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


Browse Our Archives