By Aiden Hallihan
Across all professional sports, men have generally had the upper hand when it comes to cashing in on their winnings. Unfortunately, there are many sports where women are not even considerably close in terms of net income earnings compared to popular men’s sports. Such sports include: professional basketball, soccer, and hockey (Flake, Dufur, & Moore, 2013). Gender inequality is something that is far from being solved; however, in professional tennis women are narrowing the pay gap.
Growing up as a casual tennis fan, I have seen many Grand Slam titles in both the men’s and women’s division that ended up being thrilling, nail biting matches. From my perspective, I never looked at men’s tennis as being a more exciting game to watch. In fact, at one time men’s tennis was far more predictable, whereas with the women it was always a toss-up between who would win each tournament.
Over the years the prevalence of women’s tennis has skyrocketed. It is now the most popular women’s sport in terms of TV ratings and income (Flake et. al). Four of the top 5 highest paid female athletes are tennis players (excluding advertisements). It is no coincidence that only three women cracked this year’s Forbes 100 Highest Paid Athletes list, and all three – Maria Sharapova, Li Na, and Serena Williams – are tennis players.
Women and men both have the option to play in 21 tournaments throughout their respective seasons. There are 4 Grand Slam tournaments and men and women receive equal payouts in these popular, nationally televised events (Flake et. al). However, the remaining 17 events see men make a lot more money than women. A popular rationalization used decades ago by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for men earning more was that they “work more” (Flake et. al). To me this is ironic because men play 3 sets in non-Grand Slam tournaments just like women. Only in Grand Slam events do men play 5 sets. Serena Williams once said on the hope of a possible change, “All the women players have agreed to it, but it’s not what [the tournaments] want at this time”.
I personally see no problem with women playing the same amount as men. As we have discussed in class, why shouldn’t a women play as much as their male counterparts when it involves same sex competition. I think at the youth levels the rules should be the same so when the players grow up it will not seem like they are treated unfair. It would improve the gender equality and it would be a step in the right direction to equal values The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has 8 out of a possible 11 board members who are men which, in my opinion, may influence the decision to oppress women from playing the 5 rounds in Grand Slam events.
In a 2009 study, women earned on average 23.5 % less in net income compared to men’s tennis players on the season. (Flake et. al). For every non-Grand Slam tournament win, results indicated that women earned 23.4% less than their male counterparts. A myth exists that women’s tennis is less viewed than men’s, when in fact, women’s tennis actually attracts around the same amount of viewers. Does women’s tennis attract so many viewers because it involves flexibility, agility, nimbleness, intelligence, and a high pain threshold, which are characteristics of a stereotypical female as discussed in class? Not to take anything away from the sport, but I firmly think that there are men who watch women in short skirts play tennis just so they can see the women and not appreciate the sport; which is a sad reality. In my opinion I believe this has some impact that influences television networks to use sex to sell women’s tennis.
Unfortunately, not many women’s sports that are overly aggressive or express “masculinity” are televised. As the sport of women’s tennis increases, hopefully tournament payouts will not be an issue in the near future. Professional tennis is the best hope at achieving gender equality in my opinion and one can see that the gap is narrowing. All one has to do is look at the increasing popularity of rising Canadian tennis stars such as Eugenie Bouchard and America’s Madison Keys – two young tennis players with the future of tennis rested on their shoulders. Ideally if women receive the same payouts as men in professional tennis it will help promote gender equality across other professional sports.
Flake, C. R., Dufur, M. J., & Moore, E. L. (2013). Advantage men: The sex pay gap in professional tennis. International Review For The Sociology Of Sport, 48(3), 366-376.