Serena Williams Just Took Feminism Back a Generation

Serena Williams Just Took Feminism Back a Generation December 14, 2015

Serena Williams, named Sports Illustrated’s 2015 “Sportsperson of the Year,” dressed for her cover photo shoot like [choose one]:

  • a tennis superstar
  • a professional athlete
  • a hooker
Serena Williams
Serena Williams

The 34-year-old tennis legend, whose career made sports history and earned her more than $74 million in prize money, could have played the part of a winner:  She could have worn the uniform of a tennis great: a white tennis dress and a headband, or a tank top with a Nike hoodie….

The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team did that when they won the World Cup. Each team member was given her own cover–and they all dressed in their soccer uniforms, holding the World Cup trophy. They made a nation proud.

Likewise, basketball player Seimone Augustus wore her uniform on the cover of the now-defunct Sports Illustrated for Women.

But no! Instead of celebrating her athletic prowess, Serena Williams chose to flaunt her sexuality, posing seductively in black lace, her legs glossy and fully exposed with a high-riding, hip revealing pant, and long sleeves of black lace. One foot, clad in 4″ black heels, hangs over the arm of a golden throne, confirming–in case you didn’t notice–that Serena Williams is not just athletic, she’s S-E-X-Y!

*     *     *     *     *

And I wonder how the early feminists, those who are still around and watching this unfold on TV, feel about Williams’ sultry pose.

I mean, raise your hand if you can remember the 1969 Miss America protest, attended by about 400 feminists and civil rights advocates. Organized by New York Radical Women, the protest involved tossing symbolic feminist products into a trash can. Protesters, decrying the fact that women were treated like “sex objects” and valued for their bodies rather than their minds, hrew away feminine hygiene products, false eyelashes, and other symbols of persecuted womanhood. The event and subsequent protests across America came to be known as “bra burning”–although it’s doubtful that any bras were tossed into the trash that day.

The following year, 1970, brought the Women’s Strike for Equality, sponsored by the National Organization for Women. More than 20,000 women participated in the strike, in New York City and in cities across America.  The strike primarily focused on equal opportunity in the workforce, political rights for women, and social equality in relationships such as marriage. It also addressed the right to have an abortion and free childcare, but these were more controversial positions which more conservative women, including pro-life feminists, generally did not at the time agree with.

I rarely find myself on the same side of an issue with Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, especially since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision placed abortion front-and-center among issues of concern to freedom-seeking women. But what the early feminists demanded was that society, especially men, value them as persons–appreciating their minds, their many contributions, rather than focusing on their appeal as sexual objects.

I get that.

What I don’t get is why a generation later, women are willing to give away the “equal” role earned by their predecessors, in favor of dressing like vamps and prostitutes.

And I don’t get why Serena Williams chose to play the part of a seductress, rather than celebrating her rightful place as a superstar on the world stage.


Photo credit:  By Edwin Martinez from The Bronx (US Open 2013 Part 2 668 Uploaded by Flickrworker) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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  • 3vil5triker .

    I briefly glanced at the cover while they were talking about her award during an online show, and neither I or the show’s commentator’s made a big deal out of it.

    Yet, you took one look at it and the first thing that came to mind was “prostitute”.

    I guess beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

    • In the case of this article’s author, maybe more like “delusion really is in the eye of the beholder”.

  • ‘Hooker’? Really? Seriously?

    Is this author preferring that women were burkas or something like beekeeper outfits instead? What she’s wearing is what countless American women would wear for a late night party, going out dancing, and so on if they wanted to be a bit provocative. Nothing more. Film primer red carpet dresses have been far, far more revealing than this, for Pete’s sake. Honestly, I’m reminded in this article of nothing more than how the Iranian mullahs called Nancy Reagan a ‘whore’ when Reagan was first pictured wearing all red colored dresses.

    • Violater

      Exactly! What’s wrong with hookers? Last time I checked they’re just as much people as anyone else.

  • captcrisis

    She’s showing lots of leg, that’s all. She’s a tennis player so we’ve seen it before.

    It’s good to see on this Catholic Channel the word “feminist” treated with respect and not as some kind of dirty word.

    • Sven2S47

      It is a dirty word. Contemporary feminism can be defined as “Men are pigs – let’s be like them.” It has been degrading for both women and men, and the culture has suffered.

