Being Serena Williams: Mind, Body, and Womanhood
“Queen. Don’t be afraid to rule like a king.”
Serena Williams turns a year older. Mind, body, and womanhood. I hope we are paying enough attention. To more than just templated praises that rave about her athletic prowess, Grand Slam Titles, and prodigious talent as a sportswoman. Because Serena Williams – the woman – is pretty much the human equivalent of a resounding roar that can’t be gagged.
On Being ‘Born a Man’
Williams’ physique continues to challenge thoughts and stereotypes that should have died with the dinosaurs. Her body, a battleground for cultural imposition, and her strength, a clear show of rock-solid resistance.
Serena Williams does not look like a perfect projection of the male gaze. And she’s constantly reminded of the same. This is the woman who was asked in an interview, quite unabashedly, if she felt intimidated by Sharapova’s “supermodel good looks”. She replied, with disarming candour, “I honestly don’t have any thoughts about that.” There. No figs attached.
This is the woman who has not complied to conventional definitions of ‘desirability’. So much so that the twenty-three-time Grand Slam winner had to read conspiracy theories on the internet about her being “born a guy”.
On Being Exalted as the ‘Woman’ of the Year
She is muscular, she has biceps, and she weaponises both to wield power. “This is me and this is my weapon and machine,” Williams had remarked in a 2018 interview to Harper’s Bazaar.
She is not unfamiliar with the repercussions of being a woman who has the grit to wield the power she has earned. Imagine having achieved everything that she has achieved only to be reduced to someone who can’t be mentioned by a top publication without the word woman being shackled by quotes? Imagine looking her in the eye and saying, “Grand Slams and all are cool, but remember that you don’t look woman enough...”
In 2018, she was crowned GQ’s Woman of the Year. Only, an ill-judged decision on the magazine editor’s part led the copy to read thus: ‘Woman’ of the Year. In 2015, author JK Rowling took a dig at one of her detractors by sharing a photo of Williams in a red dress and tweeting, “... ‘she is built like a man’. Yeah, my husband looks just like this in a dress. You’re an idiot.”
Serena Williams doesn’t exist to cater to the regressive male sexual imagination. It is time we embraced this.
On Womanhood, Power, and the Privilege of Anger
Williams, the woman, has also not been afforded the privilege of anger. From being sketched as an ‘angry baby’ by an Australian publication to being accused of throwing a ‘tantrum’ post her exchange with umpire Carlos Ramos at the US Open Final last year, where she levelled allegations of sexism against the manner in which she was treated, Williams’ anger has been policed through the years.
It has been made clear that resistance, that too the kind laden with a ‘masculine’ emotion, doesn’t become a black woman – even when she is, unarguably, considered one of the greatest athletes of our time.