Pretty good discussion in the Daily News on the Serena Williams rant at the US Open:

Williams behind the racket at the Australian Open.

For six years now, Serena Williams has been an overbearing study in underachievement at Flushing Meadows. She has had legitimate alibis along the way, from injury to personal tragedy, but still the U.S. Open failures mounted, the stomping of sneakers didn’t help, and there was no explaining all of this away. How does somebody of such obviously superior skills fail to reach so much as a semifinal at her home major, on a surface tailored to her ferocity?

It is an issue she may not need to address for some time, because Williams has emerged again from the untalented masses of the WTA Tour, at long last. Serena can make a lot of ghosts and grumps disappear with one more victory here. She can capture her ninth major, her third Open title and the No. 1 ranking with one scoop of her racket. And then it will be hard for anyone to say that tennis’ de facto monarch, the drama queen, is not living up to expectations.

It wasn’t that long ago that women were required to play in skirts. I think that Serena Williams has pushed the envelope on being a woman in tennis, from what she wears to how she looks (remember the comments on her biceps?). As noted last month by Abena Agayen-Fisher, Williams responded last year by talking frankly to People Magazine about her own body image issues, emphasizing that “I want women to know that it’s okay. You can be whatever size you are, and you can be beautiful both inside and out. We’re always told what’s beautiful and what’s not, and that’s not right.”

But that same judgment has continued since, to what she wears on her feet and how she acts. I wouldn’t condone her rant, but women are still held to a different standard than men (and as the mother of a boy, I guarantee you, that standard is alive and well in well-meaning, liberal households everywhere). If she pushes people to think about what makes them uncomfortable about seeing a woman angry, all to the good, I say.

Updated: And lo and  behold, William Rhoden of The New York Times agrees with me:

What we should take away from this Open is the need for a fundamental shift in our view of female athletes. Bad behavior is bad behavior, but there was an undercurrent of sexism by some critics and fans in their denunciation of Williams’ behavior, as though her threatening gestures and raw language toward the line judge were made even worse by the fact that she is a woman.

For all the advances brought about by Title IX, female athletes have been conditioned to avoid aggressive confrontation that may occur in the course of high-level competition. We often write admiringly about the male athlete who is a teddy bear off the field, a tiger on it. In our heart of hearts, we still like sweaty women athletes to be ballerinas. Those days rapidly are disappearing.

Adria Quinones is an information architect, musician and former Web operations manager at Women’s Enews.

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  • Penny Hastings September 15, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    Serena Williams is a wonderful role model for young black and white women…except when she goes on a rant. Tennis is an intense physical and mental game. Because calls by the referees are subjective, and professional tennis players well know that errors are made occasionally, she only demeans herself by giving in to emotional outbursts. Only the tough get tougher. She is in a league by herself. She is also responsible for her own behavior.