The Effect of Gender Discrimination on Women Throughout the History of Tennis

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The Effect of Gender Discrimination on Women Throughout the History of Tennis

The Effect of Gender Discrimination on Women Throughout the History of Tennis

Ehab K Ali

Virginia Commonwealth University

This paper was prepared for UNIV 122, taught by Professor Corner

Throughout this semester in Focused Inquiry a recurring theme has been feminism and gender equality in general. We read, The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Jill Lepore along side multiple articles that focused on feminism. These readings were accompanied by several class discussions. The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a biography of one William Marston. William Marston is most known as the man who created Wonder Woman. In the book Lepore not only talks about the created of Wonder Woman but she also talks about Marston’s personal life including his feminist views. Marston’s work towards feminism is considered to have been some of the most revolutionary progress of his time. He thought that one day women would rule the world. After learning so much about the feminist movement and how prevalent gender discrimination is in our society I decided that it would be interesting to learn if it was prevalent in something that my life almost revolves around, tennis.

Throughout the history and development of tennis over time, there has been gender discrimination between men and women including, prize money, match length, same gender opponents, media importance, as well as equal playing rights. Although over time many of these discriminations have become rectified they still occur and could possibly be delaying the development of women’s tennis. The social norms that were developed by these discriminations may have a large effect on whether or not a member of a specific gender decides to play tennis. The timeline of the research conducted for this paper begins with the invention of lawn tennis on February 23, 1874 and ended on December 31, 2003 (Gillmeister, 1998, p. 175).

Over the past several decades, men and women have been playing in international tennis tournaments around the world competing for the first place trophy; and it does not hurt that there is a hefty paycheck waiting for the victor and finalist after the final match. The controversy of whether or not there was discrimination taking place between men and women regarding prize money was introduced by female tennis professional Billie Jean King in 1972 after she won the US Open and saw that she had earned $15,000 less than the male champion. After that she stated that she would not participate in the following year’s tournament unless the prize money was the same for both genders (Rappoport, 2005).

The following year the US Open did indeed fix the prize money in order to stop the protest started by King. Eventually the other three Grand Slam tournaments decided to adjust the awarded prize money so that men and women were paid the same amount. These tournaments include the Australian Open, Roland Garros (French Open), and most importantly Wimbledon. Wimbledon is the most important Grand Slam because it was the first ever organized tournament designed specifically for lawn tennis (Gillmeister, 1998). The original argument made by female activists was that females should get paid the same amount of money as men because they put forth the same amount of effort as men. Technically their argument was false for the simple fact that during the Grand Slams men play best three out of five sets which means that in order for there to be a winner one of the players must win a total of three sets. Women on the other hand only play best two out of three sets. This is a large difference in effort being put forth because there can easily be a two set difference between a men’s and women’s match. With that being said, it is true that women are now getting paid more money per game played in a grand slam. For example, during the 2011 Wimbledon both singles players, Petra Kvitova and Novak Djokovic won 1,100,000 euros. The only difference is that Djokovic played thirty-three games to earn his victory and Kvitova only had to play nineteen games in order to earn her victory. This means that Djokovic made about 33,333 euros per game. Although this is very impressive, Kvitova ended up making around 57,894 euros per game (Wimbledon). This only shows the number of games played in the finals. If one were to add the total games played by Djokovic and compare them to the total number of games played by Kvitova throughout the tournament, the difference would be even greater. This statistic very clearly shows that women are currently making more money than men compared to the effort being put forth by both genders. It is unknown why this was never pointed out back in the day. It is possible that the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) believed that it was easier to avoid the protest and award females equal prize money. Another counter-argument against this is that although men were making more money than women, it is also true that they were bringing in more money to the ATP through ticket sales and television broadcasting. More people follow men’s tennis, than people that follow women’s tennis. Therefore it could be said that men make more money for the ATP. This could potentially explain why some people believe it makes sense for men to earn more money than women.

There are four grand slam tennis tournaments in the professional tennis world. These are considered to be the largest tournaments in the ATP. As mentioned in the previous section, these four tournaments consist of the Australian Open, the US Open, Roland Garros (French Open), and Wimbledon. These tournaments are designed to challenge professional tennis players as much as possible. The apparent discrimination that will be discussed in this section has been evident in these tournaments since women were first allowed to compete in Wimbledon in 1884(Gillmeister, 1998). This is that, in all four grand slam tournaments men are expected to complete matches that consist of best three out of five sets. Women on the other hand are only expected to complete matches consisting of best two out of three sets (Collins, 2008). This rule makes the assumption that women are incapable of competing as long as men. This regulation is easier to justify than others because it is understandable that women are not as physical potential as men. Some women do feel that they are capable of competing for the same amount of time as men but the ATP is clearly trying to do what is best for the female athletes competing in these tournaments. If enough people had a serious problem with this rule, the league would probably not have a problem changing the women’s to match the men’s score. This is quite an improvement considering that for eight years women were not even allowed to participate in Wimbledon (Gillmeister, 1998).

The third topic that will be discussed in this essay is probably one of the most segregating aspects of tennis to this day, with the idea that men and women have never been permitted to play against each other in any ATP tournament. It is very interesting that such a dividing factor, as this is not more commonly protested in our society. Men and women should be given the opportunity to compete against each other, although one could make the argument that the male would have an advantage due to his physical abilities. The idea should at least be attempted or either gender should be given the choice to compete against the other. When lawn tennis was first invented, women were not allowed to participate in game play. The idea that women were not even allowed to play when the sport was first invented set a strong precedent that women and men should always be separated in the sport. Many female activists claim that the belief that men have more muscular potential than women is sexist because they think women are just as physically capable as men. This argument is true; it has been scientifically proven that the female body can produce or build muscle at the same rate as men. Although this is true, due to today’s social norms it is less appropriate for women to reach the muscular build that men are encouraged to possess. This being said it is unclear why women are expected to play shorter matches that consist of best two out of three sets, when men must play matches that consist of best three out of five sets. This is one argument that could lead to women being allowed to play against men in future tournaments. If a woman is capable of being as strong as her male opponent on the court, than there should be no reason why all women should not be given the opportunity to play against men.

In the sports world, men’s tennis is given much more publicity than women’s tennis. This gives people the impression that women’s tennis is less important than men’s tennis. A possible reason for why this happens could be because people believe that women’s tennis is too “boring” or not as fast paced as men’s tennis. In reality, this belief is the result of previous gender discrimination over the years. One might even consider this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy because ever since women were discriminated against, the media has portrayed anything they do as less equivalent to what men do. Therefore they will continue to get less publicity and be viewed as less relevant in the future until something changes.

Although this is no longer true, since this paper consists of the development of tennis overtime, in the past women were not permitted to participate in the Wimbledon Grand Slam. This is because tennis was considered to only be a men’s sport even though women introduced it to England. Before it became popular, women only played tennis while the men were playing cricket. At the time it was referred to as lawn tennis. It was very popular with women because it easy to set up and there was no contact. Eventually men began playing lawn tennis and for some reason decided that their females should not play (Baltzell, 1995).

Over the course of two centuries, tennis has evolved from a women’s sport, into a men’s sport, and finally a men’s sport into a sport capable of being enjoyed by both genders. Although there is certainly still plenty of room for improvement in equality between men and women, there has definitely been a great increase in equality between the two.


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Gillmeister, Heiner. (1998). Tennis: A Cultural History. Washington Square, NY: New York UP.

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