No, Wanting Women's Tennis Players To Stop Screaming All The Time Doesn't Make You Sexist

serena williams

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The idea that people who want to eliminate grunting from women’s tennis are sexist is based on one basic assumption: men and women both grunt.Here’s the argument: Men and women are both doing it, so telling just women to stop grunting advances the misogynistic notion that women ought to be proper and dainty and mute. And thus, the whole thing is sexist.

Lindy West of Jezebel laid it out in clear terms earlier month:

Like, if there was a Pooping Season (stick with me here)—a time of year when a bunch of men and women pooped competitively on TV—you know the women would get criticised for pooping. “Ewww, gross! Women shouldn’t be pooping! It’s unladylike!”

And then with less poop jokes:

And make no mistake, though male and female tennis players grunt with equal frequency and vigor, the anti-grunting brigade is deeply sexist.

That would be true if male and female tennis players grunted with equal frequency and vigor. But they don’t.

The grunts in women’s tennis aren’t animalistic or natural or involuntary. They aren’t the result of intense physical exertion over a long period of time.

In women’s tennis, a player’s grunts/shrieks/yells are the same pitch, volume, and duration from the first point of the match to the last. They’re the same if it’s the second shot of the rally or the 22nd.

That’s not natural grunting. That’s purposeful, ritualized yelling.

In general, fans love grunting in sports because it implies deep exasperation, and conveys emotion that we don’t typical see out of athletes. But grunting in women’s tennis doesn’t have to do with any of that. It’s a tactic — a superficial, ear-splitting tactic used for a variety or reasons (to focus, control breathing, disguise the sound of the ball).

Although grunting exists in men’s tennis, it’s not ritualized like it is in women’s tennis.

Yes, there will be key points and even long stretches late in men’s matches where the players will grunt. But it’s not constant like it is in the women’s game, and it’s not consistent across the sport like it is in the women’s game. The nature and proliferation of grunting in men’s tennis are completely different from women’s tennis.

Grunting in men’s tennis is something that happens roughly as much as it does it in football or basketball or soccer. Grunting in women’s tennis is something we don’t see anywhere else in any sport.

The assumption that “men are doing it too” is just false.

There’s nothing wrong with women’s players occasionally making the same primal noises that all athletes make in the heat of the moment. But the ritualized, tactical grunting that exists in the game right now needs to go, and it has nothing to do with gender.

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