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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.

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.

RodentOfUnusualSize Mon 08-Jul-13 21:59:39

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!

MrsMigginslovespies Tue 09-Jul-13 10:07:59

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.

TapselteerieO Tue 09-Jul-13 12:17:28

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

TapselteerieO Tue 09-Jul-13 12:25:28

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.

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