Awesome, I thought. Equating women athletes with hippos. Not like girls who want to be athletes have enough to deal with already. Let's just add to the mix the fear of being associated with an animal that has been used as a comparison to degrade large women.
When I finally got to the article, I could already imagine some of what I was in store for. I'm not an avid tennis fan, but I do find it interesting the way the topic of grunting tends to be covered so frequently (as I wrote about here).
I'll admit that when I first read this piece, I was really skeptical about it. A lot of what I have read about tennis players and the noise they make has portrayed women in very unfavorable terms that sometimes seem to have little to do with the topic at hand - the noise they make. This piece was especially upsetting.
First of all, the picture at the top of the article is a rectangle composed of four smaller pictures, three female tennis players and one male. Two of the women are shown hitting a tennis ball, as is the lone male player. The third woman is shown with her mouth open, in an expression that looks like one of joy. She is not hitting the ball. Her inclusion in an illustration about the noises made by tennis players hitting tennis balls is confusing. Perhaps it is to remind the reader of the hippo with its mouth open?
Once I finally made my way into the piece itself, I was struck by the terms used to describe the sounds at some women's tennis matches. In the second paragraph, the author, Tom Geoghegan, describes a fear that some women's matches "now bear more of an aural resemblance to a torture chamber." Not far down the page, the author tells how Portuguese player Michelle Larcher de Brito's "grunt has all the aural elements of a wounded fox."
Grunting isn't a new phenomenon in tennis, the author assures the reader. In the 1970s, Jimmy Connors was known for his "noisy game" and in 1988 Andre Agassi had a complaint lodged against him for his "expressive exertions."
Before diving into the perceived drawbacks and benefits of grunting during matches, and an overview of the rules of the sport regarding it, the author had this to say:
But, in what could be interpreted as a sexist backlash, it is only since women took up the habit that it has become much of an issue.
Interesting that you would say that, Tom Geoghegan. I was definitely getting the sense that you were being sexist in your choice of descriptions of female and male players. I understand that these players may very well make different sounds during their games, but the huge discrepancy between descriptions relating women's sounds to "torture chambers" and "wounded foxes" and men's sounds as "noisy" and "expressive exertions" is inexcusable and sexist. There are ways to describe differences in sounds that do not rely on such degrading images, especially when such images are only applied to one group of athletes, and not another.
This piece was so full of sexist fail that I'm not even going to talk about its other content.