  • BHG

    The earliest feminists emphasized the value of women as persons, but by our generation (I am 64), it had largely been hijacked by a mentality that scorned men (remember the fish/bicycle comment?) or ridiculed them (anything a man can do a woman can do better). And the sexual aspects of it cannot be divorced from modern feminist thought–at least mainstream gender feminism rather than equity feminism. Serena just takes the attitude of unbridled sex that was part and parcel of feminist thought from the 60s in another direction. Evolution not setback.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    And I don’t get why Serena Williams chose to play the part of a
    seductress, rather than celebrating her rightful place as a superstar on
    the world stage.

    I underlined the important word for you. If feminism includes encouraging autonomy for women, then women must be given the choice to express their sexuality, if they so choose. The problem with Miss America pageants was that any participants HAD to be sexualized, like it or not. If Williams chose to pose that way, then it is her right.

    Ironically, by saying that Williams needs to dress as a tennis player for a photo shoot, you are saying that her choice and her autonomy take a back seat. It is not Williams that is being anti-feminist.

    • Lookingup73


  • Dave Snyder

    I suppose I’m an outsider in this discussion, but I for one have never been turned on by women with muscles.

  • hazemyth

    While we can seriously discuss the ways that the media sexualize, objectify, and demean women, calling Serena Williams a ‘hooker’ is just as sexualizing, objectifying, and demeaning. You can’t further the goals of feminism with rank misogyny.

  • BT

    I think the author forgets she has a fashion company, not just a tennis presence. She’s closer to the end of her tennis career than the beginning, and she’s smart. Which do you think she’d want to highlight – her tennis history or her fashion future? The photo is sexy, but still within the bounds of good taste – exactly what you’d expect.

  • MrCorvus

    Bare legs, how scandalous.

    When I was at the beach last summer, I couldn’t believe it. There was nothing but hookers as far as the eye could see. (That’s how you identify them, right?)

    • Exactly… man, the author of this article and the people defending her are scarily delusional.

      • barbieahayes

        No, Swiper… We use faith and reason to know, not just to believe, that there is a God. Thomas Aquinas and Plato are no small historical minds. Too, many devout Catholics have had transcendent experiences which could not be explained without a Creator. And no, these experiences are not delusional but the result of God’s opening the veil between heaven and earth. You may not have the faith for that to happen to you, not even a mustard seed of faith for God to work with. Faith takes humility, something many non-believers have very little of (except in themselves). Even atheists recognize the seven deadly sins of which Pride could be the most obstinate and perverse, even more so than Lust.

        Those who choose to worship the creature instead of the most holy Creator will find that their minds have become depraved. Perhaps you could read an exposition by your favorite apostle (of the Gentiles), St. Paul, in the Bible: Romans 1:18-32. He talks about the fate of man’s mind and body and soul when man obstinately will not recognize God’s supremacy and he reminds us that God made Himself known to us.

        Merry Christmas to you and yours. As a Catholic Christian I extend the good cheer that I have for my holiday to you, not to force my holiday on you (remember we Christians know that God gave his greatest creation a free will) but to give you a reason for hope and happiness.

  • John Williams

    Calling a woman who plays tennis for a living (a sport played in a miniskirt) a “hooker” for daring to bare a bit of leg in 2015 seems….uncalled for. Mostly because calling someone a sex worker as an insult is wrong, but also because it is infinitely more difficult to find a pic where her legs are covered than it is to find one with them bare.

  • FreedomFirst

    Sexuality is Woman’s primary power. Woman is not equal to Man and never will be before Woman becomes as willing to die, to be dismembered or be maimed for glory as is Man. Therefore, Woman will always play the inherited and largely unearned sex card to create (false) equality with Man.

    Bottom line: sexual biology rules, ‘gendered’ sociology stools, and filthy fascist feminists fool.

  • asecularfranciscan

    Yeah, Kathy didn’t say she was a hooker, she said she was dressed for this photo like one. And if you think that photo is about nothing more than a woman showing a little leg, you are either unusually innocent or willfully blind.

    • So. I suppose you think that every single woman who dresses in a manner that’s showing off her legs and arms clearly– whether playing tennis, racquetball, being a cheerleader, etc– are all ‘whores’.

