Serena Williams proves it: "Female power" is just power
Serena deserves a better label than the "best female athlete"
Since before my first awkward prepubescent moment I have felt as though I had something to prove. This feeling of inferiority intensified each time that I was told that I couldn’t do certain tasks. Walking down the street by myself or pumping my own gas at night was reserved for males, because things were just “different for girls.”
My parents always told me that these restrictions were put in place to protect me. Each year I tried to show that I could finally be trusted to protect myself but each request was met with a subtle reminder that no amount of maturity could change the fact that I was a girl and therefore my safety would never fully rest in my own hands. My power could not be derived from my identity as a female because that was what rendered me helpless at the hands of society.
Despite the many gendered warnings I received I was never discouraged from pursuing my ambitions or aspirations. In fact, I was often told that “just because I was a girl” didn’t mean that I couldn’t compete in a man’s world. While this phrase was meant to encourage me it actually did quite the opposite. I could be successful but that success would have to come at the expense of my gender identity. I would have to work harder to prove not only that I was capable but that my abilities were not hindered by the side effects of being a female. Throughout my life, many people told me not to let the fact that I was a girl hold me back, but they never told me to embrace the power that came with it.
After she won her 22nd Grand Slam last week, Serena Williams was referred to by a journalist as “one of the greatest female athletes of all time.” Her response to the categorization of her success was that she preferred “one of the greatest athletes of all time.” The misogyny that Serena Williams experiences is individual and painful to her based on many different aspects of her identity, such as her race and the body standards that people expect her to fit.
These are struggles that I and many other women will never be able to understand. However, the sentiment behind her words is true in many situations. She is no longer willing to accept belittlement of her achievements by placing the word “female” next to it. She is successful. Period.
In regards to our achievement the word “female” is often used as an asterisk. It is the terms and conditions of our success. We are not the best at something but rather the best female. This label does not highlight the success of women. Instead, it perpetuates the idea that our power is subdued by our femininity. This, of course, is false. You do not have to prove that you are successful despite your gender identity. You can be successful because of it. Women are powerful and we are allowed to act like it.
Julia Gagnon is a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs.