Congrats to Marion Bartoli for Winning the 2013 Wimbledon Women’s Singles Title AND Facing Down Sexism

Marion Bartoli took home the 2013 Women’s Singles title at Wimbleton on Saturday, an achievement that took years of effort, in addition to natural talent and athleticism. But some of the reaction to Bartoli’s win revealed the sexism female athletes still face on a regular basis. BBC’s John Inverdale wondered aloud on-air, “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little ‘You’re never going to be a looker? You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight’.” Many people with smaller podiums also took to twitter and other social media to denigrate Bartoli’s looks.

As the UK’s The Independent explains, “His comments betrayed an attitude that is always there, in the background, usually unspoken. A woman can rise to the top of her profession in politics, business, entertainment, or sport. She can defeat the greatest tennis players in the world, overcome injury and setback, to win Wimbledon. But ultimately, she will be judged on her looks.” (Sexism in sports reveals itself in other ways:  between 2010-2011 women’s sport comprised only 0.5% of sponsorship and 5% of TV coverage.)

According to Grantland, “Bartoli makes a lot of people nervous. Her attitude on the court is awesomely unembarrassed. She faces the backstop, scrawls of sweaty hair across her face, eyes crazy, feet thudding, arms swinging wildly, before turning to charge the service line. One game away from winning Wimbledon, she sat during the changeover with a dead stare and a piece of banana stuck to her face. Fondly or not, she is called nerdy, quirky, eccentric. The strangest thing about her is that, unlike most of us, she doesn’t seem to care what other people think. She is who she is.”

Women who do not seem to care what people think of them, who don’t actively conform to a very narrow model of what is considered attractive, can be threatening to people who would like women to conform to the status quo. Insulting Bartoli’s looks is an attempt to exert control over her, this woman who became so successful while having the gall not to look like a Maxim model. Luckily, as you’d expect, Bartoli is having none of it. Her response to Inverdale? “It doesn’t matter, honestly. I am not blonde, yes. That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes.”


Vanessa Wright