Women in professional sports have long been subjected to sexism.
And even though we've come a long way since the days when women weren't even allowed to play professionally, misogyny still runs rampant, not only in the way the media covers women but in the way we talk about them.
This was clearly evident in a recent tweet sent out by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), which asked its followers to vote for the best-dressed female player.
The tweet links to a story that explains that despite the "all-white" clothing rule (yes, even Venus Williams reportedly got reprimanded recently for wearing a pink bra at Wimbledon), the chosen nine female players (who are all white, btw) "always impress with their innovative and stylish outfits."
And while on its own, talking about fashion in professional sports isn't problematic (after all, plenty of brands sponsor top players to wear their latest sportswear, which can make them a lot of money), it veers into sexist territory when we direct that conversation onto only women; when we focus on how they look instead of their achievements; and when we use language that sexually objectifies them. Because no one has ever said that Andy Roddick "wore a feminine wave-patterned mesh" or asked him to "give us a twirl."
And many agree.
Following the tweet, people shared their anger and frustration with the WTA.
Seriously WTA? They're athletes, talk about their achievements not their appearance.— Heena (@heenybeeny10) July 10, 2017
Very poor - how about celebrating these women as athletes not clothes horses?— Sue C (@SueEllCee) July 10, 2017
Seriously WTA? How can you promote female tennis players as athletes while simultaneously asking for votes as to who is best dressed?— Julianne Stack (@stackju) July 10, 2017
Stop asking people to objectify these incredible athletes and don't diminish their talent to who looks best in a dress.— Treble909 (@treblemaker909) July 10, 2017
Others asked why there wasn't a poll for best-dressed male athletes.
Is there a Mens Best Dressed competition too??— Darryl Gibney (@DarrylGibney) July 10, 2017
Yahoo notes that the relationship between sports and sexism is actually growing, citing a new study from the University of Missouri, which found that media microaggressions against female athletes rose 40 per cent from 2012 to 2016.
The study defined microaggressions as sexual objectification, worse treatment for female athletes than male athletes, sexist jokes or language, and focusing on female athletes' physical bodies rather than their athletic achievements.
The study also found "evidence of increased microaggressions against female athletes of colour compared to white athletes."
Cynthia Frisby, an associate professor of strategic communication at Mizzou, found 758 instances of microaggressions against Serena Williams while she only found 18 microaggressions against Germany's Angelique Kerber, a white woman.
More recently, Williams was subjected to a pile of sexism when retired American tennis player John McEnroe said she wouldn't be as "great" if she were playing against men, not to mention the dozens of instances of sexism (and racism, for that matter) she has endured throughout her magnificent career.
"We hope that we are making progress as a society toward inclusivity and acceptance; however, when examining the data for how the media cover sporting events related to female athletics, it is evident that we have a long way to go," Frisby said in a news release. "We've known for a long time that female athletes often experience discrimination and other microaggressions, but now that we have statistical data illustrating this issue, we want to use it to educate media and members of the public on how to avoid some of these problematic pitfalls."
So, although it may seem that a tweet about women's tennis fashion is harmless, it actually contributes to the sexism these athletes face. Because language matters, people.