Image of two men and two women on a tennis court

Why White Moms Like Me Need to Reject Misogynoir Against Black Moms Like Serena Williams

At Parents for Diversity, tennis isn’t usually at the top of our agenda, but parenting and solidarity with marginalized parents is always one of our top priorities.

We are delighted for Bianca Andreescu and congratulate her on the astonishing achievement of becoming the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title. Sports are a powerful force for building community and goodwill through shared enjoyment, and Canadians across the country are celebrating Andreescu’s historic victory. Watching young people break through barriers and achieve new heights is satisfying for all parents, and must be especially true for Andreescu’s parents on the night of her achievement.

Becoming a parent is a dizzying, enthralling, terrifying, life-changing event best summed up as learning to live with “your heart…walking around outside your body”. The love parents have for their children is universal. The way parents are evaluated and judged for their identity as parents is anything but universal. The criteria by which those who bear children, including women, non-binary people, trans men, and genderqueer people, are evaluated are historically more stringent than those by which cis men are evaluated. 

This brings us to Serena Williams and misogynoir. Most folks are familiar with the word misogyny, which means “dislike, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women”. The word misogynoir captures both the anti-Black racism and misogyny experienced by Black women. Fans of Williams, in the words of writer Jenée Desmond-Harris, know 

“…Along with celebrating, they should brace for more of the expressions of bigotry have threatened to tarnish? nearly every victory, magazine cover, and interview of her entire incredible career. All too often, instead of being celebrated, she’s targeted with outrageous racist and sexist comments … If Williams were to boycott every tennis event at which someone made an offensive, dehumanizing reference to her body’s size and shape, she’d have to quit the sport altogether.”

Williams is portrayed across the media as a Black body performing for the amusement of the masses but neither seen nor valued for her womanhood or motherhood. On Saturday, after her loss to Andreescu, TSN commentators noted:

“Serena Williams again has fallen short in her bid for a 24th major title for the fourth time since returning as a Mom”. 
A TSN video of the match later included the commentary “Williams has lost her three previous Grand Slam finals since her maternity leave trying to tie the all-time Grand Slam record with 24 titles”. Even the US digital magazine The Root, known for its “thought-provoking commentary and news from a variety of Black perspectives” published a summary of the match that included the text “And tennis icon serena Williams gave it her all but missed her latest chance to win her record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title since giving birth to her daughter two years ago.” (The article was subsequently revised to the text “And tennis icon Serena Williams gave it her all but missed her latest chance to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title”)

It is gross how prevalent these comments about Williams’ motherhood are across media streams. She’s consistently viewed as a Black body for entertainment while being denied the humanity that is accorded to white mothers (who are consistently portrayed as worthy and deserving of protection). Williams is often subject to grotesque racist caricatures than erase her role as a mother and partner while simultaneously her parenthood is blamed for her professional performance disappointments. Losses by players on the Mens’ tour are not discussed in relationship to their parenthood nor their relationship to children. Have you ever heard a commentator note in a somber tone “This is his fifth loss in a Grand Slam title match since becoming a father”? Why are references to parenthood only relevant in the commentary on the performance of athletes who have borne children?

This is misogynoir. Williams is subject to indignities small and large for her racial identity.  Williams is subject to indignities small and large for her gender identity. When white cis women and Moms like me remain silent in the face of these indignities, we tell the world: it is okay for you to belittle someone who grew a human from their uterus.  It is okay for you to consume Black bodies for their entertainment value while weaponizing those bodies’ choices against them.

When white cis Moms like me remain silent, the inequities stack up in a life-threatening way. We need to be bold in our actions. We can support Andreescu while also supporting parents like Williams. We can identify the language of misogynoir while celebrating historic achievements. We can escape binary dichotomies where the only choices are “either – or” and create a future where exceptional athletic achievements are acknowledged as such across gender spectrums while parenthood and its challenges are also acknowledged. We can speak out directly against the misogynoir experienced by Willams while imaging futures where families have the space they need to grow and coalesce in their early days while rooting and flowering as they mature. We can see the seeds of the future blossoming into the promises we dared hope for, while directly uprooting misogynoir.

We cannot be silent in the face of misogynoir, and we ask you to raise your voice in chorus with ours.

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