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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.

glenthebattleostrich Mon 08-Jul-13 17:51:52

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

pigsinmud 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

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