Imagine being at work one day and losing out on a promotion, which goes to a colleague instead. Now, imagine somebody taking you to one side to ask you if maybe – just maybe – the reason you didn’t get the job is because you’re intimidated by said colleague, due to the fact that they’re more attractive than you. I know, what a hoot! This would never happen. Not in 2018, when more and more women have a voice that’s being… oh, wait. That exact thing just happened. It happened to Serena Williams in a very public way.
Bill Simmons, a reporter for Inside Tennis, interviewed Williams ahead of her French Open match against Maria Sharapova (a match Williams subsequently withdrew from due to a pectoral injury). But before that happened, Simmons got the opportunity to ask Williams a question he’d been wanting to put to her for 14 years. Fourteen years, I can hear you thinking – it must be one hell of a question. Oh, it was. And here it is, in all its glory. Because, honestly, it needs to be seen to be believed:
“I have been waiting about 14 years to ask you this question. After the 2004 Wimbledon match with Maria, I had the opportunity to interview Donald Trump on his L.A. golf course, and he said that Maria’s shoulders were incredibly alluring and then he came up with his incredible analysis: that you were intimidated by her supermodel good looks. My question is: Have you ever been intimidated by anyone on a tennis court, and what are you thoughts about that occurrence?”
Let’s stop asking women shitty questions that have absolutely no relevance to their job or what they do or why they’re being interviewed in the first place
Trump! Incredible analysis! Supermodel good looks! Fourteen years! Where to even begin? Well, I’d like to firstly imagine an alternate reality in which men have long been fighting for equal rights with women. I’d like to imagine Novak Djokovic meeting a female reporter ahead of a big match with Roger Federer, only to be asked if he feels a bit scared because, as Hillary Clinton suggested some years ago, Federer’s hair has been touched by the hand of God. Doesn’t Djokovic feel intimidated by such a hunk? Surely neither sportsman will be able to, you know, play tennis, when Federer’s dreamy looks will undoubtedly get in the way?
Williams responded with all the dignity and grace you’d expect, given that she is quite obviously a superhuman none of us truly deserve (disclaimer: this article is in no way biased by the writer’s own Serena Williams obsession). “I honestly don’t have any thoughts about that. I can’t say I have been intimidated by anyone. That’s all. That’s it.” Someone please give Williams a medal purely for resisting the urge to smash her racket over Simmons’ head, or at least storm out of the interview. But, no, she just glossed over it and moved on.
Simmons has apologised for his question, saying on Twitter (where his profile picture is of he and Williams): “I apologise if my awkward ques [sic] seemed 2 empower Trump or attack Serena/I SO admire her/I’ve spent a lifetime fighting racism/sexism/homophobia…” But then, if you’ve spent your lifetime fighting sexism, why did you just reduce two of the world’s most successful sports people to nothing more than their physical appearance in a matter of minutes? We all make mistakes, of course. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this sort of mistake tends to keep happening. High-profile women, whether they work in Hollywood, sport or otherwise, are always subject to a line of questioning that men just aren’t. And it always tends to relate to looks, weight, motherhood… all contributing to the same tired narrative of what women can do or should be.
If Bill Simmons truly dedicates his life to fighting inequality, I would suggest he helps to perpetuate the following ideas. Let’s stop talking about Donald Trump’s opinions of women, let alone give some sort of credence to them. Let’s stop asking women shitty questions that have absolutely no relevance to their job or what they do or why they’re being interviewed in the first place. And let’s please, for the love of all that we hold dear, stop suggesting that a woman’s appearance is in any way related to her capabilities.