Response - “Do female tennis players deserve equal pay?”

I must admit, I am not the biggest tennis fan. In fact, despite growing up in a family that avidly follows the Australian Open, during the Women’s Grand Final I went to the cinema to watch the Book Thief and through the Men’s Grand Final I was reading The White Queen in bed. When I read Gary Oldman’s article, however, I couldn’t help but write a response to what I perceived as being a sexist and poorly argued piece of writing. It is important to mention that there are credible arguments against female tennis players deserving equal pay, however, most of the fundamental points in Oldmans article are flawed. This article will debunk them one by one.

Prior to this deconstruction it is important to mention that the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is asking for equal pay in regards to prize money for Grand Slam Titles. Therefore, it is not really “equal pay” because a tennis player’s “pay” is greatly dependent on the number of matches played and sponsorship. Currently, the only Grand Slam Tournament to dish out equal prize money to women is Wimbledon, which has been offering equal prize money to women since 2007. Furthermore, the Australian Open has ruled that  female tennis players will not be awarded equal prize money until they play five-set-matches.

My first problem with Oldman’s article lies in his objectification of women. Oldman explained that the popularity of Maria Sharapovas matches are in a large part “because millions of young men want to fuck you, not because you’re actually objectively better than Simon, let alone Federer, Djokovic, Nadal or Murray.” Oldman does not give credit to Sharapova’s four Grand Slam singles titles. Rather, Oldman reduces Sharapova to a mere sex-toy for men. Her achievements as a sporting champion are undermined because of sexist men like Oldman. Alas, I cannot slam Oldman for all the sexism that is embedded in sport.

Reducing women to sex objects in sport is by no means limited to Tennis. In fact, The Daily Life recently reported a case concerning Ellyse Perry, who has represented Australia internationally in both cricket and soccer. A meme was posted highlighting her success and the responses that followed were absolutely appalling. One of the less offensive was “She must have a really long chain to reach a cricket pitch”. Although many would argue that the comments were “trolls”, the fact that Perry’s name is not well known exemplifies how little attention sportswomen are given.

Oldman then goes on to argue that if women are given equal pay to men then “wheelchair tennis players should be taking home multimillion dollar paychecks, too.” [sic]. The argument that women play “worse” tennis than men is fairly irrelevant when it comes to equal prize money. The measurements should be based upon sponsorship, viewership, ticket prices, training costs, etc. Furthermore, many would argue that women’s matches require a different skill set to male’s matches and thus it can be equally as interesting. For example, during the 2012 U.S Open finals, according to sports illustrated, 16 million people watched Andy Murray vs. Novak Djokovic yet 17.7 million watched Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka. I sincerely hope Oldman doesn’t think that 17.7 million people watch the Ladies Final for masturbation inspiration.

Oldman’s next point is that Caucasian males do not demand an NBA equivalent to African-American players. Thus, he quotes “why don’t we separate white and black men in the sports of basketball, sprinting and swimming, then pay them the same, just as we do with men and women in tennis?”. This argument is fundamentally flawed and it is the premises for your entire argument.  To reiterate, skill level, although important is not the crux of the equal prize money argument put forward by the WTA. In fact, Serena Williams, in response to Andy Murray’s offer to play a match together stated “I doubt I’d win a point, but that would be fun”. If you are trying to argue that we should not divide sporting competitions into a male-female categories that is a completely different issue unrelated to the “equal prize money” debate.

The final part of Goldman’s article centres around the fact that women do not play five sets because the WTA’s mouth is “wired shut” on the issue. Therefore, women tennis players are apparently not “assuming equal responsibilities” and shouldn’t get equal prize money. This argument is flawed as the CEO of the WTA Stacey Allaster stated that women are “ready, willing and able” to play best of five-set matches.

To conclude, if women are ready and able to play five-set-matches they should be playing five-set-matches. In reality, as professional gambler David Walsh stated in the Australian Financial Review, the odds of making a decent living from playing tennis is very low. Walsh stated that “at any given time there are hundreds of millions of kids trying to be tennis players. Luck and ability, and the nuanced interaction of nature and nurture, all play a part and result in maybe 100 to 200 making a living.”  Dishing out 1.6 million pounds to both the Wimbledon’s Gentlemen’s and the Ladies’ Singles Champions does not seem like an irrational decision when you consider the lifetime of sweat and handwork dished out by both individuals. When you consider one Wimbledon ticket, according to the current tennistours.com website, has an average price of over 2000 AUD, equal prize money does not seem extravagant. Now, as I reside to go back to reading my book, I think of the strong and determined women who are sweating it out on the tennis grounds now, training for the next Grand Slam title.