Published On: Tue, Jul 17th, 2012

A Rally With The Gender Lens

Everyone sees every thing and every other person through some kind of lens, to filter what we want from what we believe from what we care about. Today, the fashion seems to be gender. Almost unavoidably so. Yet sometimes, in constantly using our respective lenses, we lose sight of the real story. To explore this, we will stoke the Wimbledon flames, get out our rackets and rally with Gilles Simon.

Indeed, cometh Wimbledon and cometh the inevitable debate about the equal pay given to both the male and female competitors. Cue one male player, our finely-named Gilles, to come out and say that all of the male competitors agreed with him in thinking this unfair. His reasoning? That men’s tennis is better, and men spend twice as long on court.

In reality, this has nothing to do with whether someone is a man or a woman; when the gender lens is removed, ‘men’s tennis is better’ is an argument about higher quality meriting higher pay, and ‘men spend twice as long on court’ is about ‘more work merits, more pay’.

However, whilst Gilles’ comments (once unfiltered) might hold some truth in the office, tennis courts are not offices.

If we step back and think about what he is saying, it is an absurd argument on both counts. The first is one that could spiral on ad infinitum: this artist is better than that artist, this player is better than that player, this biscuit is better than that biscuit…where everyone is talking about someone or something different, and everyone’s conception of ‘better’ is also subjective. The kind of ‘quality’ in question is not one of efficiency, accuracy or productivity; it is one of expression and achievement. Either the men’s or the women’s final, for instance, is a showcase of the best in class.

On the one hand, it would be odd if Gilles, as a man and playing men’s tennis, thought that women’s tennis was better; that attitude would lead to a very unfulfilling life. On the other, it is a sad biological fact that he will never be able to play women’s tennis and test out his theory. For men’s tennis to be better than women’s, impressionism would have to be better than pointillism, rosé would have to be better than white, and so on – of course, all subjective stances. Men cannot play women’s tennis and women cannot play men’s tennis; their ‘quality’ is incomparable. Certain men may be stronger whilst certain women read the game more fluently, or vice versa; one cannot be ‘better’ than the other in any meaningful way as they are different sides of the same coin.

The real story is that the best people in their respective disciplines are rightfully entitled to equal and fair reward.

The second of his arguments is even worse. In terms of sets, Roger Federer had to play just over 50% more tennis than Serena Williams on his way to winning the men’s singles titles. Gilles would have us believe that this fact entitles Roger to more pay. Sadly for Gilles, tennis – like football, golf or any other sport, and the entertainment industry at large – does not work like that, and neither should it. How long someone spends on the court is irrelevant in the face of the quality they bring to it; after all, and once more, the final’s competitors represent the crème de la crème, at the pinnacle of the sport.

Moreover, the time spent on court is not indicative of the time spent off it; Roger does not spend 50% more time training than Serena. In a way, there is probably a correlation between those who train the most, and have long trained the most, and how much they ultimately earn through success. The time on court competing is a drop in the ocean in terms of the actual time spent practising; the top-ranked men and women probably spend similar time in practice, so the difference in actual competition is negligible, reducing to possibly just a few hours.

Unlike in football, where a player is paid a fee nominally relational to his/her quality, or an actor paid for the quality of his/her acting (note, in neither case is there a connection between ‘time spent doing” and ‘pay’), Wimbledon or other tournament pay recognises achievement, rather than any individual. Structurally, Roger Federer did not earn £xxx and Serena Williams did not earn £xxx; the winners earned £xxx.

Again, the real story is that the best people in their respective disciplines are entitled to equal and fair reward.

All in all, Gilles was making the wrong argument for the wrong reasons. He had seen events through a tinted lens and jumped straight in, taking an easy path that the media could readily grab hold of. In turn, the story takes on a new divisive life that misses the real story, at the same time as failing to address the reasons why his position is both false and flawed.

Sadly for Gilles, his Wimbledon ended after five sets of tennis, or rather, three hours and fifty-four minutes, sadly unsure of the seconds.

About the Author

- Rob is a Master's student at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He's worked or researched in nine different developing countries and is soon to head to South Sudan to research development of the new secondary education curriculum.

  • Charlotte Nichols

    Thank you!!
    Fantastic article and that much more refreshing to see it written by a chap.