“Built Like a Woman” : On Masculinity, Body-Shaming & Serena Williams | T. A. Merkerson

By: Terrence A. Merkerson

Saturday morning, Serena Williams had, yet another, dominating performance en route to her 6th Wimbledon Championship. In her remarkable and historic run, this marks her fourth consecutive major title and third consecutive of the calendar year. In the midst of her victory, sexism and misogyny managed to show their ugly heads. As with any celebrity or major event, there always exists some form of scrutiny, whether it is just or unjust (usually mostly unjust), and one of the greatest champions in history of any sport is no exception. But when the scrutiny is motivated with ill-intention towards race, sex, or gender, there is a larger problem to be addressed. Thankfully, a dutiful patron noticed a particular tweet and decided take it into her own hands to address it:

Thank You, J. K. Rowling.


As distasteful and misguided as this opinion is, it is one worth discussing. I hate to recognize individuals who make these kinds of comments because it takes away from the true star of the moment, which is Serena, so I will make sure to be short.


First thing first, Serena is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), period. She is pound for pound one of the greatest and most dominant athletes in the world, across all of men’s and women’s sports. She is one of the greatest champions in history and she also happens to be a woman. A critic of mine asked me, “Why does everything have to be about sex, gender or race?” I responded by saying, “Because whenever someone has to ask that question, it usually is about sex, gender or race.” This time is obviously no exception.


The black woman’s body has been over-sexualized for centuries; Serena is no exception. It is visually impossible to not notice that Serena has an amazing physique. Whether it is a paparazzi trying to snap a coveted photo of her backside or the perverts that watch her matches solely for the chance that they may catch a peek when her skirt rises as she smashes a 100/mph forehand down inside the left corner baseline, her body is constantly being sexualized. This time it was a little different. As most professional athletes whose game relies on strength and power, Serena is jacked. Her work ethic in the gym is what legends are made of and her body reflects that. To compare her body to the average “man” body, even those of her male counterparts in her sport, is grossly over-complimentary to the average male body. The average male in America in Serena’s age range has a body mass index of 29, which is one point below what is considered to be medically obese, with a waist measuring 39 inches. Most of the guys I know are out-of-shape, have little-to-no muscle definition, and have horrible diets. In short, their bodies resemble nothing remotely close to Serena’s (I say that with the utmost affection) and that’s okay. So why is it that the most dominant athlete in her sport has to endure the injustice of having her physique compared to that of a “man” and why is it that physical dominance always has to be exclusively equated with maleness?


Masculinity is a very (VERY) fragile thing. When a male’s masculinity feels challenged or threatened, all kinds of crazy, sexist and misogynistic shit comes out. What most men need to come to terms with is that we should not be threatened by a woman’s strength and that masculinity is not exclusive to men. It is all about association here people. Masculinity is defined as “the possession of qualities ‘traditionally’ associated with men.” (I have separate issue with the term “traditionally”, but that’s a battle for another day.) To elaborate, women (should) have just as much access to masculinity as men. Because a woman behaves, performs or is “built” in a way that is considered “masculine”, it makes her no more of a man and any less of a woman. We all have muscles; some people just put in a little more work than others so that you can see them more discernably.


Aside from being insulting and ignorant, it is simple-minded, misanthropic and lazy to believe that the only way that one can quantify a woman’s athletic greatness is by comparing her to a man. To all of the pricks (both men & women) that have insensitively decided to make jackasses out of themselves, I am glad that Serena’s play has amazed you to point that you are dumbfounded as to how a woman could be so athletically gifted and physically imposing. To Serena, you are the best at what you do, bar none. That is more than most of us can say about our individual areas of expertise. Keep these clowns dumfounded.


I strongly encourage any man (or woman) that may be unfairly critical of Serena’s physique to fashion a dress and tennis racket better than she does. If you can, all you need now are thirty-six (36) Grand Slam titles and the #1 world ranking and you will be on your way! If you cannot, just STFU.

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Terrence Merkerson is the Founder & Creator of Avenue Fifteen. Terrence earned Bachelor’s Degrees in both Political Science and Gender/Race Studies from the University of Alabama. Terrence also completed Graduate School at the University of Alabama earning a Master’s Degree in Communication Studies.

He currently resides in Baton Rouge, LA.


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2 thoughts on ““Built Like a Woman” : On Masculinity, Body-Shaming & Serena Williams | T. A. Merkerson

  1. Love your analysis, but two quick thoughts.

    1) When you are validating Serena’s body, you begin fat shame men’s bodies.

    2) Should we also consider was femininity is as well as masculinity?

    Like

    • Thanks Jessi! 😁 There was a very thin line that I treaded when discussing the male body. I used the U.S. National BMI averages for men in her age range, which was 29, 1 point below what is considered obese, and waist size of 39 inches, to lead my criticism. I may have been a little harsh in my rationalization of those figures, but it was based on those facts. I also thought heavily on considering femininity more, but for what I set out for, I thought it would be best to focus on or the other. I thought addressing “masculine” performances in women would be an interesting dynamic. What are your thoughts regarding femininity on the topic?

      Like

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