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Gilles Simon - the secret feminist?

2nd July 2012

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Gilles Simon

Scandal!’ reverberated around the world in 2007 when women were finally given equal prize money in major competitions and chauvinists everywhere raised their hackles.

You would think, however, that five years down the line people had moved on.

Apparently not. According to Gilles Simon, the French tennis player, women do not deserve equal pay. Not because they play less sets or even ‘make annoying groans’ as someone has previously suggested, but because they draw in less viewers with their ‘less entertaining’ tennis.

I cannot vilify Simon here. Whilst on the surface he appears to be making a jealous and misguided stab at female sport, I have a sneaking suspicion that he is a raging feminist at heart. Why else would he draw into the spot-light the flagrant sexism of the media in regards to female sport, particularly tennis and football?

One study on gender equality in sport found that in an average six months, men’s sport was given 92% of airtime compared to a measly 5% for women’s. In tennis specifically, use of metaphors and ‘exciting imagery’ during the commentary was 1/3 more in men’s than women’s. Most telling is the statistic saying that when discussing weakness and strength, women were referred to as weak almost 50% of the time, whereas men were called weak only 14% of the time. Is it any wonder women draw in less of a crowd and are considered ‘less entertaining’?

Simon may be right; women may draw in less revenue - but in a business still fuelled by testosterone, they simply aren’t given the chance to. Sharapova does not just have to compete against her opponents on the court, she also has a long, drawn out duel with the media to fight simply because she is female.

So here is a crazy idea. Instead of preaching about viewing figures, sponsorship revenue and the other apparent measures of a good athlete, let’s do something about it. When airtime is split equally between men’s and women’s sports, when commentators use just as much exciting language about women as they do for men and when men are referred to as weak just as much as women, that’s when true comparisons can be made.

Gilles Simon may have a point; women probably do draw fewer crowds and generate smaller revenues but the point isn’t that women should be paid less because of it. The point is that they are not given the opportunity to match the men.  

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