      Good to know? I guess…

      • asecularfranciscan

        Maybe I wasn’t clear there and I think it causing you to misunderstand what I said. I never said anything about Serena and I certainly didn’t offer an opinion about any other woman. I just tried to remind everyone that the author of this piece didn’t call Serena a hooker, she said that she just said the the particular clothes that were chosen for this photo shoot made her look like one. And then I went on to say that to insist that this photo is just a woman showing here legs and arms with no other subtext is dishonest. The choice of clothes, the pose, the lighting are all meant to invite a certain reaction far beyond what would be caused by a woman simply showing her arms and legs. I think you drew the wrong conclusions about what I think from what I wrote.

        I’m also trying to figure why woman, when they are demonstrating their autonomy from the desires of men, so often do it in a way that most appeal to the desires of men.

  • Robin Warchol

    I remember the mantra “I am not a sex object”. I guess you can now say “You’ve come a long way baby”.

  • Donalbain

    Feminism: (n) The belief that women should have the freedom to do whatever Kathy Schiffer tells them they should do.

    When I looked at the cover, I didn’t think of a prostitute, but then, maybe that says something about each of us, rather than about Ms Williams. But even if it is a sexual image, but so what? A woman is free to embrace her sexuality if that is what she wants to do, just as another woman is free to reject her sexuality.
    The difference between Serena Williams embracing her sexuality in public and the Miss World contests is really rather simple. In the Miss World contests, the women are judged SOLELY on their looks. Their entire being is reduced to the way that they make men feel, and especially how they make men feel sexually. With Ms Williams, she has made a name for herself by being the dominant force in her field of sporting expertise. She will go down in history for her skill and her determination, not simply for the way she looked. By embracing her sexuality in public (if that is what she is doing), she is simply expanding the sphere of what she wants people to know about her, rather than diminishing it and reducing it to one aspect, an aspect that is driven specifically by her attractiveness to a male judging panel.

  • David

    Your article is spot on. With one picture she subordinated her many athletic accomplishments and reduced herself to a sex object. It shows insecurity, not femininity. No real father would be proud. No girls should look up to the woman pictured. But ultimately she is a victim of modern feminism, that has reduced woman to mere body parts, and made Bruce Jenner the Woman of the Year.

    • zenlike

      It seems it is people like you and Kathy who reduce her to a sex object and subordinate her athletic abilities because she DARES to show some leg (which she already does when is in fact performing those athletic abilities).

    • Donalbain

      I find the use of the term “sex object” to be somewhat confusing. Surely, you are the one who is deciding that in that photo, she is an object, not Ms Williams herself. Even if it is a photo about her sexuality, why would you assume it makes her an “object” rather than a person who has a sexuality? If she had posed with a tennis racket and associated outfit, would you refer to it as if she had reduced herself to a “tennis object” or would she be a person who also has a tennis career?

  • Mark_Trail

    Treating the body as simply matter means you can treat it like a billboard and express anything you want with it. Serena Williams’ posing seductively isn’t “embracing her femininity,” it’s exactly the opposite. She’s offering her femininity for sale.

    The archetypal woman embracing her femininity would be an image of the Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child. That image embraces the soul of every endeavor that requires dedication and sacrifice.

    But if there is no soul to be expressed, then the only thing left is to make the body a thing and exploit the images of it for material gain. The body will become less and less available for sale, and the soul and dedication the body expressed through the nobility of sport will be assigned a lesser value than it deserves.

    “Everything’s for sale, only the price isn’t always money.”
    ~Iron Mike Tyson, Heavyweight Champ and Philosopher~

  • barbieahayes

    I believe Kathy is commenting from the position of a Catholic Christian. That position essentially advises women to dress modestly at all times. The Church makes recommendations from Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the teaching authority of the Church, the Magisterium. If we don’t have the Christian instructive mindset, then anything goes and much of it takes us on a path to hell.

    Authentic Catholic teaching comes from the life of Christ (by authentic I do not mean errors promulgated by many obstinately sinful bishops, priests and laity but from the true teachings of our Savior). Our actions have far-reaching effects, many of them contributing to the devaluation of the temples of the Holy Spirit (our bodies) and the transcendent natures (our souls).

    It is always best to follow Jesus, leastwise because we may not know all that transpires within our own (and others) bodies and souls by our actions. To say things off the tops of our heads reduces us to worshiping the creature (oneself) rather than the Creator who is God.

