard to articulate my rage and sadness About all these issues. Thank you for articulating so eloquently. Here's to educating all the young girls we know smile

schilke Mon 08-Jul-13 19:06:33

Absolutely. I read some of those tweets on Saturday that @EverydaySexism had collated - James Corden had retweeted it which is how I came by it. I was horrified. I was in tears. I couldn't believe someone could write those things about another person.

lottieandmia Mon 08-Jul-13 19:32:42

I agree Arfur - nobody can win.

The point about Virginia Wade's win being ignored also illustrates how sexist tennis still is.

And there is nothing at all wrong with Bartoli's looks I agree - but it's irrelevant - whether you're beautiful or ugly as sin that has nothing to do with tennis ability.

skislope Mon 08-Jul-13 19:53:07

I missed she won at all but just googled her and apart from this article being clearly totally spot on, what's wrong with her appearance? She looks lovely in some pics. Not that that is the point of course...
I do worry about my daughter, the pressure, the cruelty of school years and the judgement of the rest of life...and she's only two. And gorgeous to me of course!

Selks Mon 08-Jul-13 20:27:20


toldmywrath Mon 08-Jul-13 20:56:47

When Marion won I thought what a delightful woman-so likeable & clearly a great athlete. I understand she is very highly regarded by the other tennis players & I can see why-a lovely person.
I totally agree with Rosie's comments.

zamantha Mon 08-Jul-13 20:59:35

It is hard for all of us to feel physically good about ourselves and when a perfectly fine, ordinary woman Bartoli is subjugated to this criticism it makes us all feel worse - should we take the limelight with that kind of commentary?

It is damaging to all us women when such comments are made - it chips away at us. It is quite sad in a post-feminism era - what stops us from progressing?

KaseyM Mon 08-Jul-13 21:07:30

It's disgusting that our girls have to put up with this shit. I've seen it on YouTube too where if it's a woman there are way more comments on her appearance and fuckability.

What freedom men have, to just do and be judged for doing. To not be afraid that they will face this kind of judgement. I envy them.

joanofarchitrave Mon 08-Jul-13 21:20:19

Great post. Agree that John Inverdale should apologise to Sharapova too. Privately, as I would like him not to have a public platform any more.

MissMarplesBloomers Mon 08-Jul-13 21:22:44

Brilliant article!

IceNoSlice Mon 08-Jul-13 21:34:04

Completely agree.

I am also very much in favour of 'let toys be toys' and it saddens me that everything for girls seems to have a beauty, baking, princess etc theme to it sad

elastamum Mon 08-Jul-13 21:41:15

He should be fired by the Beeb. Totally unacceptable.

timidviper Mon 08-Jul-13 21:54:56

Excellent post by the OP and very disappointing behaviour from John Inverdale, it has really lowered my opinion of him

Emswackrow Mon 08-Jul-13 21:57:00

The great thing about Bartoli is that she is completely natural: as a tennis player her technique is certainly not found in any coaching manual and I think she demonstrates that you can be a bit different and play to your strengths and still be an amazing champion. I think this is great message that applies outside sport and that we should be trying to give all girls - that you don't have to follow the crowd or 'fit in' to find success and fulfilment in life. I really strongly believe that and the day that idiotic sexist comments undermine that belief will be a sad day indeed. It's such a shame we are having to have this debate because the focus should be on the fact that she won the biggest prize in tennis and that is something to be celebrated.

Brilliant piece. Thank you for writing this.

Mumofthreeteens Mon 08-Jul-13 22:55:43

Excellent article. Shocked at John Innverdale's outrageous comment and non apology. Did any journalists comment on Andy not smartening himself up for his final? No of course not. It was all about the tennis; as it should be too for the women.

HesterShaw Mon 08-Jul-13 23:21:38

Thank you for writing this.

I am SO disappointed and angry with John Inverdale. He should be grovelling to Bartoli, not issueing some half-baked excuse for an apology. He should also say sorry to Sharapova and in fact to every female sportsman for his horrible attitude. I'm not even going to mention their looks, simply because they are professional tennis players and they should not have any pressure to look any way. Justine Henin apparently used to pull her baseball cap down low over her face because she was self conscious about how she looked - how sad is that? Imagine if Virginia Wade or Ann Jones - both of them Wimbledon champions and neither of them conventional "beauties" - were playing today. Imagine the level of vitriol they would face.

As for those tweets.....I despair. Where are these guys getting this attitude from? And does it manifest themselves in their everyday lives? Do normal men think like this? Does the nice, normal seeming electrician bloke who runs the shop next to mine think this about me - someone I think is a good mate? Foulness like this suddenly makes you question the motives of all the men you know - it's horrible.

Grumpla Tue 09-Jul-13 04:35:11

Excellent article.

We need to stay angry about this.

Tee2072 Tue 09-Jul-13 05:58:47

Yes. What she said.

