Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Venus and Her Business

Recently, Venus Williams participated in the 2011 Australian Open. She was winning, until a severe injury forced her to retire from the event (her first game retire since 1994). However, instead of hearing about William’s matches, I kept hearing about what she was wearing. Seriously, for the entire week articles kept popping up on my yahoo news site deriding what the famed tennis player was wearing. Not a single one discussed how she was playing.

In case you’re not completely familiar with Venus Williams, let me describe her career a bit. She began playing tennis professionally in 1994, at the tender age of 14. Since then, she and her sister Serena have dominated the world of female tennis. Venus also has an associate degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and has been an advocate for women’s rights on the tennis field, lobbying for fair pay for female athletes (apparently male tennis players make more per game than women tennis players).

However, this isn’t what we hear about. Instead, we hear people talking about how short her tennis dress is, how inappropriate her nude-colored shorts were and how controversial her brightly patterned dress is. So what? So what if she likes to wear short tennis dresses? So what if her latest design features a cross-hatching ribbon on her midriff (the inspiration for which came from Alice in Wonderland)? So what if one of her dresses had lace on it? Was she playing naked? No. Then why should her unique choice of clothing freak everyone out?

Seriously, pull up another tab on your web browser and do a search on “Venus William” or “Venus Williams.” Over half of these articles that pull up will be about what she wears. Now, similarly, do a search on Dennis Rodman. A man who has bright blue and green hair, multiple piercings and who once wore a wedding dress to promote his own autobiography. Not one of the articles on that first page of search results will have anything to do with what he looks like; instead they will all talk about how he is one of the best rebounding forwards in NBA history. This is in no way meant to be a slight on Dennis Rodman. Personally, I think his multi-colored hair is actually kind of cool. But my point is clear, no? Because Venus is a woman, suddenly everybody gets to have a hand in her wardrobe choices. Because Dennis is a man, nobody gives a crap.

The woman has a degree in fashion design. She plays A LOT of tennis. It makes sense to me that if you spent the majority of your time in athletic gear, you might want to wear something different and original every once in a while.

The biggest thing that gets me though, is how many people think that they have a right to judge what she’s wearing. I have news for you; as long as the judges of the match say it’s within league guidelines, she can wear whatever she wants. And you can’t do a thing about it. Since when did it become appropriate for everyone and their dog to degrade women because of what they wear? Personally I thought that we fought that battle back in the 60’s.

Now, I get that some people might argue that by wearing the dress at an international match in the first place, she made the dress part of the public forum. Or they could say that maybe, Venus wanted the attention. Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t. Either way, you have no right to see her as any less talented because of it.

It seems that, for women, we can only be seen as what we wear. We are seen as slutty, frigid, classy, tacky, ridiculous, conservative, appropriate or inappropriate by the mere length of our skirts. Has Venus Williams ever once flipped off an opponent? Has she cussed out a judge? Not to my knowledge. So, you know what? I think that short tennis dress is beautiful. And I think she’s a great role model for other girls. And, most importantly, I think that what she wears is none of your damn business.

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