    We have complete confidence in the teachings of Jesus Christ, through His bride, the Catholic Church. It is sometimes a challenge, when admonishing the members of the Church, to appear humble. Forgive us.

  • Lazarus

    What a mean-spirited article. And that from a Catholic. True freedom from oppression, true liberation, means that women can do what they choose with their bodies within the legal and societal norms of their particular environments. That is what Serena has done here. You know that she has image issues, that she wants to come across as more feminine. What possible good, what possible uplifting message can this poison penned bitterness convey.

    You should be ashamed of yourself. It is insecure character assassination like this, wrapped up in the dirty cloak of self-righteous indignation, that gives our religion a bad name. I am very disappointed in you.

    • asecularfranciscan

      I’m not sure I saw any character assassination in that post. Can you quote the passages that I’m missing?

      Quick question, are you saying, “true freedom from oppression, true liberation, means that women can do
      what they choose with their bodies within the legal and societal norms
      of their particular environments” is a Catholic teaching?

      • Lazarus

        The piece in its entirety is a character assassination. Williams is criticized for behaving like a “hooker” and for setting feminism back. If you have missed those points, or are comfortable with them, there is not much further that I can say.

        Williams did not, in my view, act like a hooker, nor are the photos indecent in any manner. Had they been, one could argue that they were opposed to Catholic teaching.

        But even that is part of the problem. As far as I know, Williams is not a Catholic. She has not acted contrary to her own religious views. That makes the article even more of a gratuitous swipe at Williams.

        But speaking of Catholic teachings, there is not a hint of love, charity or acceptance in the entire piece. It is mean and totally unnecessary. Any points about feminism or lost opportunities could have been made, if they needed to be made at all, in a very different and more Christian manner. This is tabloid journalism dressed as Catholicism.

        • asecularfranciscan

          “And I don’t get why Serena Williams chose to play the part of a seductress, rather than celebrating her rightful place as a superstar on the world stage.” Wow, you’re right, that’s really, really mean.

          This blog post makes it plain that Serena is a woman of great accomplishment but it is also very critical of a culture that makes a woman as accomplished as Serena feel that she needs to pose for a photo like this.

          • Lazarus

            We disagree then on the content, meaning and value of the piece.
            Even the title should give you a hint that Williams is not being complimented, as you seem to want to accept.

          • barbieahayes

            Lazarus, a practicing Christian woman should not dress immodestly lest she encourage her “admirers” to commit the sin of lust. If Serena accepts the mores of the culture then she could easily slip down the path to hell. Lust is one of the seven deadly sins and women of good faith should not encourage that behavior.

            Yes, Kathy might have been more charitable yet she is a blog writer and therefore has a targeted audience who would normally understand that sometimes the truth is not so easily neutralized.

            Yes, women can do what they want but that attitude of “this is my body” has caused so much sinning against the moral law. And that is called taking license. Taking licence against God’s laws (the moral and natural law) is an egregious sin against God.

          • Lazarus

            Lecturing me on what we both know to be the teachings of our Church does not address my original complaint. Kathy’s article is mean and uncharitable, and above all unnecessary. Do we even know if Williams identifies as a Christian in a meaningful manner?

            I sincerely dislike this type of poison pen blogging from Catholics, especially when it gets done under the guise of moral superiority. It does us no favors, and it attracts no-one. Standing up to the culture is necessary, knowing how to do so skillfully and effectively is quite apparently a talent that some bloggers need to work on.

          • barbieahayes

            You are perhaps of a different disposition than I, Lazarus. I was not “lecturing” you but stating my point as you have stated yours on this blog post. We should be able to discuss the subject matter without it getting rancorous. You have made some valid points with which I agree. I post mine so that you and others may benefit.

            I have already stated that Kathy could have been more charitable; and the discussion about whether blogging (as I see it, the on-line exchange of facts and opinions) is a worthy venture, or if it devolves too often into calumny, is another blog post, lol).

            Merry Christmas.

          • Lazarus

            My disappointment and concern is not directed at you at all, but at this type of article, and of course I value your take on it. I just think that certain Patheos Catholic bloggers need to take the responsibility given to them a bit more seriously. Patheos is a very popular site, and Catholic articles are read by non-Catholics. Evangelization is a difficult and complex skill. In the right hands it can, and should, do modern day miracles. Used as a gossip tabloid it can do much harm.

            I wish you a Merry Christmas too, and hope to talk with you again 😉