And what Bartoli herself said, which I am paraphrasing "Who cares what he said? I just won Wimbeldon."

speedyboots Tue 09-Jul-13 07:01:38

Excellent piece. While of course the twitter comments are horrific and Inverdale's comments indefensible, the way that female sport is casually ignored (e.g. no front page coverage of Bartoli's win) also sends a clear message - just like all the 'first winner in 77 years' headlines - about the lack of importance given to women within sport and society as a whole.

CorrieDale Tue 09-Jul-13 07:10:10

Brilliant article. Absolutely spot on. And I couldn't agree more with CaseyM too.

Mumofthreeteens Tue 09-Jul-13 07:11:32

Forgot to add that those disgusting men who wrote those revolting tweets should be named and shamed. The fuss that was made when that drunken fool wrote tweets about Mumba (?) the footballer and subsequent jail sentence personally I feel these are much worse.

manicinsomniac Tue 09-Jul-13 07:38:58

Totally agree with what tha article says about the reaction ot Bartoli. Really shocking opinions, especially the rape one - think that man should be tracked down and arrested, what he said was beyond vile.

However, I disagree that the personal appearance comments are limited only to men. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard/seen Murray referred to as an 'ugly Scottish munter' or 'miserable and fugly' etc and loads of people seem to bemoan the fact he's not as 'fit' as Federer or Djokovic. It was the same with Henman. I used to have a crush on him aged 14 or so and was ridiculed because 'he looks like a rabbit' and 'why would want to have sex with someone who looks like that?'

I think the message of this blog needs to be extended to - these are professional athletes at the top of their game. They are in the medial for their skill and their looks and personalities, for both males and females, are irrelevant.

YippeeTeenager Tue 09-Jul-13 08:33:51

I am so angry about this I've got off my bum and complained to the BBC. So, please, if you think this is wrong, log a complaint. It's really easy, just google 'BBC complaint' and you can do it online. I'm just as cross about the BBC's response so far as I am about what John Inverdale said (well nearly!). This is ingrained sexism at its worst and I have now got to the point where I am so fed up about how women are being treated that I really think it's time we all stood up and got counted. angry

Doyouthinktheysaurus Tue 09-Jul-13 09:53:47

Very well said.

I too liked Bartolli's comeback, it was very good. Just a shame she was put in the position of having to respond to such a prat!

Totally agree. Great piece.

LoveBeingUpAt4InTheMorning Tue 09-Jul-13 10:17:12

Yes, yes, yes

Empress77 Tue 09-Jul-13 11:05:18

This is shocking, I cant believe those twitter comments. I will complain to the BBC too.

Empress77 Tue 09-Jul-13 11:24:20

have complained to the BBC - I dont think an apology really cuts it does it. It really is an awful attitude put out there and think thats ok to say. Crikey what hope do we have as women if its not even enough to win Wimbledon, you have to do it looking super sexy.

juneau Tue 09-Jul-13 11:40:02

I heartily agree with everything you've written. It's so bloody depressing that in 2013 a woman is only valued for how she looks, rather than what she does, what kind of a person she is, etc. The world seems to want us all to be mindless barbie dolls, dressed to perfection just so we can be ogled by men. Ugh! And look at the men making all these horrible comments - are they attractive? Do they take care of themselves? Watch what they eat? Work out? Almost universally, a big fat NO!

MostlyCake Tue 09-Jul-13 11:41:42

It's really shocking - I complained to the BBC about his comments, details and link here if anyone else wants to:

On BBC Radio 5 Live he remarked: "Do you think Bartoli's dad told her when she was little: 'You're never going to be a looker, you'll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight'? Why do her looks matter one jot??? So angry!!

BBC Radio 5 Live, broadcast Sunday 7th July.

I don't think Inverdale should be keeping his job, really think commenting casually on physical appearance is wrong on so many levels.

I really want to say also how wonderful I think Bartoli is, if my dd grows up with the passion and commitment she has I will be one very proud parent.

MadameGazelleIsMyMum Tue 09-Jul-13 12:45:19

Great blog, totally agree.

Lottapianos Tue 09-Jul-13 13:00:52

Great blog. How utterly pathetic John Inverdale is - such an arrogant and ridiculous thing to say. When you've been called out on being an utter muppet, at least try to redeem yourself by apologising properly and holding your hands up and thinking about someone other than yourself for just 5 seconds. The BBC should be coming down hard on this and they're not. Infuriating.

Other people have made the point that racist comments are quite rightly very much not acceptable anymore, whereas sexist comments are all good apparently so long as you issue some half-hearted non-apology to keep the feminists happy angry

Sonotkylie Tue 09-Jul-13 13:06:39

Thank you for writing this.
I too am horrified by John Inverdale's comments but more so because it says that society thinks its OK for him to say things like that. Was the BBC switchboard jammed with complaints - no, of course it wasn't (but well done those who did - and I'm off to do it now). Your blog gets us a bit closer to the day when it will be.

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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