Sports Roundup #7: The Short Skirt, Hard Hit and Nonexistent Pay Gap
By Melina Monlux, Editorial Intern Recently, the US Women’s National Soccer Team made headlines yet again. But this time it isn’t due to some triumphant moments or tremendous wins. The women have taken up yet another fight, yet another uphill battle. The women are taking the courtrooms in lieu of the field, as they file a “wage discrimination action against the US Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,” according to ESPN news.
Soccer superstars Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan are taking up arms against discrimination that occurs against women far too rampantly, in the real world and the world of sports. Almost every professional women’s sport pays its athletes less than the equivalent male athletes. Only one sport stands apart from this: Tennis.
Time.com's "Why Tennis is the Most Popular Women's Sport" reported that although Quartz analysis of the tournament winnings for the top players in tennis, both male and female, shows a significant pay gap (“the top woman, Serena Williams has earned only $56 million” to Roger Federer’s $82 million), that gap evens out in the middle of the pack, as “the 11th highest earner in women’s tennis” gains $20.3 million from tournaments, and the 11th highest man gains $20.6 million. Eliana Dockterman of Time.com argues that this minimal pay gap is due to the wide popularity of women’s tennis by contrast to other women’s sports, as well as the way in which “the sport is structurally set up to give women an equal opportunity at drawing a crowd” with the women playing at the same time and location as the men for the major tournaments, as well as being given equal broadcasting to the men at Grandslam tournaments.
The women of tennis do well to capitalize on that opportunity, drawing immense crowds, and earning more “money, endorsements and TV face time than any other female athletes.” But they also do well to earn their pay equality to the men, and are currently making huge strides in closing the skill gap as well. In fact, Sabine Lisicki just broke the record for fastest women’s serve with a whopping 131 mph hit, which is only 32 mph away from the men’s record, and is the speed at which the top men in the game, such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, usually serve.
Still, many claim that these outstanding female tennis players do not earn their equal pay or equal opportunity. Many argue that these women only attract the audience they do because of their short skirts. In fact, other sports, such as women’s basketball, have reportedly considered tightening and shortening uniforms in hopes of attracting a larger crowd. I contend, however, that the mere idea that the attire should take all the credit for something achieved by a woman’s sheer will is insane. The greats of the woman’s game are gaining on the men, and as Serena Williams put it, women athletes are “strong, ready, willing and able” for whatever that may bring them. Perhaps audience members are simply excited to see it.
Yet sports fans may not be ready to watch as much female tennis as the men. Despite the lack of a pay gap, female tennis players see their fare share of discrimination, not only with the minimal respect given to them by those who choose to argue they are only as good as their short skirts, but by the league itself. Because in most grand slam tournaments, men play best 3 of 5 sets, and the women are still forced to play best 2 of 3. Women like Serena Williams are fighting this, but the question stands: why should they have to? Why in this day in age, where so much progress for equality has been made, should women still be fighting discrimination in sports? The fact that the women’s soccer team has to sue to gain equal pay where equal pay is due is completely absurd. The fact that women in tennis are valued based on their bodies and not their skill is absurd. Luckily, they aren’t going down without a fight. And I believe that, eventually, this is a fight they will win.
Each month, one of our high school interns will research articles written by or about women’s sports. We see our Sports Round Ups as a gathering place of women sports news and voices. Our mission is to spread awareness of women’s voices in the sporting field, to help tell the stories of our community, and to inspire her own understanding and voice. Check out our Sports Round Up series.