Serena Williams Speaks Out on Sexism in Sports: 'It Isn’t Easy to Have Someone Make a Comment About Your Body'
The tennis legend speaks with TIME about the battles she fights outside the tennis court
Serena Williams is one of the most successful tennis players to ever pick up a racket, but her dominance inside the court hasn’t stopped her from experiencing discrimination outside of it. Williams — who welcomed her first child (a daughter!) with her fiancé, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, on Sept. 1 — tells TIME about the sexism she has faced throughout her career and how she learns from any obstacle that comes her way.
“It isn’t always easy to be on this stage and play in a tournament and have someone make a comment about your body,” Williams says in an interview for TIME’s new Firsts video series profiling groundbreaking women. “I think the biggest criticism that not only me but my peers go through is, they’ll say something like, we don’t deserve as much prize money as our male counterparts. When you work so hard, you dedicate yourself, it shouldn’t be a double standard.”
Williams has often made headlines for standing up to sexism, and more often than not, it concerns comments from fellow tennis players. Notably, in June 2017, tennis legend John McEnroe told NPR that he refers to Williams as the best “female” tennis player because “if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.” McEnroe’s comments were criticized for being misogynistic, and to her credit, Williams simply responded in a classy tweet that got more than 61,000 likes:
But sexism isn’t the only thing Williams has had to deal with—there was also the controversial incident at Indian Wells in 2001 when the Williams sisters faced racial taunting from the California crowd, which Williams mentions to TIME.
When she’s not shutting down critics or haters, Williams is busy collecting Grand Slam titles, and she has 23 singles titles to date. She won her first at 17 at the 1999 U.S. Open, which would mark that start of her reign in tennis. With a career featuring two decades worth of accolades, Williams is nothing short of being a role model for a generation of younger women—something she wished she had when she was a child.
“Growing up I would have loved to have an amazing role model, I can’t imagine what it would have been like if I did,” she says. “I feel like it’s a great opportunity that some of these young ladies can have a positive role model.”
Though her career is far from over (and the critics may be far from cutting her some slack), the new mother says she is prepared for anything that comes her way.
“I think every experience can make you stronger,” Williams says. “I don’t let anything break me.”