Saturday, 7 July 2012

Are we really having this same argument again?

So it is Wimbledon fortnight 2012 (yes that is 2012) and five years after women finally received equal pay in grand slam tournaments some people (Gilles Simon) are still arguing the toss about this. “Equal Pay for Unequal Work”, the cry from the detractors, superficially could be, a convincing cry. However, along with that is much misogyny and the definite implication that women are inferior.

First of all it isn’t pay that we are talking about, it is prizes. It is perfectly normal and reasonable for men and women to receive the same prize within sport. Take the Olympic Games for example, all winners (and runners up) receive the same prize, no matter what their sport or their event. But the argument against paying equal prize money centres on the fact that women only play best of 3 sets in Grand Slams and men play best of 5. So women are only doing 3/5th of the work of men so should only get 3/5th of the pay of men.

Well let’s take that logic to its conclusion. Athletics is a good example. A marathon runner therefore should be paid how much more than a 100m runner? 10s compared with 7500secs (2:05 hrs - men’s marathon world record). So marathon runners should receive about 750 times the amount of 100m sprinters? Really? No, because of course that would be ridiculous. They all work hard in their own event, no matter how long it lasts. And that hard work is rewarded with the same prize. The hard work is also recognised as not starting and finishing on the competitive field. The misogyny is in the implication that female tennis players don't work as hard as men.  Well that is an age old argument outside sport as well as within it and worthy of a blog  post by itself.  Suffice to say, its veracity is not held in solid foundations.

Whilst still on the 3 sets vs 5 set argument, within Grand Slams women aren’t allowed to play 5 sets. It isn’t because they can’t or because they won’t, but because they aren’t allowed – like recalcitrant children. They obviously need to prove their worth to the men in charge.  And of course timetables would need to be altered and that is obviously too much of a logistical obstacle. More misogyny. It is of course male privilege that allows men to play 5-sets. If women were considered equal to men then it would be bizarre that men and women didn't have the same competition parameters. Yet here we are and tennis is by no means the only culprit within sport.

Most tennis tournaments for men and women are only best of 3 sets and most tournaments are single-sex. As a result women already get paid a lot less than men on tour because the prize money is related to the revenue the tournaments can get. Women’s tournaments are less supported. More misogyny, under the guise of women’s sport just not being good enough or not interesting enough or too shrieky or whatever is flavour of the day. The whole revenue argument is skewed in favour of men anyway, because men are revered for their sporting talent, women not so much. Men have had a monopoly on sport for so long, women are just breaking into it.

Then, of course there is the quality argument. As we all know women’s tennis just doesn’t compare to men’s tennis. The standard is infinitely lower and there is no strength in depth. In fact, why don’t they all just quit now? Well first of all quality and standards are pretty subjective. Then, who gets to be arbiter of whether women have reached a sufficient standard that they are now equal. If, indeed, that mythical standard could ever be achieved (because after all women just aren’t men). At this point it is important to note that there are many more barriers for women than men in entering sport. There is societal pressure and gender stereotyping, lack of media attention, lack of funding and encouragement and also the legacy of women being banned from certain sports and events (some of which is still in evidence today) which means women are behind the men in terms of numbers and probably strength in depth. However, women’s tennis is probably on a par with men’s tennis say 30 years ago, yet men weren’t being denied their rewards for their labour then. More misogyny.

However, this is constantly comparing women to men which seems pretty pointless as they don’t play against each other. It also sets men as the default, as usual. If tennis was a women-only sport then the emphasis on quality of play would be in comparison to previous years/decades. And if you look back over the decades then there has been huge improvement in women’s tennis.

Even accepting that women's tennis may not be as competitive as men's tennis, why does this matter? The women involved are still doing the training, still putting in the effort to win. In fact, why would a discrepancy in prize money be the best way of increasing the quality and player base?  Maybe giving equal pay, increasing revenue, better coaching, participation initiatives and further encouragement of women within sport might be a better way of going about it. Penalising women financially, isn't going to be an incentive to increasing competitiveness, if that is of course the goal.  If the goal is to put women back in their box then financially penalising them is entirely the right way of going about it.

Male tennis players have not had to forfeit any privilege, power or revenue in order for women to be paid equal amounts (Wimbledon prize money since 1968). So they have given up nothing yet they still argue against it. They really just don’t think women are equal or deserving. And of course they want the final word as to when the female tennis players are worthy. Really, this could on for decades. Any excuse to justify why women should not be paid as much as men. It's all a bit chilling.

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