We are all familiar with tennis superstar Serena Williams. Over the course of her career, she has become not only a feminist icon but also one of the most celebrated athletes in sports. She is the number one female tennis player in the world, and with that comes both the accomplishment of being the best and scrutiny of the public eye.
Lately, Williams has not only been inspiring hopeful female athletes, but mothers as well. She’s currently being lauded for winning her seventh singles title at the Australian Open. No one was surprised to see her succeed; the shock came from knowing she did it all while two months pregnant. Williams had only found out about the pregnancy two days before the tournament. The news had initially caused her to question her ability to perform, but all doubts were shattered when she won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title. This is a win not only for her, but for all women aspiring to break down barriers of their own.
Although she is out for the 2017 season, Williams plans to come back once her child is born. “I’m not done yet,” she says. Excited about both motherhood and her career, she also credits her sister Venus Williams for motivating her, saying, “If she’s still playing, I know I can play. This is just a new part of my life. My baby’s going to be in the stands and hopefully cheering for me.”
Being a successful woman in sports generally has its challenges. Being a successful black woman in sports only exacerbates those challenges, given that tennis is a historically white sport. However, for Williams, the rewards always outweigh the struggles. Her immense skill in an industry mostly dominated by white men breaks a certain glass ceiling that women desperately need to break, even if those who oppose her may not be ready for it. Despite how “progressive” the world claims to be, Williams often faces racism and sexism from fellow players and spectators. Nevertheless, she and her sister continue to thrive as talented athletes.
Recently, 70-year-old former Romanian tennis player Ilie Nastase has come under scrutiny for racist comments directed at Williams in regards to her unborn baby. The soon-to-be mother handled the situation with the utmost class when she stated on her Instagram, “It disappoints me to know we live in a society where people like Ilie Nastase can make such racist comments towards myself and unborn child, and sexist comments against my peers … This or anything else will not stop me from pouring love, light and positivity into everything I do. I will continue to take a lead and stand up for what’s right.” The International Tennis Federation is investigating the conflict.
Pregnancy is often seen as a hinderance that should keep women at home or one that makes them a burden on the workplace. Men sometimes use it as a tool to trivialize women and undermine their capability. Serena Williams dismisses these notions, giving power back to any woman who doubts herself. In the same Instagram post, Williams gracefully gives us a look into her mindset, and speaks to her critics by quoting Maya Angelou: “‘I am not afraid unlike you. You see, I am no coward. Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? You may shoot me with your words … you may try to kill me with your hatefulness, but still like air, I rise.’”
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